Careers tips for photographers

Careers tips for photographers

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 06/07/15

On Thursday we held our last IdeasTap Spa - sob! - at The Photographers’ Gallery in London. Melanie King, Alex F Webb and Helen Cammock shared top tips…

Melanie King is director of London Alternative Photography Collective, co-director of Lumen, an art collective who run exhibitions in churches, exploring the theme of “light” and co-director of super/collider, a multidisciplinary arts and science agency.

Don’t expect opportunities to be handed to you. Make your own. I started collectives with peers from my uni course and we rented space to show our work - this gives you more creative control. Just start pushing your stuff out there.

Collaborate. Artists have more impact together. Along with some other people, I broke a record by making the world’s biggest cyanotype - that required a lot of teamwork.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead of being in competition, work together. You can learn from one another. Artists suffer in isolation. Through London Alternative Photography Collective people share skills in techniques like pinhole and tintype photography.   

Don’t be afraid to say no. Internships and volunteering are great for experience but look out for your own needs and what you’re getting out of it.

Be open-minded about the organisations you work with - you never know how the experiences you get will inform your practice. Be nice to people!


Alex F Webb co-founded publishing company Fourteen Nineteen (now closed), with Lewis Chaplin, while still at school. He graduated from the University of Brighton last year and is about to self-publish his IdeasTap Photographic Award-shortlisted project, BLEU, as a book.

Meet people. Ask them for a coffee. You can only say so much by email. 

Take opportunities, however big or small they seem. One thing leads to another and people remember your name. Always try to say yes - but be wary about what you’re saying yes to. 

Reach out. Make yourself known. Go to exhibition openings and book launches. Follow up encounters with emails. If somebody hands you their business card and they sound interesting, stay in touch.

Be active. Don’t be afraid to show people your work. Send them PDFs. I’m about to self-publish and I’ve been approaching lots of people with it. Some don’t reply but some are really interested.

Avoid trends. I spent a lot of time at uni worrying about the type of work I was supposed to be doing and trying to slot my work into academic theory and stopped making pictures. 

Always have free booze at your exhibition openings. It’s the best guarantee people will come!


Helen Cammock is an artist working in photography and video and a freelance arts facilitator, running participatory projects for PhotoVoice, The Photographers’ Gallery and Open School East. From X to X she was co-director of Brighton Photo Fringe.

Arts facilitation is a structured way of helping people to use photography to have a voice, to be creative, as therapy, to develop literacy, for advocacy / campaigning or to develop their practice. 

If you want to work in arts facilitation… 

Do some research so you understand what it involves. Go online and search “participatory practice” - you’ll find lots of projects. Read the recent BJP issue on photography education. 

Volunteer. You have photography skills but you don’t yet have skills in running a workshop, working with people, delivering a project. But make sure it’s a worthwhile opportunity; pick the organisations you volunteer for wisely.

Know why you’re doing it. Does the project make sense? Why would you be good at running it? Continually question yourself and your motives in terms of ethics.

Work with other organisations. When starting out, especially, make sure that they’ll support you.   

Also, more generally... 

Don’t feel that you have to be fully-formed. You have a whole life ahead. I came to photography quite late through an evening course after doing a few different jobs - social work, youth projects. It gave me a new way of looking at the world. I went back to uni as a mature student. 

Get out there and exhibit. It’s really important to learn the practicalities of setting up a show - printing, editing, hanging and speaking about your work.

Enjoy it. Be true to yourself and what you want to say to the world through your photography.

For more great educational events, check out The Photographers’ Gallery website. 

Image by Savannah Van der Niet, on a Creative Commons license.


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