10 minutes with Naomi Harris
When did you first know that you wanted to be a photographer?
I was studying print making at university up in Canada and in my 3rd year I took a photo class since much of my print making work was photo based and I was appropriating existing imagery so figured it would be a good idea to know how to take my own photographs. That summer I went to Europe for nearly a month and took photos wherever I was. The act of taking photos allowed me to go up to complete strangers and talk to them under the disguise of being a photographer (in actuality I’m actually a very snoopy person). When I got home and saw my contact sheets I was like “oh yeah, this is what I want to do when I grow up.” Besides, I couldn’t possibly imagine making a living as a print maker.
If for some reason photography hadn’t worked out, what other field do you think you might have worked in?
I hadn’t really thought much about it, I wasn’t one of those photographers who were like “I got my first camera at 12, I knew all my life I wanted to be a photographer, Diane Arbus was my god.” For me it was more a matter of lucky chance. I was just leaving university and had been accepted to the documentary program at the International Center of Photography. At this point I had been taking photos for just over a year and really didn’t know what it meant to be a photographer, I just had this opportunity to put off real life for another year and move to New York, I wasn’t thinking much beyond that.
I remember the first promo I got of yours was your photo taken at one of those mall portrait studios. It was fabulous. What have you found to be the best way to get editors and art buyers attention? Do you try to meet face to face and show your book in person when you can?
Ha, glad that my “Glamour Shot” is what stands out in your mind when you think of me! That was for Valentine’s Day, maybe I’ll make another one this year.
I’m a little out of the loop at the moment as I’m just getting my gears grinding after spending much of 2011 up in Canada working mainly on personal work. I am finding that many editors I know have either left the industry or have relocated so I need to reach out all over again and start from square one. I just redid my website since it was in Flash and as witty as I thought it was (it was laid out like a 70s rec room) in the current business climate I think people are less interested in a super design-y website and are more interested in the photos themselves. So I skipped the designers and made it cheap and cheerful with the help of one of my interns on Virb.com
But from asking around I have been told that most mailers get tossed in the trash and bulk email mailers get filtered out and never reach the intended recipient. So what’s a photographer to do? The personal approach I think still works best and I’m lucky that I have a wider network as I guess I’m considered a mid career photographer. I also try to make it a point to let people know when I’m traveling as it’s the perfect reason to shoot them an email and remind them that I’m around and ready to work for them.
I’ve been rep-less for the last four years, the result of bad timing from having left my last rep and then having the economy crash afterwards so I’m searching for one who fits my needs.
If you could go back 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Honestly? I would have told myself to get a government job with a nice retirement package so I could retire after 20-25 years and then do my photography while collecting my pension all the while. I don’t want to sound like sour grapes or anything but I’m approaching 39 and while I’m thrilled to have published books, have had exhibitions and the opportunity to travel to amazing places and meet wonderful people thanks to my career, I have no retirement plan whatsover. I didn’t know then that the industry would change so much and make it more difficult to survive. Frankly I’ve given myself a time limit: if by the time I turn 40 I’m not in the place I was hoping to be I will try a different vocation. I love animals and it’s not too late to go back to school to become a vet tech. This is realistic and pragmatic me speaking of course.
Any words of wisdom for the up and comers?
Go into this field with eyes wide open. Yeah it’s fun to take photos but does that need to be your money making source? Perhaps you’d be better off having a day job and taking photos for yourself. Being a starving artist is cute when you’re in your twenties but not so sexy when you’re approaching middle age.
(Naomi is based in New York. See more of her work, here)