Separation of Church and State (Art and Business)

Church and State

No this isn’t a post about politics or religion, and I’m not going to get into my views on either here.  The title is simply a metaphor for the separation of two very different styles of my work.

For a long time I’ve struggled with the question “What’s my style?” or “What should I shoot professionally?”.  I love all kinds of photography but one of the key rules of “making it” is pick a style and get good at it.  For a long time I just couldn’t do it.  I just love everything about photography. All styles, all shooting conditions.  Wide, telephoto, landscapes, portraits, detail shots at weddings, automotive, the thrill of catching “the moment” at events, etc, etc, etc.  After some long hard though I finally narrowed it down (more or less, see below) and thus was born Ben J Photography for all my personal creative works.

How I decide what is “Church” and what is “State”

Nobody is going to hire me to shoot landscapes, flowers, funky vintage items or rusted out old trucks. Ok maybe not ‘nobody’ but those things are less likely commissioned than say weddings, family portraits, or commercial work. Some of those items could find their way into a commercial shoot but most clients would shoot those things on their own or buy already made prints of such things to hang on their walls.  They don’t go out with a vision for those scenes and hire someone else to execute it.  Those are projects of passion, of creative expression.

Upon finding a photo in my collection that I feel is worthy of sharing, selling, or using to promote my work I need to make a decision about where I will go. In most cases it doesn’t matter where the photo originally came from. Artistic pieces can sometimes be capture during client shoots and commercial style pieces can often be captured during personal shoots or projects.

This may be way over simplifying it but I can essentially make a decision on where to post a photograph with one of the following questions:

Would (or did) someone pay me to shoot this?

Yes? –> Commercial / Portraiture, etc –>

Would someone who wasn’t involved with the photo hang it on their wall, make it their desktop or phone background, share it online?

Yes? –> Art –>

Are they black and white rules?  No.  Do they work in most cases?  Yes.  Do they sometimes cross over?  Absolutely. Hey, that’s what personal discretion is for right, when things don’t quite fit the rules?  You bet.

So what about just having a single site, a single brand that represents all my work?  You know, a simple subsection or two on my main site for “Art” or “Personal” work? Yeah, that could work too but I want to keep my primary business as focused as possible.  I don’t want clients (or myself) getting distracted by things that aren’t relevant to their current needs. I want the client experience in both worlds to be more streamlined and concise. When I come across other sites that take that crossover approach I always find it a little off putting. It feels like they’re saying “Hey, check out my portfolio and hire me for your job… and hey did I mention I also sell art work? Want to buy some?” It feels like an up sell or push for a totally unrelated product. I get though of that through the constant bombardment of advertisements in every other area of my life and I’m sure other people do too.

This approach may not last forever.  There are definitely some downsides but right now, and for the foreseeable future, this works for me and I’m happy with my decision.

What are your thoughts?

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