4 stops zine
Philosophy & Reflections

Finding the P-Word in Photography – By Laura Cogan

April 9, 2021

*Disclaimer – This article is NSFM (not safe for mothers). If you thought the swearing was heavy on my last article, get the soap ready because you’re going to feel awful dirty after this one.

Up until very recently my only outlet for my photography was Instagram. It actually started with my first instagram page which is @laurainiceland where I would very strictly only post what I called “real photos”. These being ones I’d carefully taken and edited either with film or digital, no added instagram filters and absolutely under no circumstances any of myself. I had this instagram ideal in my head for some reason, like it had to be cohesive, all the same and no life so to speak, almost clinical and definitely “professional”.

But I started shooting regularly with black and white film, then with hassy and the photos just didn’t fit together with the ones already posted (same reason why my still life photos aren’t on there). Anyone who knows me knows that I overthink absolutely everything and I just couldn’t make it work in my mind so I decided to make another instagram page that would just be for hassy photos in black and white and that’s how @hassywonderland was born.  I’ve very much enjoyed growing the hassywonderland instagram page, meeting other like minded photographers, seeing all the wonderful work that they have to offer and I actually feel part of a community.  In turn this has enabled me to break even further out of my own constraints with Laurainiceland which slowly started to bend into a lifestyle blog type thing including “shock” actual photos of me!

Anyway I digress, back to the matter at hand, that matter is a dirty P word, Purpose. I’m forever returning to this horrible word in terms of my photography and it represents the things that make me keep on taking photos, whatever it might be. Past examples being opening the shop, doing a photography degree, embracing landscape photography in Iceland and in more recent times Instagram. Inevitably these things don’t hold forever before I need more, something else, another reason, Purpose. Now it’s easy to say what many people say in that the enjoyment of taking the photos is enough, well i´m sorry to all those who say it but that’s bullshit, at least for me it is anyway. I have the passion, I get the enjoyment from the whole process from start to finish but at the end of it when i´m sat staring at a photograph that I’ve made, that I’m proud of, I want to do something with it and that is when that shitting word comes into it, Purpose, what shall I do with it? What’s it for? BUT WHY?!

I often wonder if I´ve not thought of some really obvious or genious idea of a reason for me to keep taking photos, something that everyone else just knows and I’m clueless on. I’ve tried most things to varying degrees of success. For me It used to be about turning a hobby into a paid thing but that’s not the case anymore. I’m happy to make money of course, I’m not living off the land here, but it’s not my primary focus with regards photography. So to list it up, just for funsies, from what I have experienced and know there are a multiple number of things you can do with your photography in terms of the P word, many of which I’ve done in some version or another:

Social media

Play the likes and follows game, have your soul crushed whilst simultaneously being validated. I abandoned facebook many years ago in terms of a “business” page. Absolute bullshit that you can like a page but it not show you their content unless you solve the magic riddle and pay the troll under the bridge (zuckerberg). But even though the troll also owns instagram and it infuriates me in many untold ways it’s much more pleasing alternative for photographers I feel like. It’s certainly doing me alright now i’m a couple years into the gram game, just don´t get me started on the bots, fuck you you dirty bots.

Website

Build your own website, for portfolio, blog or selling your stuff, whatever you desire. Again soul destroying at times but at least it’s yours and can’t be taken away from you with a stupid algorithm at any given moment. I had one of these bad boys many moons ago and it was absolute wank. It was over complicated and I spent a good few months updating about 20 different size and frame options for prints in the e-commerce thingy and I believe I actually sold zero prints through it. I’ve just subjected myself to building another website, this time I’ve gone with a simpler aesthetic and as of yet it does not have a shop in it (but it will, wink).

hassywonderland website

my new website, isn’t she pretty!

Zines

This is a fairly new revelation to me and I wouldn’t have found it had it not been for instagram. I love them, especially the idea of making them cheap as chips and just throwing them out into the world. I was very kindly invited to be part of the excellent 4-Stops collaboration by the thoroughly decent chap Ben of Hip Shoot Film and that came out last year. It was huge fun and i’m definitely up for more collaborations or maybe something of my own. I´m working on something hush hush right now that I suppose could be classed as being inspired by this sort of thing, kind of, ish.

Redbubble

(Other printing stockists are available) – Print on demand services sure have improved over the last decade since I last thought about printing and selling my wares. I’m particularly happy with Redbubble and that’s only because I made a sale once. I basically set up a shop over a year ago and put up about 4 photos, then did what I do and got bored with it and forgot about it. Quite some time later and I got a notification out of the blue to say I’d sold a cushion, the more shocking thing being the commission was alright, not like the rob dogs over at istock (see next point). So I thought, well I’m gonna get me some more of that sweet action and sorted the shop out, uploaded more and actually thought about what I was doing with it. Sold a couple more things too, bonus!

Stock photography

Fuck me sideways with a tiny commission fee. I´ve actually sold a lot of images on istock, although you wouldn’t believe it but that’s because despite all the piles of gold I have to lug around my home in wheelbarrows I’ve managed to stay quite humble. Needless to say I removed myself from their miserly grip a few years ago.

istock exampleistock example

Stock agencies – How to sell images but not make any money in the process

Exhibitions

This is a spectrum all in itself and can range anywhere from coffee shop to art galleries. I’ve done coffee shop, I believe it was the big CO-OP home coffee shop in Lincoln. I can’t remember how I got in on that one but I put up about 15 framed prints, all full of enthusiasm and thoughts of sales to unsuspecting lunchtime special diners (I see my mistake there). I believe I sold zero prints, fuckers, there’s beauty in the attempt at least.

Never made it into a gallery although I have sort of had the opportunity here in Iceland but I’ve shied away from it. On my last big Purpose jaunt I did this photography portfolio review thing that you could win a special grant. I thought it would be a good way to see what’s happening on the old photography scene in Reykjavik so I put together a photo book portfolio to show. This thing was like a speed dating event for photographers, I went from table to table meeting my selected judges while wringing my hands under the table and trying not to sweat profusely. I got some pretty good feedback and a couple of them do exhibit stuff in the museums and said I should apply. I have not. I’m not really sure I’m the type of person who fits the profile of someone who exhibits in a gallery/museum type place. I’m the loudest thing in any room, visually and audibly and I’m not sure I could make it through an exhibition without at least one tiny fuck slipping out. So anyway, exhibiting, kind of off the table for now.

Whoring yourself out as a photography assistant

I am too old for that shit. Fair play to anyone who survives.

Whoring yourself out as a fully fledged commercial photographer

pffffffffft! What can I say, i’m just not the one for this. Weirdly enough though I did kind of get commissioned for something once. I was working for the local university at the time and they wanted some photographs of learning spaces in other universities in the country. Fuck knows how I swung it but they actually paid me in real English pounds to go travelling to a few universities in the UK to take photos of their learning spaces for research (basically computer stations and the occasional bean bag strategically placed next to a computer station, that kind of thing). But in general being a real life working commercial photographer with the whole sell yourself, make them think you’re the best on the market, negotiating prices, the constant slog, copyrights, eurgh! I just don’t have the balls or the patience for it.

Be an employed photographer

Feeling the joy of taking photographs for money but the comfort of having a secure job is much more appealing to me. I thought about it for sure but I wasn’t really sure which type of photography job to go for. I considered studio product photography for like a catalogue type thing but this would not be very forthcoming in rural Lincolnshire where I was living at the time.

After that I considered the idea – very briefly I might add – as a possible photographer for a newspaper. I know, I know, I don’t like people photography, which kind of defeats the object here but I actually went for a day out with the local rag to see what it was all about. Apparently photographing old folks in a home doing their version of the olympics, blowing a ping pong ball up and down a table using only a straw and a pacemaker, was the highlight of the day and I wasn’t particularly sold on the idea in the end. That and the photographer guy said, and I quote “no one will take you seriously as a photographer if you have badges on your camera bag”. I refrained from answering with “but how does anyone take you seriously with that face?” And so my journey into journalistic photography, in the loosest possible sense of the word, gently fizzled away, thankfully.

Teaching

Eww David!

Prints

This is my jam right here and the top three P word things that got me back this last year. Not that I’d gone anywhere, I was just having a bit of a wobble and didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I put up a story on instagram asking people what their idea of Purpose is, or any clues to what I could do and one of the biggest inspirations to come from this was Prints, the better of the P words, and more specifically, Darkroom Prints.

Back in the UK I’d had an enlarger that I used in a not very well ventilated cupboard/toilet/shower. I would sit the enlarger on the toilet and sort of do a swivel 180 degree turn and use the trays in the shower on a nifty little rickety table my dad made me from my then defunct shop signs. The enlarger and red light was plugged in half a mile away in the livingroom by way of an extension cord jammed in the door. Worked perfectly for around 10 minutes before the fumes would get to me but that just adds to the experience.

On leaving the UK the enlarger was deemed not worthy to move with us and was sold on regrettably. For a while i’d been dreaming of making a darkroom here and making prints again but not getting anywhere with it until inspiration hit from this little story on instagram. Long story short (too late) I’m now set up again re-learning printing and having a blast although the P word is already creeping back again in terms of well great, I’ve got these prints I’m making, what now? But fear not, there is a plan afoot there, watch this space.

toilet enlarger

The toilet enlarger – not ideal but does the job

Shower trays

Books

I love books in general, full on book nerd but surprisingly i’m not as into photography books. I like to look through them from time to time but I don’t go for the famous photographer books or anything like that. The only photography books I buy are the lurzers archive 200 best editions with all the advertising photography in them, they’re slick as fuck! Anyway, despite being that bitch that doesn’t buy other people’s photo books I’m quite into the idea of making one of my own, either coffee table type or something else.

I have recently been approached on instagram to have one of my photos in someone else’s book, it’s that old chestnut of we won’t pay you for it but we’ll give you two copies of the book instead. Normally I’d be like NO! but for whatever reason I was feeling tame that day and said yeah alright and signed it away, it’s not one of my actual film photos, just one of hassy itself so I was not feeling overly precious about it. Coming out this summer apparently, more than anything it was an amusement on my part that when they find out how much it’s going to cost to post me two books to Iceland then they’re going to regret not just giving me a commission (insert evil laugh here).

Competitions

I don’t really bother with competitions anymore. Occasionally I give one a pop but I’m not really into it. I think I’ve peaked on the one that brought me hassy. I’m not really into the whole pay to play lark but at the same time the free ones aren’t much better. I think I’ve just become a bit jaded by them but not ruling out a change of heart in the future on that, I’m a fickle competition player.

Youtube tutorials or other video recorded gubbins

I would rather gouge my eyes out with rusty spoons. I was asked if I would be willing to be interviewed on a podcast once, it was not a tough decision to turn that down. I need a body double, be like the Milli Vanilli of the photography world or something, then I’d be fine, until then, nah mate sorry.

Articles/Blog posts

Bit of a surprise late entry for me here as it wasn’t even on my radar. I’d planned on writing in the future some time maybe but with no real plan for it or where it would go other than potentially on my own website if I ever got one. Then this year (bare in mind it’s only March at the time of writing) I’m part way through writing my second article for 35mmc and I’ve got another that came out this week with Ilford (the mothership) that I´m very excited about. Again this writing lark was something I was approached for out of the blue through instagram and as it turns out I quite like it.

Just keep doing it

So all things considered there are a whole bunch of Purposes for photographers to go with it just depends how hard you can be arsed to do any of them, if at all. For me personally it’s about having something more than just instagram as it can get a bit tiresome. But on the flipside of that I’ve actually been given a few opportunities because of insta that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. It’s probably the most progress I’ve made in terms of the dirty P word in years so it’s not all bad and I’ll continue to feed the instagram troll a little while longer (I know you hear me zuckerberg, you omnipotent bastard).

I’ve got plenty of P word to keep me going yet, I’m really ramping it up this year so far that’s for sure. The moral of the story is whether you’re happy doing it just for the joy of taking photos or you want to become the next big thing and earn mega money, just do you boo, whatever tickles your pickle I say, but mostly just keep doing it.

In case you have missed the not so subtle links I’ve been dropping throughout this here you go:

www.hassywonderland.com
intagram (hassywonderland)
My last article with 35mmc

The article with the mothership (Ilford)

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    thorsten wulff
    April 9, 2021 at 10:14 am

    Very good Laura! After three nights in the darkroom while sitting at a kitchen table replacing the foam in an F2 I really enjoyed Our text ;))

  • Reply
    Denimadept
    April 9, 2021 at 11:54 am

    But tell us how you really feel, Laura. 🙂
    I’ve printed only two shots in the last 30 years or so. Most of my stuff goes on Flickr or a private site. It’s still fun. I’m mostly playing with light and models these days.

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 12:21 pm

      hahaha no hiding from what I think in my house 😉

  • Reply
    thorsten wulff
    April 9, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    Uh, sorry for the typo! Thats what you get for typing on the phone while fixing a lightseal, with sticky stuff all over the place ;))
    These days I print on old Agfa Brovira, the enlarger on the washing machine and the dev trays on the tub!

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 12:33 pm

      no worries 🙂 Makeshift darkrooms are the best aren´t they 😀

  • Reply
    Keith W
    April 9, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    I guess it’s down to that key question of why do we take photographs. Whilst I agree with all the external aspects you discuss, I suspect that for most of us that there’s also something important happening internally. We don’t always realise the purpose of what we are doing at the time, but ultimately there is something driving what we are doing. Whether it’s story-telling, producing something we find attractive or documenting our lives, internal validation is always more reliable than the views or “likes” of others.

    Your articles are like a cold shower Laura; bracing, invigorating and genuinely stimulating. They are insightful and thought-provoking.

    Keep ’em coming!

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 4:46 pm

      Thanks for this Keith, i´ve not been referred to as a cold shower before, i´ll add it to the list (which includes social hand grenade which I always found rather amusing).

      I do agree with you as well about an internal need to take photos whatever that might be, but unfortunately my internal need also needs something else and part of that is validation of others in some way. Annoying little buggar is that internal need 😀

  • Reply
    CHRISTOF RAMPITSCH
    April 9, 2021 at 6:30 pm

    There is a really good Far Side cartoon called “Edgar Finds his Purpose”. In it, Edgar has found a bizarre object in his couch – his purpose – and judging by his expression, he is well pleased. The point of this cartoon, to me, is that your purpose is personal. I do photography to get better at it. That’s it. I don’t care what anyone else thinks, nor how many likes I get on Instagram (never more than 20 or so anyway, most of them pity-likes from my daughter’s friends). I don’t even care how many people see my prints, as long as I see them. Selfish, eh? It’s a great hobby – it gets me out of the house, keeps me fit (I carry a lot of gear to keep me in shape – rarely do I need most of it). And when it’s raining, or my family are watching a romcom, I print! Perhaps I am lucky that I chose not to do it for a living.

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 7:54 pm

      I like the sound of this edgar fella 😃

      I agree that it’s a personal thing for sure and you seem to have got your purpose sussed which is great. Yeah making a living from it seems to suck out a lot of joy from it and I’ve enjoyed it much more without it being a monetary thing but its taken some getting there that’s for sure.

  • Reply
    BW
    April 9, 2021 at 7:50 pm

    Finally “Eww David” was used on this website!! 🙂

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 7:57 pm

      Hahahahaha thank fuck someone noticed that! I put that in and thought hmm will anyone get it and then thought who cares, it’s funny either way 😂

  • Reply
    Michael J
    April 9, 2021 at 9:41 pm

    Look out, Viktor Frankl!

    Seriously, great piece. I’m printing in my bathroom for shits and giggles whilst working a pretty intensive day job- it would be interesting to know what I’d do if I suddenly didn’t have to earn a living, or as much of one. I haven’t crossed the Rubicon of having to care what anyone thinks of my photos…

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 9:52 pm

      I had to google this dude, hahaha thanks, I think. I am always searching for meaning in everything and if I can’t find one I make one up, it’s one of my many charms 😉

  • Reply
    David Hume
    April 9, 2021 at 10:41 pm

    Another piece that’s useful as well as being great fun thanks Laura. I popped over to the Ilford one too and was a bit sad that it lacked the potty mouth element though. I’m actually doing a piece for here now on why shooting for money is good for you. I think you’re right to find what suits your personal style rather than try to change your style to what you think a certain type of photographer should be. It seems a bit sad when people do that.

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks David. Unfortunately I didn’t think the Ilford gods would look as favourably on the deluge that comes out of my mouth than Hamish does so toned it down a touch 😀
      It’s taken me many years to get to the point where i’m shooting what makes me happy and not trying so hard to conform to what I think I’m supposed to be, hence the sailor’s tongue I have 😉 For me with photography, now i’ve got to that place where i’m happy with what i’m shooting it’s a need to find something to do with the end result, unfortunately that still involves validation from the outside world but i’m not changing anything because of it, just trying to get my work out there in the best way that my work can if that makes sense.

  • Reply
    Sacha Cloutier
    April 9, 2021 at 10:58 pm

    Great article, quite relatable. For me, Covid + lack of available models = what the fuck am I going to shoot? After years of shooting exclusively digital, I had lost my way, or my purpose. I was there taking a picture and before even pressing the shutter, I knew how I was going to edit or manipulate the image. I watched countless hours of photo editing YouTube videos. With Covid, and that Zuckerberg bastard’s marketplace, I said fuck it, I started on film, I’m going back to it to get my groove back. My wife replied by calling me a hipster. Shooting mostly models, I had avoided many of the instagram cliches that exist. I had never shot cars, or basketball hoops, or random houses/buildings. So I started doing so. While I still got hipster comments from the peanut gallery, I got enjoyment in the process and the community. Fuck it, it’s Covid, Insta is the only community I got for instant gratification. So now I am always on the look out for a cool car and developing my film on the kitchen counter. It’s costing me, not paying me, but I’m happy with photography again.

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 9, 2021 at 11:20 pm

      welcome to the hipster club! There’s a few of us and we all don’t give a shit about the peanut gallery types, haters. It’s really good to hear you’ve found a love in analogue, I whole heartedly approve of this 🙂

  • Reply
    Neal A Wellons
    April 10, 2021 at 1:09 am

    I am driven. If I was the last person on earth, I would still keep photographing about the same amount I do today, which is a good bit. I guess it is an addiction. I’ve already shot and developed 38 rolls this year.

    • Reply
      Laura Cogan
      April 10, 2021 at 10:40 am

      photography addiction sounds like the best kind of addiction, if a little expensive but then what isn’t? 🙂

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