In the wake of the shooting in Connecticut, I have seen a lot of folks talking about gun control and, thankfully, also about the failings of the mental health system in America. It’s that second part that I want to talk about a bit. It’s something I have quite a bit of experience with, and after seeing some…less than educated remarks about it from folks on the internet, I have a few things to say.
As some of you may know, I’ve been in and out of therapy since my elementary school days. I’ve been on more than a dozen meds. I’ve seen counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychopharmacologists, and even a neurologist once. It took me being in therapy for more than ten years before I finally got answers that made sense. It has taken me nearly another ten to begin to make sense of it all, and to finally start seeing the right specialists for the right problems. I won’t go into it here, as I have written a bit about these things before, but I’ll simply say that my problems are far more than your run of the mill Depression or Anxiety disorders, complicated enough that someone once wanted to use me for a case study.
Sadly, my story is far from uncommon. Many folks with mental illness of some sort or another are in therapy for years before they start making progress. The only unusual part of my story is that I’ve had the privilege, yes, privilege, to be in therapy and treatment for so long. Most folks with mental illness, especially serious ones like mine, are unable to reach out for help, and unable to afford it if they do. Our culture stigmatizes mental illness, and, increasingly, criminalizes it. Having certain diagnoses (not always the ones you’d expect) can lead to being denied jobs, healthcare, insurance, even housing. Certain DXs will follow you your entire life, like a ball and chain. Given this, many people, especially men, are loathe to seek treatment, and I can’t blame them. If I didn’t have as supportive a family and friends as I do, I would have been hesitant to go back into therapy as I did recently, despite the fact that my problems were seriously affecting not just my personal life but also my ability to support myself. I have had doctors before who asked me if I would like them to leave their diagnosis off my medical records, so that it wouldn’t cause problems later (and from my discussions with fellow “loonies”, I have discovered that this is far from a rare practice). The fact that even the doctors know that this is a problem is telling.
I don’t know what the average cost of mental health care is, but I know that it is high, and it is rarely ever covered by insurance. Most of the therapists in my area charge $120-$150 an hour. I saw a therapist for a few months who saw me on a sliding scale, and even with that allowance, my sessions were still $80 a pop. The specialist I saw recently would cost me $600 a month to see regularly. The irony here is that most folks with mental health issues are not exactly on the high end of the pay scale, and can’t afford the care that might make them more productive members of society. My own problems mean that it’s difficult if not actually dangerous for me to work more than part time for an extended period of time, and I’ve met an awful lot of folks who have similar difficulties. Many have trouble holding down jobs, many have trouble finding them, and yet others, like me, have difficulty doing them. I have found that things are much better when I’m working for myself so that I can take the necessary time for self care, but most folks do not have that luxury.
As a country, the USA desperately needs an overhaul in how it deals with, treats, accommodates, and views mental health. We need to have a range of options to fit the spectrum of needs. Some folks might have a drastic improvement simply by seeing a counselor once a month while another individual might be better off in full time care, and both folks, as well as everyone inbetween, needs to be able to get the care that they need. Some disorders respond well to pharmaceutical intervention, while others can only be mitigated with regular therapy (which in some cases may need to be lifelong), and both solutions need to be seen as equally valid. We as a people need to stop seeing those with mental disorders such as my own as “freaks” or “crazies” who are a drag on society – we are people who are trying to make our way through life as best we can, and some of us need a hand every once in awhile. A society should be judged on how they treat those who are unable to contribute to it, and right now we have an F on that report card. That needs to change, and soon, or I think that we will no longer be able to claim ourselves to be a country of greatness.
I did a couple’s portrait session yesterday. They wanted to take advantage of the beautiful weather and foliage this week to get some shots for Christmas cards.
I’m still working through the 451 photos I took in 2.5 hours, but these are some “early releases” that I particularly like.
One of the most entertaining things about being at Fort Ticonderoga this past weekend was seeing every tourist holding a copy of one of my photos. It’s a shot from last year that I sold to the fort to use in their marketing materials, and I didn’t expect that it would end up as one of the main shots on their visitor’s brochure!
Every time I saw one in someone’s hand, it made me jump with joy a little inside.
When I came back from a year abroad in South Korea, I had two great ideas that unfortunately fell by the wayside after I realized that both of them were a bit beyond my reach at the time. One was a documentary project that I called The Mongolian Experiment, and the other was a crowd funding/crowd sourcing platform that sourced people’s skills instead of their money, which I called “Tindr” (which I gave the tag line ‘it only takes a spark to start a fire’). Sadly, I had neither the programming expertise or the money to hire a programmer for Tindr, and after doing a heck of a lot of research on what it would take for me to accomplish my plans for The Mongolian Experiment, I realized that I was too out of shape, too inexperienced with horses, too new to the travel blogging and photo blogging spheres to be able to pull it off, and the project itself was too esoteric to appeal to a larger audience without a 5 minute explanation. In retrospect, I have also realized that frankly, I had no idea what I was doing and was working based on pre-conceived notions that were pretty far off from reality.
That was three years ago. Three years may not be a huge amount of time, but I have changed substantially as a person and fundamentally as a photographer since then. In those three years, I’ve paid attention to where my strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as the subjects that interest me the most and that I’m best at portraying through photography. I’ve honed my skills and specialized. I’ve gone from an aspiring professional to an actual professional. The biggest change, though, is that I’ve realized that I can come up with ideas until I’m blue in the face, but nothing is ever going to come of them unless I actually put myself out there on the line and do something about them.
Just because I cancelled The Mongolian Experiment doesn’t mean that I gave up on large-scale projects. If anything, it actually made me more determined to make something work. For the last few years, I’ve been thinking about just what it is that I really can throw my heart and soul behind, what it is that has a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding.
I had a conversation recently with another photographer about what I’m most passionate about shooting – the stuff that really just makes my heart sing when I see it through my viewfinder. I came up with three subjects: reenactors, horses and equestrians, and little-known or ill-understood cultures/subcultures. I actually have some ideas for a domestic project involving reenactors, but what I realized is that there was a great opportunity for me to combine my interests in horse cultures and little-known peoples with my love of international travel. And lo, I came up with an idea.
I want to do a series of explorations of the long-standing horse cultures in several different locations around the world: Mongolia, Argentina, Spain, the American West. Possibly even places like Russia and Central Asia would be included. I would love to take a year and examine all of them over the course of a year, but if there’s one thing I learned from my failures with The Mongolian Experiment, it is to break things into manageable chunks. So, I will do each country one at a time, at least at first, with the photos being turned into a large format photography book (and possibly an exhibition, if I can secure one). I am hoping to start off with either Mongolia or Argentina, as both of those places have deeply entrenched horse cultures and are somewhat enigmatic to an American audience. If that project does well, then I will move onto doing the other countries. The project will be crowd funded through either Kickstarter or IndieGoGo.
I feel that this project has a lot of advantages over my earlier concept. First of all, it’s a large project that is easily broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks that each still stand on their own. Secondly, it’s an easy, relatable subject that doesn’t take much explanation: horse culture in X country. Third, whereas The Mongolian Experiment relied on trying to find people who were interested in Mongolian culture, which is a fairly small number of people. By comparison, this project can pull from the gigantic equestrian subculture that is fairly easy to tap into (and it helps that it’s a demographic that tends to have money to spend). Finally, I am now much more well connected and marketing savvy than I used to be, and more and more crowd funded projects are successful every day.
I have quite a bit of research to do before any of this can get anywhere close to getting off the ground, but you can expect to see me posting about my progress on figuring this all out in the meantime. I am hoping to have enough of it all put together to get my campaign started early this fall. Until then, I have a huge amount of work in front of me.
What do you all think?
[Photo by Eduardo Amorim]
So, I’ve been thinking about where I want to travel, next time I have enough money to do so. While I do want to travel pretty much everywhere, I do have a “short list” of places that I most want to visit. It helps me to stay focused, and to have more concrete, tangible goals. Here are a few of the places on my short list, as well as descriptions of what I hope to do while there, in no particular order.
So, it’s a no-go on shooting an event that I had tentatively been hired to shoot. I got the terms back from the person in charge of approving me as official photographer, and was quite honestly aghast at how condescending they are. Unfortunately, these sort of things are more common than you’d think when it comes to dealing with clients.
Note: My original quote for them was $500, which is half what I typically charge for full-weekend event coverage.
Here’s what I got back (this was the email to a mutual friend, for me):
I agree that most of us are too busy reenacting to take good pictures… and having a photographer and hopefully some short video clips as well would be of value to the [organization] for future advertising. When I did this in 2008, I did it for free, but I understand that gas is more expensive these days, so here is what we can offer…
* I’ll pay her $25 on Friday when she arrives. (I will be reimbursed by the [organization])
* If she is seen to be actively photographing and video taping us all day saturday, saturday evening, and sunday till we finish.. we’ll pay another $50
* We are to receive the edited images in jpg format on disks with full rights to use them in any way the [organization] wants. If I am pleased with the quantity and more importantly the quality of the images, we would then be willing to pay an additional sum between $50 and $125. If I am really blown away; I’ll personally add a tip from my own pocket over and above what the [organization] can afford.
“If she is seen to be actively photographing” um, as opposed to what? Sitting around on my butt? Sir, if you’re hiring me to shoot, I’m there shooting. And what is with that piecemeal payment system? Do you pay your plumber for each pipe he clears and then only give him the rest of the money if you really love his work? No. This was not an event I was already attending as a reenactor – it’s not even a period I do; this was an event I was going to be hired to shoot, so I would have been there as a civilian, sleeping in my car. The fact that he says that “he used to do this for free” tells me that he doesn’t really understand what it is I’m going to be doing. I’m sure he’s a good guy, but I don’t think he understands that at those prices, I’d be working for well below minimum wage on that job. Considering that my hourly rate is generally closer to $25-$30 an hour, this offer is just insulting.
If he had come back with a well-reasoned, professional response and said that they could only afford X amount, I would have worked with him. I would have maybe only shot one day instead of two, or I would have worked out a payment plan, or something. But the attitude behind those terms shows me that he really doesn’t understand anything about hiring photographers.
Especially this early in the game, it is very important for me not to low-ball myself, or when I do, to do it on my own terms. Accepting terms like these would have sent the message that I’m not really a professional and that it’s okay to pay me like an amateur. My good tailor friend Neal Hurst charges $700 and up for a coat, and what you’re getting for that price is an exceptional product made with Neal’s years of experience creating high quality garments. If he charged only $200, I’d be suspicious. Price reflects quality, and you have to price your services according to your own abilities and skill level, otherwise people will forever see you as unprofessional.
What are your thoughts? How would you react if someone tried to pull this with you?
Q:Oh gosh, that's awesome!! Congratulations! :D So you'll totally be in New York. When are these events taking place?
Fort Ti is the third week in July, the Napoleonic event is the last weekend in July and is in Bedford Village, PA, and Oriskany is the first week of August.