In the North, Freelancin' Ain't Easy

This month marks my two-year anniversary as a freelance photographer. I've even enjoyed a fair bit of success in the form of award nominations, international job opportunities and working with some amazingly talented people: designers, writers, artists, editors and other communications professionals. I feel blessed that I can use my vision, imagination and social skills to do what I love. What's better is that there is such a great camaraderie within the North's photographic community. I see us as one large team, rather than hundreds of individuals. The North has some of the country's top photographers living right here.

But it's a shame that many are struggling to make ends meet.

Recently, the Town of Hay River produced a tourism guide filled with beautiful aurora photographs. Except one thing: the photos were stock images from Finland.

Not to say the photos aren't nice, but let's take a look at the photographers in Hay River who are trying to run a business and SPECIALIZE in aurora photography...

Adam Hill -  one of the best aurora photographers in Canada, never mind Hay River. He was never approached for photos.

Scott Cloutier, Jared Monkman and Sean Pinn are also top photographers in the NWT who live in Hay River. None were approached for photos.

This upsets me because this kind of thing happens all the time across the NWT. Either clients are ignorant to the fact that they are not hiring local talent, or they don't want to hire locally, or they contract agencies who cut corners on creative work and buy cheap stock or outsource subcontracts to save money for their own company's (massive and unnecessary) overhead. I imagine it is a combination of these.

But that's just the beginning. There are companies out there that take months, sometimes years to pay photographers, writers and other creatives for their work. Here's an email I received just the other day, with my initial email underneath.

______________________________________________________________________

Patrick – our contract with (business withheld) ended August 31st so we no longer work with them but, I am embarrassed that you have not been paid.   These invoices have been sent to the Finance Department a number of times and there is no excuse for the delay.   I recommend that you withhold the photos until you have received payment in full.  

 Name Withheld

From: Patrick Kane [mailto:patkanephoto@arcticmail.com]
Sent: Monday, September 01, 2014 10:53 AM
To: names withheld
Subject: Pics + invoices

Hi guys, I'll be sending photos from the (campaign) this week and should arrive early next week. Also, attached are my invoices from December 2013 and the most recent assignment. If you could please settle these payments in the next few days, that would be hugely appreciated.

 And thanks again for having me along!

 Pat, Pat Kane Photo

_________________________________________________________________________

Would it come as a surprise if I told you that this happens at least once every few weeks? Would anyone walk into a restaurant or store, take a product and then tell the owner that you "might" pay for it? This is absolutely insane behaviour. In another instance, I waited over 15 months before a multimillion dollar company paid for a job I did in 2013. It took me pursuing legal action before they finally paid. I have another outstanding invoice from a billion dollar company, one of Canada's wealthiest. I will, again, need to pursue legal action before I get paid.

This is exhausting. It makes us hate our jobs. It makes photographers and other creatives look like petty complainers and it creates tension between freelancers and clients. Bottom line, it is unacceptable.

So let's make a deal.

If you are a company or organization that hires agencies for creative projects like websites, publications, videos and other marketing, please hire ones that subcontract to local talent and pay fair and on time.

If you hire freelancers directly, treat them with a little dignity and pay within 30 days of recieving the invoice (or better yet, pay right away). Your freelancer will go above and beyond your expectations, I promise.

If you are a freelancer in the NWT, perhaps its time we meet to develop a set of common business practices for, and expectations from, clients. Personally, I'm going to start charging 50% of my quote up front before the work gets started. It is the only way to guarantee a timely income, if any at all.

We are all trying to scratch together a living folks. Freelancers are some of the hardest working and under-paid business owners out there. Let's give them a fair shake because if not, they either move away or close shop.

You have some of the best talent in Canada here, right in the NWT. With a little bit of mutual respect and appreciation of the work they do, you'll see very quickly how dedicated and talented they are.