The world of the Photographic Assistant is a wild and varied one. One day you are working with a familiar face, the next the new Johnny or Jenny Big Bananas . Most go into this industry to learn enough to go out alone, some want to work with the people who inspire them.
It has to be said this industry is filled with a long list of wonderful people, the kind of people who need assistance in their work, they understand the importance of the role, and rely on the group effort to get what they need out of their own work. Alternatively, there has to be equal amounts of quite the opposite of these people and that’s the rub as a young and impressionable freelancing assistant.
Their days are filled with a kaleidoscope of unique experiences, from damp basement studios, high mountain tops, strapped in the back of speeding cars, being used as target practice with paintball guns or standing in for someone who is going to be comp’ed in later, wishing your friends could see you now..to mention but a few.
Assistants are the glue that keeps the shoot together…or so you would think.
It is not just all about taking bookings for studio and lighting hire here at Slaughterhouse Studios, it is about working with and witnessing some wonderful work taken by some of the world’s finest photographers.
Just lately however, I have noticed a marked change in the difference in Photographic Assistants.
As production costs are increasing and the amount of work out there fluctuates on a month by month basis, you would be a fool to think that anyone’s job is secure. Performance is what is required from any Assistant, that and unmitigated loyalty. I have worked with people who are happiest when they sweat like prize fighters after a 12 hour day, with only 15 minutes to throw some less than nutritious catering down their welcome gullets. No assistant has a soft handed grandmother lighting a candle for them, no union rep. ready to head down to your studio with a copy of The Big Red Song Book and neither will anyone ever, and I mean this with all the love in the world, ever see an assistant as anything more than what they are.
Now, some assistants come into this industry with one thing on their mind, to be giant killers. I once had to interview two assistants for an overseas job, to be presented with a tall and capable looking chap, the facial hair and style of a young man just cycling through Shoreditch, assuming on his ‘fixy’. His retort to a question put to him by the production manager was thus. “What do you want to get out of this trip?”, his response – “to take all of his [pointing at me] clients and be the best fashion photographer in London”. Now, joking aside, asinine comments like that make me want to employ these people just to see how far they are happy to go before they snap…but I am no longer that calculated and evil, maybe I never was. Maybe, just maybe I was always just galloping through life waiting to see if I was ever going to meet the “best fashion photographer in London”. I think we all know that it is never going to happen. The industry is far too fickle for that…
So to see such a shortfall in talented, young and energetic, creative people wanting to be a photographic assistant to learn more about things that excite them, travel, understand that this industry is a roller coaster, not a roundabout. And most of all, be happy that they are in full time freelance employment, earning more than most and depending on who they attach themselves to, working on some stunning locations, the finest studios and getting access to more than just photography.
Thankfully, just last week I was introduced to such a person. This guy is everything one would expect, of in an assistant. Not only is he personable, has an unnatural understanding of the boundaries in a studio, he is never rude or aggressive to the client, studio directors or anyone else for that matter. He has no axe to grind, no chip on his shoulder. He just wants to get on with his job, learn more each day, meet new and interesting people, expand on his list of lighting styles and to top it all off, he remembered how many sugars I have in my coffee.
So, if you are after a solid team member who is happy to work until the job is done, someone who will never bring his iPad2 to watch during a shoot or Facebook his/her friends, someone who will never just stand there and watch as everyone else handballs heavy kit and someone who is never going to flirt with the models (they would flirt with him though). Then Alexander Cornes is your man.
Take a look at his work, who he works for and get in early before he gets taken on some permanent contract. People like this are like hen’s teeth so react now and secure some future dates with Alex.
Anyone in doubt of how to behave as an assistant should spend some time shadowing him.