I’ve been applying to graduate school and by doing so have had the chance to think about what I have learned in almost 3 years since graduation. Certainly I learned that I want to be a fine art photographer. I learned I want to teach. But one major things I learned was to never to work for free.
Certainly I remember professors saying never to work for free. I knew that a typical internship lasted for no more that 3 months. Past 3 months your were basically working for free. I knew financially I couldn’t work for free. But never was it described as insidious as it really is.
When I left college I moved to New York City. I got the opportunity to be published in a weekly magazine that would send me out to parties and events around Manhattan, but I had to do it for free. That situation if very hard for a 22 year old, who wants a career so badly, to say no to. Six months later I had to quit and find paying work. While I made many connections and gained a lot of experience; the point was I had worked for 6 months and had no money to show for it. Now most every working artist has probably gone through the experience of working for ‘exposure’. Most will tell you, yes they got burned, but they learned a lot. Let’s be clear, working for free is something you probably can’t talk someone out of if they’ve never experienced it with the promise of experience and exposure.
There is a loop hole in this and it’s called an internship. Internships are where you gain experience and exposure. Where you work for a limited amount of time, working for free. Even internships will end in either an outstanding reference letter or a job. Simple working for free will end in neither.
Rise up, be brave, and don’t work for free.