Support Your Homies

In his latest column, Russell Grant deconstructs the way we rip off our friends and how we can be better, because therapy costs way more than a gig.

 

 

Hi guys, it me, Russell, back at it again with the columns. Pardon my absence, I was busy planning my escape to Shanghai in September. (Just kidding about the escape part.) I am really moving to Shanghai in September, but I don’t for a second consider it an escape. My mission is purely personal. I’ve decided I need to take some time to grow myself, to write more, to earn more money, to reach a wider audience, and to gain a wider perspective. As much as I love my home city, I think I’ve reached something of a ceiling. I have so many stories I want to tell about this place but I have no idea at the moment how to do that. Maybe a move to China will help me figure that out. I’ve heard it’s easier to write about something from a distance, rather than from in the mire, so here’s to hoping it works. If nothing else I’ll come back stronger and hopefully somewhat richer.

So what’s on the agenda for today’s column? I have probably started, rewritten, rewritten again, and then deleted this particular column 10 times since I started writing it. A lot has been happening in the world. Trump is putting kids in cages, Anthony Bourdain has died, and just this minute I read about the passing of legendary South African photographer David Goldblatt. I don’t usually get too worked up about celebrity deaths; their distance from my own life and affairs is just too great for me to get emotional about. For some reason, though, Bourdain’s death felt like a real hammer blow to me. Maybe it was the stress of organising our visas that made any kind of death, whether local or global, just enough to put me over the emotional edge, but I really do think that the loss of Anthony Bourdain is a serious blow for all of us who believe in the importance of empathy and understanding in a world that is veering, seemingly uncontrollably, towards intolerance.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today (although it’ll probably be the topic of my next column). Today I wanna talk about something a little closer to home. Something I’ve experienced personally, and something I see happening to a lot of my homies all the time: and that thing is, the undervaluing of creative and artistic work by other creative and artistic workers. In this, the 2018th year of our lord, it baffles me that homies are still out there not supporting their homies. Now, not supporting your homies has a lot of obvious negative downsides. If you want your homies to keep doing the things they’re doing, and to keep growing and making wonderful art, you’ve got to pay them. If you don’t pay them, they can’t live, and then they’re gonna go get a job at Mr Price or move to Cape Town and then everybody loses. But there are other, deeper ways in which a lack of support can damage an artist. Thinking about this got me thinking about a paper I read many years ago, by Charles Taylor (not THAT Charles Taylor), called The Politics of Recognition. I hunted the piece down to refresh my memory. This particular piece makes up a lot of the basic groundwork of identity politics (love it or hate it), and traces the history of the human desire to be recognized, not in some egotistical, celebrity sense, but in the very deep sense of being acknowledged and accepted for who you are. This began, according to Taylor, roughly some 200 years ago (making identity politics a very old thing). All modern humans, Taylor believes, want the same basic thing, and that it to be seen and accepted for who they are; to have their unique identity made visible and acknowledged by others. As Taylor himself says: “Misrecognition shows not just a lack of due respect. It can inflict a grievous wound, saddling its victims with a crippling self-hatred. Due recognition is not just a courtesy we owe people. It is a vital human need.’ (Charles Taylor)

Now, this is a universal human trait, but I think it applies particularly strongly to artists. Artists, in a sense, are people who literally externalize bits of themselves into objects for the consumption of others. The final product in the artistic process is both an object and a piece, one could say, of the artist’s soul. Therefore, I feel, the artist feels the burden of recognition perhaps slightly more than your average non-artist human. Now I’m not trying to say that artists are some ultra-sensitive breed of human that need to be looked after, and I don’t think we should go around wrapping every bro with a paint brush in cotton wool, I’m just pointing out the fact that recognition is important for everyone and I think the nature of art makes artists especially susceptible to its whims.

 

 

Because of this, I think it’s important to point out a few ways in which the people around us, especially other artists, needlessly go around harming artists in this city, perhaps without realising it. This doesn’t always have to be financial. Like I said, there are deeper ways to hurt people.

So, let’s take a look at a few of the ways in which people undervalue each other, and how we can make it stop:

 

1) Not attending your homies’ shows and paying FULL price at the door.

 

Now, event organisers are not exactly artists, but it should go without saying that without these people we really would have no scene. They provide the most basic of platforms for artists (usually musicians, actors or comedians, but they can include visual artists and writers too): a stage, a mic, and (hopefully) an audience. Now, I’ve only been involved in a handful of events over the years, but I have homies who’ve been organising stuff for years, and a common complaint amongst them is the number of people (a lot of them other artists) who hit them up hours before an event is due to start, asking for a spot on the guest list. Guys… the guest list is called a guest list for a reason. It is literally a list of people who have been invited, for whatever reason, to attend the show for free, usually people involved with whatever act is performing, or members of the media. They aren’t there so that you can save yourself an extra 50 bucks so you can go a 6th on a bag at some point in the night. Seriously, if you can’t afford 50 bucks to come to a show, then you really shouldn’t be going out in the first place. Event organisers have got people to pay and money to make so they can put on another show at some point in the future. Support the scene, pay your entrance, and let people get paid so they can keep making dope shit. And yes, I was one of those people in the past, too. Like I said, I can do better, and one of the things I’m committed to now is paying my way when it comes to going to shows. By trying to get in for free you’re basically just devaluing the whole exercise and dealing a solid slap in the face to your brah who’s put in months of hard work trying to make the gig happen.
 

2) When you see a photographer working an event, don’t ask them to send you a couple pics the next day.
 

OK guys, this has been happening to me a lot lately, and it is INCREDIBLY disrespectful. Seriously. When I am on the job shooting an event I am there because someone has paid me to be there. That person is paying me both for my time and for the photos I am taking. When you come up to me and ask me for some free pics on the side it tells me that a) you don’t think that my time or my photos are worth anything, and b) that you don’t have any respect for the person who is hiring me. If I were to acquiesce to your request and send you some free pics I would essentially be admitting to the fact that my work is worthless and unworthy of compensation. I would also be undermining my client, who would be well within their rights to question why the hell I’m charging them for photos when I clearly also give away photos for free on the regular. I take my clients very seriously. It’s a big deal to me for someone to part with their money in return for my photos. So please, don’t come up to me and ask me for pics of an artist I’m shooting for something else. If you care even a little bit about our scene and supporting artists, at least offer to buy the photos from me.

 

3) Don’t expect friend prices.
 

Here’s another thing that happens but thankfully not that often to me. Most of my homies who hit me up to do work for them insist on paying full price, and that is dope. Most of the time I’ll swing you a discount anyway, just because you are rad and haven’t taken my work for granted. But for people who do expect friend prices from your artistic homies: please stop. A good friend of mine and editor of a local online magazine once told me that your friends should be your best clients. That is, they should be the ones supporting you by hiring you and paying FULL price. So many artists fall into the trap of either working for free or for drastically reduced rates for their friends. Guys, your friends have the money to pay you. Maybe they pretend to be broke but that’s only because they’re hoarding their cash for retirement or a new car. OK, maybe that’s not always true, but I think in general it’s probably the case that your friends can afford to pay you what you’re worth. If they can’t afford it, then they shouldn’t approach you. Just like they wouldn’t approach a car dealership and ask for a discount because, you know, times have been a bit hard, they shouldn’t feel as though they can approach you looking for the same kind of leniency.

 

We artists also have a responsibility to make sure this kind of shit doesn’t happen for the sake of both ourselves as individuals but also the rest of the industry. It annoys me to no end when I hear about some joker with a DSLR charging R200 for a full day shoot and 200 photographs just because they can. It’s so damaging for the rest of us who now have to go the extra mile to justify why we’re not giving our clients a dirt-cheap rate. Be vigilant, know your worth, and don’t compromise on that. This may sound like a hard-line approach, but there are some exceptions. If you’re just starting out it’s totally OK to work for free. But make sure that the people you are working for know that you are new, and that you’re working for free because you can’t guarantee the quality of your work. Of course, there will also be exceptions where even if you are experienced, you might want to work for free on a project because it’s something that excites you, and maybe they genuinely don’t have a budget. That’s totally fine, of course. I’m talking here mainly about the everyday course of your work. Make sure the majority of stuff you’re doing is for a fair rate and that people are aware of the real value of your work.

The list above is obviously limited to the things that I’ve experienced directly, and I’m sure there are loads more. Feel free to write your own experiences in the comments section. Remember, the point here is not just the financial disadvantage of having your work undervalued, but also the psychological one. Recognition of who we are and what we do is a vitally important for our well-being, both as humans and as artists. So please guys, pay full price for things and reduce our collective need for counselling, coz that shit’s expensive too.  

All photos by Russell Grant.

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