What happened to my Kodachrome? (part 1)
Remember singing along to Paul Simon’s popular song, Kodachrome®? Referring to Kodak’s 35mm film, the song hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1973. 35-millimeter Kodak and Nikon cameras were all the rage with the Boomers and the hottest musicians were writing about the allure of the photograph. This was about the same time Webb Chappell was moving beyond photography as a hobby and turning it into his profession. Webb’s passion for the arts, and photography in particular, would be his career for the first 25 years and beyond. And, it’s a good thing he loves it. Because retiring early is not going to be an option for many Baby Boomers.
A Passion for Photography
I had the privilege of working with Webb on a photo shoot (webbchappell.com). And, was intrigued with how he was succeeding in a profession and industry that had so completely changed.
At 55, he is a lagging edge Boomer with 2 kids in college and regular living expenses. When I asked how he was succeeding as a professional photographer, he told me that it has been hard. But, photography is what he does well. He loves owning his own business. He is good at making his own decisions. And, rejoining corporate America after 24 years on his own would not be ideal.
Almost overnight, what had been a much sought-after, highly-regarded profession nearly collapsed. With the incredible, rapid rise of digital photography, professional photographers become obsolete. Meanwhile, amateur “picture takers” began taking higher quality images with just a point-and-shoot trigger finger. In truth, this was not an overnight change. Rather, it was a 10-year evolutionary change that happened to have monumental implications for Webb and his family. And professional photographers everywhere.
Upheaval in an Industry
Webb shared his perspective on the changes in the photography business. This gradual decline in the industry was a combination of the change from film to digital and the slowly eroding and declining economy. Webb knew that things were changing back in the first recession of 2001.
As a photographer for many corporate accounts across a wide range of businesses, he was one of the first to feel the budget pinch. Corporations were cutting back on discretionary spending just at the time when stock photography and digital images were making inroads.
The goals for corporate brand materials (annual reports, brochures, advertising, websites, etc.) was no longer about high quality, unique design that only professionals could offer. Rather, it became all about keeping a unique identity using art that was acceptable. And much less expensive. Access to stock photos devalued the professional photographer. And worse, in many cases, eliminated the photographer entirely.
When Retiring Early is Not an Option
Webb understood that this was a permanent change. There would be little opportunity to go back to the hay days of photo shoots in exotic locations. But, when you have a family to feed and a roof to keep over your head, and you are turning 50, retiring from your career and profession is not an option!
Key to Webb’s success is attitude and outlook. When he turned 50 five years ago, he recognized that the world around him was changing and that he couldn’t control that. But, he could control how he recreated and reinvented how he worked in the world.
He has given some thought about his retirement plans, but doesn’t want to spend too much energy thinking too far ahead. Instead, he’s planning to keep working as long as he has the physical stamina to do so. His is a story of reinvention and self-preservation in the profession that he loves. More on how he’s staying current and saving for his future in part 2.