How To Interview As An Artist - Presenting Your Best Self to the World
As a painfully shy child not inclined to make a fuss about much, I never really thought I would have a career where I would be answering interview questions about myself. I have a personality that is far more comfortable rambling on about the happy vegetables growing in my garden or quiet solo hikes in the forest instead of my photography career. But as an artist, features can provide a wide open door of opportunity accessible only through introduction to a new audience. Be it a blog, magazine, gallery show, student exam, or podcast - as the ambassador to your own brand, it's great to be prepared for all possibilities with a detailed understanding about your own creative process. In my experience, you never really know what opportunities an interview might bring. As such, I've found it crucial to treat each feature as you would your resume - sent out into the world with the hope that luck will be in your favor enough to put your work in front the eyes that will move your career forward.
Running my own professional photography business and working as a contributing writer interviewing dozens of photographers for the popular arts and culture blog, My Modern Met, has helped me gain a first hand understanding of the interview process on both sides of the spectrum. With a collective seven years experience under my belt, I have acquired a few tips on how to present your best self to the world when your work is featured.
Here are 11 ways to help you interview as an artist!
1. Don't be afraid to say yes to opportunities that fit with your style - however small they may seem.
It's never fun to work solely for exposure, but with blogs and online magazines, I tend to give a little more leeway due to small budgets and mutual benefit. The internet is a funny place - you just never know what resource will put your work in front of the channels looking to hire photographers. All it takes is one person with the right connections to change the course of your career. Carefully examine each opportunity - with a bit luck, a small interview can lead you to a whole new world of possibility. I've had licensing requests from interviews with a reach of 100 people. It's a matter the right people at the right time so I try never to dismiss features solely based upon audience size.
2. Have your contact information readily available.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to go hunting for contact information. If you are not easy to reach, opportunities might pass you by due to the simple inability to connect. It might be a good practice to have multiple avenues of communication available on each channel you manage so as to appease each person's contact preferences. I know I prefer to do all of my questions and requests via email rather than contact forms because I have attachments I like send.
3. Have a website, headshot, and artist bio ready!
If you were blessed with traits like mine rich in the sweet instant satisfaction of procrastination, presuming a task as daunting makes it easier to put off. That's why having proper information prior to needing them can break the feelings of overwhelm while helping to make the process streamlined and less time consuming. Building a website is tedious, but one place to keep your portfolio for potential clients to easily access is invaluable. For hosting, I use Squarespace for their many amazing features and functionality. I also keep a folder available on my desktop with head shots, frequently updated CVs, an artist bio, previously answered interview questions, social media kits, as well as high resolution files of my favorite pieces ready at a moment's notice to meet any deadline.
4. Be prompt in your response.
These days, we all have modern busy lives, it's hard to stay organized with jobs, families, inboxes, and social media channels to manage. I know I've sat down to answer interviews only to get distracted and leave the email forgotten in my inbox for weeks. But not being timely in your response could lead to missed opportunities. If you are at a point in your career where you get frequent requests, it might be beneficial to keep a list of responses on hand as some questions may be similar. To give an example, approximately the same time every year as students are starting up their photography classes again, I usually receive around twenty requests for interviews to help with projects. As most of the questions are the same, I keep a small FAQ available and customize each response as needed, that way I can quickly respond to each request and allow the student to move forward with their project.
5. A good interviewer will dig deep, so make sure to carefully curate your content - past, present, and future.
When I was young and just starting out in the photography world, I tended to use Flickr as a bit of a diary, especially during my 365 project moaning about various daily happenings in my stressful operating room job and how much my photos sucked. This lead to my first interviews being centered on the darkness and insecurity I used to drive my creativity. A perk of our humanity is the ability to be ever evolving, what once was true when I started photography may no longer match my style and process. What photos you once wanted featured may no longer match your shooting style.
Take a day to go back into the dark depths of your first photo sharing channels and clean up what no longer suits your image as an artist. The internet is forever and a good interviewer will dig deep looking for an angle to present your work to their audience with the mutually beneficial goal of driving traffic to both their site and yours. If you curate your social media, you can easily control your own image.
6. Try not to be self deprecating or too self critical.
As an artist, it's hard to be in love with every piece you create but overall, at least outwardly, it's important to exude confidence enough to sell your work. If you don't believe in your own ability, how can you expect potential clients to? It's easy to fall into the trap of never feeling good enough, believe me I've been there too, but art is subjective and if you are being contacted for a feature someone saw talent enough to reach out. If you were applying for a job would you talk about how you had no clue what you were doing and how insecure you are about your abilities? You are your own worst enemy, try to steer away from self criticism in your answers.
7. Don't be afraid to show your personality and get down deep into your process.
With that being said, don't be afraid to share your struggles and adversities, but do so in a way that is positive and uplifting as a way to share what you've learned in your journey. These days with our ever diminishing attention spans and TL;DR mentalities forever in the search of that magic recipe for viral content, if you don't catch the eye of your audience immediately they'll continue on their way down the endless scroll of social media. In a world filled with advertisements and corporate realities screaming at you from gas pumps and listening to your conversations via your phone's microphone to "best serve you", readers are looking for authenticity they can connect with. Don't be afraid to be open and honest about your own story. Sharing my journey helped me connect with others who were going through similar experiences to create lasting relationships while also giving the writer a hook to present my work to their audience.
8. Grammar and spell check.
I've made this mistake myself in a rush to get things checked off my to-do list assuming the person writing the interview would catch any mistakes. Things get missed, the world is an imperfect place. It's best to avoid this by being certain to carefully proofread each answer.
9. Leave the emojis to texting.
I will always edit them out anyway. If you wouldn't put an emoji in a resume I wouldn't put it in an interview.
10. Zip your files.
Just a courtesy thing, no one wants to download 25 photos individually.
11. If you are easy to work with, chances are good for future interviews.
I know I'm always on the look out for content to feature and prefer to build a rapport with photographers I interview in the hopes to keep up on their latest work for future interviews. It probably goes without saying that if you are pleasant, punctual, and easy to work with, chances are you'll leave that door open for subsequent collaborations.