26th of March 2016.
We were photographing the wedding of my good friend Justine and William over in the Wairarapa.
But I wasn’t well. I hadn’t been well for a while, at the very least a year. But I had been soldiering on. “I’m not that bad” I would say to myself. Even though I could hardly walk 20 metres without stopping to rest because I was out of breath. Even when I had to sit behind the steering wheel of my car for five minutes, exhausted, metres away from the front door I had left seconds ago.
“I’ll be fine.”
But I wasn’t fine. And it as we got to the end of the evening, I found myself slowing down more and more, and then I just stopped. Taylor: my good friend Taylor, took over the camera and finished the job for me. We got back to Wellington, I visited the doctor the next day, he said I had a mild case of pneumonia, prescribed me the appropriate medications and told me to rest for the next 30 days.
30 days later.
30 days came around faster than I expected.
But I really hadn’t gotten any better. So I went back to my doctor, “I think you better go to A & E, just in case, just so they can run a few tests.” So off I went.
The doctors at A & E checked me over. They said I was going to have to stay overnight. Overnight became a couple of days. On the third day the doctor broke the news to me.
“The good news is: you are not dead.”
I had had a pulmonary embolism. Blood clots. A lot of them apparently, I’m not quite sure, I think I stopped listening after the doctor explained to me that the mortality rate for this was relatively high, and the good news was that “I wasn’t dead.”
I spent a week in hospital. I had to hop on the phone and organize other photographers to cover my jobs. And when I finally got out of hospital I had a to make a decision about the future of Big Mark Photography.
A new reality.
I got out of hospital. I was already taking a number of medicines to control my blood pressure, my cholesterol, but I had a new medicine to take, warfarin, to help stop the blood clotting. In my head I imagined leaving hospital, taking my pills, and everything going back to normal.
Instead I found that I was just as lethargic and out of breath as I was before I was admitted to hospital. “It will take time to recover” they kept saying while they treated me in hospital. “Nah, I’ll be right” I thought. I thought wrong.
I kept getting other photographers to cover my jobs. But after a month, I realized that this wasn’t going to be a temporary thing.
I had a decision to make.
I needed to either formalize the relationship with the photographers who had been shooting for me. Because my clients had expectations: and as things were things were going well, but I was worried that my clients expectations were not alway going to be met.
Or I had to shut it all down.
Shutting it all down appealed to me. Because it was all getting to be a bit much.
But did I have it in my heart to shut it down?
I didn’t. Because working for yourself is a way of life. And you either love it or you don’t. And I loved it. And I was getting too old to think about going back to working for somebody else.
So I had to figure out a way to keep it all going.
Enter the calvary.
Masanori, Taylor, Abbie and Abbie, Kathryn, Sarah, Chloe, Spiro. Donna. Mum and dad, Darren, Tina, James. And a few more whose names elude me at the moment.
People pulled together to help me keep the business going.
My basic business model changed.
Other people shooting for me became the norm.
But there was a problem.
The business was making more money than I’ve ever done.
But my expenses had more than doubled.
Big Mark Photography was always built around being a “sole trader”, occasionally bringing on photographers if I needed to “scale up” for a particular event. But now I found myself permanently “scaled up”. My margins went from “healthy” to “uncomfortably tight”. The business was surviving, but it was on life support.
I kept things together. But the writing was on the wall. We made it through 2017. But I didn’t think we would make it through 2018. So I started to work on a new plan.
It wasn’t just the numbers.
The market was changing.
To be more precise: the market is constantly changing, evolving.
Was what we were doing what the market needed?
I threw myself headlong into a research project.
What do businesses need from a photographer? From photography?
What are the trends? How are they using social media?
I wasn’t sure where Big Mark Photography fit in the big picture any more. So I worked overtime to try and figure it all out.
My creative vision.
It wasn’t just the numbers. And it wasn’t just a change in the market.
I wasn’t sure who I was as a photographer, as an artist. I wasn’t sure I was an artist.
I hadn’t updated my portfolio in a couple of years. So what was I going to do?
Bringing it all together.
Have you seen the movie Jerry McGuire?
The movie opens with Jerry (played by Tom Cruise) typing on a keyboard, writing a mission statement, talking about the future of his company. If you haven’t seen that movie you can watch that scene here:
It was the early weeks of 2018. I had been crunching the numbers, doing my research, searching my soul.
And then one night everything came together.
It was just like that moment in Jerry McGuire.
I started to put together my mission statement for the future of the business. I didn’t do it overnight, like Jerry was able to, it took me a couple of days. And I put it together in a powerpoint presentation, and I included some of my favourite images, just because I could. And I shared it with those people closest to me.
The point of all of this.
Are you still here? Thanks for sticking around. 🙂
Have a random image from the archives. (The wonderful Justine again, with Julie, courtesy Voda Management)
So whats the point of all of this?
Well things are going to be changing, just a little bit.
I started Big Mark Photography in 2011. Over the last seven years we have covered some of Wellington’s biggest events, worked with some amazing people, and created some amazing images.
But the world has moved on, and its time for things to evolve.
Big Mark Photography will become my own personal outlet for my photography. I’m going to start working on a few personal projects. I have a circus portraits project I’ve got in the works, I’m going to be working with Big Al and Donna on creating the kind of magical images we were creating back in about 2014.
But we are also going to start something new.
To be continued…
[Cover photo by Abbie Dorrington, all other image by Big Mark]