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|| News Item: Posted 2008-05-13

Are you in Expansion Mode or Contraction Mode?
Jim McNay asks photographers to take a self-test.

By Jim McNay

Photo by Paul Michael Myers

Photo by Paul Michael Myers

Jim McNay asks photographers to take a self-test.
When photographers are engaged in looking for the next internship, the next job, the next freelance assignment there a good self-check to see how active they are being in that pursuit.

We might call it the Seriousness Gut-Check, as in, "How serious are we really?"

This self-test allows photographers to check themselves about what they say they are up to, to see if they are just complaining, mouthing the words.

(Now we know no one reading this is ever in that situation. But some of our friends may be suspect from time to time.)

So in checking on where they are photographers can look to find themselves in one of two existing modes or conditions. One condition might be what we call the Expansion Mode.

Here the photographer is actively engaged in sending out portfolios, meeting with potential employers, pitching assignments to editors and the like. Sometimes the action shows up as telephone calls, e-mails, promo cards, whatever is appropriate.

Basically, without being a pest or a jerk, the photographer is in communication with people seeking to Make Something Happen.

The opposite condition is one we might call the Contraction Mode. Here the photographer is doing none of the above mentioned activities: No telephone calls, no resumes or portfolios in the mail, no story pitches to editors, no outgoing communications.

Now the Cosmic Joke here is many photographers protest they are not in the Contraction Mode by not taking any action. They insist they are in Hovering Mode. They're just taking a break, re-thinking things, hovering.

But in this example remember there are only TWO conditions: Expansion and Contraction. There is no hovering.

This is easier to see if we imagine an ever-expanding universe, something some scientists suggest explains our cosmic experience. If in fact the universe is expanding, then hovering or coasting is the equivalent of contracting, of becoming smaller in the expanding cosmos.

Now it's clear none of this is necessarily the capital "T" Truth. It's just a way of looking at how we are going about accomplishing what we say we are up to. It's a way to gauge our own performance, to monitor ourselves, perhaps even coach ourselves.

But the example can offer a useful self-check on one's program to move on to the next big opportunity. It's a template one can run with.

Bottom Line: YOU don't need this. But you can tell your friends.

Jim McNay teaches and writes about photojournalism in California—while fantasizing about running a charter fishing business in Key West.

Photographers, particularly those in school or seeking to break into photojournalism, are welcome to send ideas for future columns to Jim McNay at

Questions about getting started in photojournalism that might be answered in future columns are also welcome.

Related Links:
McNay's member page

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