Friend and fellow photographer Shannon Fagan recently relocated from New York to China. Shannon is one of those people that are referred to as "thought leaders" and has been very active in the photography world. He is a past president of the Stock Artists Alliance, and has had leadership roles in the American Photographic Artists, the American Society of Media Photographers and the Young Photographers Alliance. I could go on...but I won't.
I recently fired off an e-mail to Shannon in Beijing asking him "Why China?". His answer was pretty cool, so with his permission I am sharing it here.
Shannon, why China?
- Alongside the recession and economic changes for online image licensing, my stock photography earnings declined rapidly from late 2008 to mid 2009. I reassessed what I wanted out of my business, and out of my personal life.
- I had burned out of managing disinterested parties on photo shoots for production outlays that were taking longer than I felt was wise to break even. I found that I could not cut costs further and still forecast an adequate income; nor could I maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle as I squeezed the expenses whilst raising my crews’ stress to unnecessary levels. I chose to stop, take profit on my royalties, and change what I was doing.
- I found, through a lot of personal introspection and external research, that I was no longer interested in shooting stock imagery nor assignment work within the current market conditions. I wanted a new challenge, and as I assessed that need in my life, I found that there had been indicators to that end for some time.
- I looked analytically at the industry and at my options. I knew commercial photography was permanently changed and knew that my interests as a person within that were quickly migrating to other areas of visual communication and business.
- This all leads me to late 2009, when I went to China to do research on relocating. I formulated the basis of that investigation from the continual pull that I had felt to the emerging marketplace and success that I had had working in China from 2006 – 2009. Several very close, intelligent, and long term friends also put the bug in my ear. By spring 2010, I returned to China again for another test trip; and by late 2010 I had closed out my operation in New York and was ready for relocation. I knew that I was moving for the right reasons; even if not all reasons had manifested yet.
- I did not move blindly. During a period of 18 months, I worked on the ground in Beijing, Shanghai, and in New York to establish and refine long term contacts and relationships that would fuel me upon arrival. I did a lot of business coursework. When I arrived to Beijing in December last year, I hit the ground running with a multitude of projects carefully orchestrated in China and abroad.
- The economy in the US assisted my decision. Our industry has consolidated and as you’re likely aware, there is a prejudice for photographers interested in shifting into business roles. In one way or another, I not only felt that prejudice, I experienced it enough to understand intelligently that there would be no easy nor efficient movement for me in the US from a role of photographer to the business side of the industry. Instead, and quite literally, recruiters and big picture thinkers told me “...go to China, it’s where all the new action is.”
- Moving forward to the present; I am glad that I moved. My happiness and daily fulfillment is at an all-time high recently, and I hope (fingers crossed...) that the opportunities for me here will continue to grow. It reminds me of my relocation to New York City post-graduation from college ten years ago.
- I am acutely aware of the converging economies of the US and China; and it is clear that this market will grow robustly over the next 50 years. It is also clear that it is under-served. China is not an easy place to live; but I wasn’t looking for easy. I knew all of the back story going into this decision, and I am daily reminded of just how difficult it is to live and work here. For entrepreneurs in China, we tease that we “I love it and I hate it”....which is to say that we feel neutrally pragmatic about it. I’m lucky. If September 11th, a blackout, two economic recessions, and a fiercely competitive market in New York didn’t chew me up and spit me out, well then, hopefully my new digs won’t do so either.
- I can be entrepreneurial here in manners inaccessible to me in the US economy. Being a creative business in the West was getting more and more expensive for me, but here, I can put my expertise in visual communication and entrepreneurial strategy to ready use and it is met with great interest. I’m an outlier. My business interests are much more readily fueled by access to key meetings with top level individuals whom would not be available to me back home. I am absorbing immense amounts of local knowledge daily and I am getting quicker and quicker on my feet in an economy that is elusive to foreigners.
- Lastly, to seal the deal, was a terrific full-time Chinese Operations and Project Manager here; Gan Chao. She and I are not only great friends, we also work extremely well together. She is my eyes and ears to China. She is in every way the bridge link that many foreigners have and need to access the Chinese daily personal and work life. Her can-do-it and aggressive attitude is rare in this marketplace. I believe we’re on to something in this market.
- I’m now China’s Top Selling Stock Photographer, the only industry consultant with a core expertise for China, Director of the Young Photographer Alliance’s China Mentoring Program, an ASMP liaison to Asia, and more to come!