How To Turn Your Creative Impulses Into A Lucrative Career Path
This career advice from Anna Pogossova might be just what you need to snap out of a slump. This Russian-born Sydney-based artist, illustrator and photographer has a lush portfolio of editorial images and exhibition artwork to make you swoon.
As a conceptual still life photographer Anna spends a lot of time making props and sets. She starts talking faster when speaking about her work, and imagery? That makes her really excited. Describing how imaginative you can be when depicting everyday objects, she effuses that “you can do really, really fun things”.
You might have seen some of Anna’s editorial imagery in fashion magazines like Oyster, Vogue Australia and YEN, or caught her personal work in various exhibitions. She’s even behind the artwork for this year’s huge EMC (electronic music conference) event.
Anna notes that there now isn’t a huge difference between her personal work and her commercial work; as her career progressed, she began to pick up work based on her personal style. “The point at which I thought ‘I am now a professional photographer’ was when those worlds converged,” she explains.
It all started with a seal
For Anna, making creativity her career was never a question. She describes being inspired by drawings of animals at an exhibition as a child and deciding she was going to go home and draw a seal. “I couldn’t draw a seal,” she laughs “but I didn’t ever want to stop.” When I ask if any of her work now features seals, she grins. “That’s the thing that’s always slightly out of reach! And maybe that’s the way it should be.”
Determined to make images, Anna set out to explore the means she would use to do it. “I used to really love drawing and painting,” she says “but kind of like the seal, I lacked the skills to represent something the way I saw it in my head. I found that photography was a great way to do that. Photography is a means to create the image that’s in my mind.”
Photography was never the career goal, just a natural inclination
Anna studied at the UNSW College of Fine Arts in Sydney, where she trained towards being a conceptual artist. “While I was studying I hadn’t even entertained the idea of being a commercial photographer,” she says. After university, Anna began working in magazines as a retouch artist and continued to shoot her own work on the side, building an aesthetic, which she describes as “hyper-real”.
Continuing to work in magazines, Anna naturally fell into jobs that lead her to photography. She started to shoot models and main fashion but it was her desire to work full time as photographer at a magazine that saw her take on a still life role.
She trusted her journey as an artist
“If you can come to people filling a gap in style or ideas, they’ll want to work with you.”
Anna is a big believer in trusting your journey as an artist. Her career fell into place when she began shooting still life. “I’d just get left in the studio for hours to figure out how to shoot a shoe in a really cool way. Nobody else was really interested and they didn’t really mind what I did, so I started painting backdrops and making little props to make things more interesting for myself. I realised it was actually really fun and I was quite good at it. I had more creative control, which was what I was craving.”
It was Anna’s passion for still life that set her apart, and eventually Anna was able to start working freelance; regularly publishing commercial work nationally and internationally. “There aren’t many photographers like me that are interested in doing still life so I made a little niche for myself,” she says.
Feeling inspired? Check out Anna’s career advice here:
#1 Find what inspires you
Sometimes creative output can be all about your input. “Images and narrative really stimulate me,” Anna says, “so I watch tonnes and tonnes of films and I think afterwards that information sometimes comes back out as an idea. Some people need to be isolated and I’ve tried that but I just draw a blank; I get really bored. I need to be almost overwhelmed by information to process it back out as my work.”
#2 Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Anna acknowledges that creative industries can be hard to break into, but she emphasises the importance of reaching out to get a foot in the door. “It might be a matter of emailing someone and saying you love their work, let’s have a coffee,” she says. She reflects on feeling uncomfortable doing this at the start of her career, admitting “I thought I’d sit around and keep making work until it was so exceptional that I would be discovered.”
But when Anna began reaching out to people in the industry whom she admired, she was quickly heartened by the positive responses she received. She encourages other people at the beginning of their career to do the same, saying “Nobody is going to read your email and laugh at you and turn you away. Reach out to people that you admire and see what happens.”
#3 Find your niche
Reaching out to others will be extra successful when you have a unique viewpoint, advises Anna. “If you can come to people filling a gap in style or ideas, they’ll want to work with you.”
#4 Don’t be afraid to say no
As a creative, part of finding your niche can be learning to say no. Earlier in Anna’s career, when she was still establishing herself as a still life artist, she often found herself on the receiving end of requests for work that wasn’t quite her style. She warns that if you take on too much work that isn’t in line with your vision “you’ll start to lose yourself and what your work is all about.”
#5 Trust your gut and the journey it takes you on
When Anna reflects on her career, she says that everything progressed exactly the way it should have. “I wouldn’t have known that I wanted to work in magazines without doing it. I had to go through the motions and explore other types of photography to know I didn’t want to do them.”
#6 Set career goals; it works
“It’s almost like there is another personality that is my boss that tells me that today I’m going to spend the day making props or working on pitches.”
Anna is adamant about the importance of setting career goals to your career progression. Anna used goal setting to move from working full time at a magazine to being a freelance photographer, breaking the journey into smaller chunks – like getting a studio and acquiring agency representation. “I’ve always given myself particular goals that were really achievable,” she says.
#7 Crack the whip on yourself
Whether you’re thinking of going freelance or you’re building your side hustle, you’ll be able to take some inspiration from Anna’s advice on being your own boss. “Everything completely depends on you.” she says matter-of-factly. “Nobody is going to tell you to push yourself and get inspired, it’s just you.”
She says the most important thing for her when going freelance was setting up a studio space to go to, and trying to keep relatively normal working hours. “It’s almost like there is another personality that is my boss that tells me that today I’m going to spend the day making props or working on pitches. I do kind of have to crack the whip on myself!”
Get tickets to this year’s EMC here from today, July 6 – you can see speakers, panel events and sets from world-renowned DJs, producers and industry heavyweights. The line up will be announced tomorrow, and we promise it’s epic.
Lead image: Chanel Toast. All images supplied.
Ally Garrett is a Sydney-based writer and performer. Her writing has been published on Jezebel, The Wireless and The Guardian. Ally’s work often touches on body positivity, like her recent performance in Force Majeure’s dance-theatre show, Nothing to Lose. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allygarrett