I’m Not a Trained Poodle: Dodging the Role of Photographer without Confrontation

To describe the folk singing title character in Inside Llewyn Davis as downbeat is to put it kindly but for all of his sourness there is one scene where I could not help but smile wearily at in solidarity with one of his (many) tantrums.

It is not much of a spoiler to say that, in the scene, he is asked to play a song at dinner to which he says, “I’m not a trained poodle”, begrudgingly plays the song, and then is set off by the relative merriment of the occasion. “I do this for a living, you know?” And, to the professor next to him, “I don’t ask you over for dinner and then suggest you give us a lecture on the peoples of Mesa-America…”.

If you’re the “resident photographer” of your social circle, odds are you have been handed a camera, perhaps rather abruptly, and put to work capturing a party or family event. For a lot of photographers, especially hobbyists, this is a welcomed opportunity. For others, it’s an exhausting reminder that we’re often defined by what we “do” and that creative work isn’t viewed in quite the same way as other kinds of jobs.

If you’ve found yourself more on the Llewyn end of the patience spectrum, here are some constructive solutions I have used:

• Simply hand the camera to someone else. It quietly signals that you are not interested in the task. Ask if there is another way you can help out.

• Make a joke of it. “I’d do that but then I’d have to charge you” will sometimes get a round of chuckles while also giving your friends a solid hint.

• Keep your hands full. This is a more passive-aggressive tactic, but it’s much harder for someone to shove a camera into your arms if you’re holding a drink and hors d’oeuvres.

My friends have developed some very healthy methods to get me interested in using my expertise for their benefit. If you’re a friend of a photographer, here are some tips for preventing a Llewyn-esque meltdown:

• Be honest that you want your photographer friend to shoot. We can plan ahead and bring our own cameras and take ownership of the images in a way using someone else’s camera does not allow.

• Shake the guests down for tips on behalf of your photographer friend. This is not unheard of. I get tips frequently from my friends and family even for shooting casual events.

• Get candids of your photographer shooting. We love those, don’t get enough of them, and they can be little rewards for us bothering to shoot your shindig.

Trust us when we say we love taking pictures. A lot of people love their jobs – yes, even the ones that require cubicles. But we all like to clock out at the end of the day.

Conversation Time: Creatives – has this happened to you? How did you deal with it? Is it completely out of line to even be bothered by such requests?

Inside Llewyn Davis film still used under Fair Use for purposes such as criticism, comment, news, and teaching.