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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Audacity To Charge

The Audacity To Charge

Over 20 years ago, I moved to another state to attend paramedic school.  While there, one of the many jobs I had was working for a psychiatrist in a group home for troubled adolescents.  I was over 800 miles from home, flat broke and uninsured for the first time in my young life.  Having worked as an EMT in North Jersey for several years, I had grown accustomed to occasionally asking a Dr. friend if they could write me a prescription for an antibiotic (for example), to deal with what was ailing me at the time. Some would oblige.


One time I had gotten a pretty mean sinusitis and upper respiratory infection and was unable to pay for a full medical exam etc..., I tried to call in what appeared to be an innocuous favor from my boss.  I asked if he could whip out a script for me. He seemed upset, or more so let down with my query and instead, like a good psychiatrist would, offered me a lecture.  He explained that my request, in my mind, may seem simple:  

  1. Go ask the good doctor for a favor,
  2. Watch good doctor whip out prescription pad and apply ink and signature to said pad.
  3. Go purchase Rx.
  4. Take Rx.
  5. Voila, I'm on the road to recovery!
Simple right?  Wrong!  Carefully, but still a little miffed, he pointed out that the process would take but a minute of his time and little to no effort to move that pen across that pad, thus making my life a whole lot easier, not to mention cost effective.  However -- what I was not taking into consideration was the fact that that man went to school for an enormously long time to EARN the privilege of being a licensed physician and thus have the right to prescribe medications.

That certainly was not the answer I wanted then.  I meant no insult.  I just wanted to feel better and not have to pay for it. The doctor however, was one hundred percent right.  His "privilege" required a "process," one that most could or would not do, for one reason or another. One that required time, effort and expertise.  This is why he was an MD - and I - was not.

Today, in addition to being a paramedic and an educator, I'm a photographer.  A person who carries a camera wherever he/she goes, sees beauty in things and then creatively captures that beauty in a frame, over a fraction of a second in time and preserves that beauty for decades to come.  Some photographers display their work and yes, some of us (gasp) have the audacity to charge for it!

During my time in the emergency services, I've heard the classic, and seemingly endless argument between volunteers and professionals (i.e. compensated) that professionals are profiteers and are somehow soulless because they accept money for what others do for free, out of compassion and genuine concern for the human race.  In other words, to accept money for anything, immediately negates the altruism or inherent good within that compassionate act.  My response to such nonsense has been this;

Volunteer vs. Paramedic
 "Do you love this profession enough to do it at an experts level?  To be held to higher standards? To regularly be supervised and audited?  Do you love this enough to work for the pauper's salary it comes with?  Do you love this enough to work at it more than twice the hours per week that other careers do and for a fraction of the income?  If not, then please get off the cross, someone else needs the wood."

No one who works with me in prehospital medicine can state, with any degree of truth, that my work is without compassion, without humanity or without a soul.

I take that same level of compassion into my photography, my art.  What began as a pastime over 25 years ago has grown to more than a hobby, more than something I pick up on occasion to kill time or diversify myself with.  Today, my cameras come with me virtually everywhere.  I see the world in frames.  I see the beauty in flowers, insects, babies, puppies and pain.  Yes, you read it right pain.  For over two decades, I've captured and showcased some of the most painful events in our (the EMS community's) time.  I've been to more funerals than I'd care to remember, preserved the moments, the faces and places and helped people ameliorate their pain with a portrait - of a moment - in time.  

That said, I have always had to endure the scrutiny of those who don't understand what I do (photojournalism) or what my intentions are. I get unfairly lumped in with the "paparazzi," when all the work I've ever done was to preserve, protect and illustrate the honor, the importance and nobility of what we do and who we (in EMS) are. 

Following whatever engagement I shoot, I'll post my art on my SmugMug page. There, my work can be displayed, linked to, shared publicly or privately, emailed and yes -- PURCHASED.  One can purchase prints, enlargements, key-chains, coffee mugs among other things.  SmugMug works as an office assistant in the background and does most of the work for me.  On occasion, if someone does buy my art, I receive a small percentage back in my pocket through my PayPal account. And this little factoid drives some people crazy.  (Gasp!) The son of a bitch is charging?  Profiting on people's pain?

Please! Yes, I'm making millions off others' pain.  That's why I work over 80 to 100 hours a week - every week. I'm just rolling in it.

It's difficult to hear from my brothers and sisters in EMS where most of them began as volunteers, then progressed to professionals (compensated), and had to listen to the nonsense mentioned earlier about their endeavors.  "You're making MONEY on someone else's misfortune! Youuuu dirty...."  What is the difference people?  You begin dabbling with something, you spend years sharpening your skills, your sword, your craft and then you get good enough to be audacious - to charge!  You make an income from it.  Large or small, whatever it is, it is, but you EARN based upon your time, your effort, your expertise!

Much like my request to the doctor years ago, what seemed like a simple act (writing a quick script) was in fact an insult to the privilege this man earned through a process (his labor) he endured over time.  I have spent over twenty five years behind a lens.  I have thousands invested in cameras, lenses, lighting, tripods, books, classes, computers, software, backup media, off-site storage, insurances and more.  Yet people think nothing of asking; "Hey, can you just burn me a copy of those images?  Just email them to me? Send me a DVD?"  Would you ask that of your ______ (fill in the blanks)?  Try it and let me know how that works for you?  Or would you accept that request for whatever your profession is?  Most of you would not.

The work I produce is not made with a cell phone camera and an Instagram account.  I've spent a lifetime developing the little skill I posses.  There is no shame in having the audacity to charge. 

Funeral of Paramedic David Restuccio - NYC EMS Paramedic

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