The Fear of "No"

The semester – the final one – has started. Final sprint to the BA in photography. So it was high time for me to get my ass into gear and start securing permissions for the location shoots that I am planning.

Location shoots? Permissions? Why the heck do I always sign myself up for projects that involve doing things which I inherently shy away from? I love photography. I love photographing and I love being a photographer. But I find it hard to approach people and ask for permission to shoot. I know it is just a simple question with two possible answers. But the fear of “No” is so big that I tend to shy away from it. My fault entirely, because there is nothing personal  in a stranger refusing me permission to take a picture of him or her or of his/her property. It is merely a formality, respecting the rights of privacy and property of someone else. And yet this fear of rejection regularly stifles my creativity.

Despite knowing that about myself, I came up with my current project. It involves taking pictures in Irish (staff) canteens, hence I need the permissions of the businesses, companies and institutions to photograph inside their properties. Something I really hate! And the Queen of Fuseling aka moi let it slip for as long as possible. Until I was finally shocked into action by my fellow student J___ last week.

Amazingly, it is not as hard or as difficult as I always think beforehand. I would have loved to go the easy route and do all communicating in writing. The e-mail is my preferred mode of communication: quick, instant, targeted, personal while being distant. Perfect for shy little country girls like me. But I did realize that it makes a far better impression if you actually pick up the phone and make contact directly. You have a better chance of getting what you want when people get at least an aural impression of the person behind the project! It is often less time-consuming. And with an instant reply you won’t send out futile letters or e-mails – or wait endlessly for an answer to your request.

Here are a couple of general observations that I made while contacting my prospective locations. They might come in handy for you in case you are pursuing a project that needs permission to shoot.

1. Choose wisely when you are calling!
  – the day of the week: Fridays are bad! People often are not in the office when you call or already in weekend mode. Follow up e-mails get pushed to the bottom of the mailbox and are forgotten by Monday morning! Mid-week is the time to call!
  – the time of day: forget any time between 12 noon and 2 pm! Lunch break! People are not at their desk!
2. Find out the name of the communications or press ifficer. If you have a name, it is easier to get through to the relevant decision makers and to follow up on the call.
3. If you haven’t got the name, get the switchboard to transfer you to the relevant person. Make sure you ask for the name, e-mail and direct number so you can easily get in touch with them again.
4. Use your own network. If you know anyone in the company where you are planning to shoot, mention their name! It adds clout. And it often also lifts the suspicion that many companies have if you can suggest that your inside contact might be able to “chaperone” you while on location.
5. Always stay calm and polite, even in the face of sheer lunacy. You won’t get what you want if you are snappy.

The last point there was tested to its utmost yesterday when I rang a major IT company to request permission to shoot in their canteen. I am still reeling from the  Beckett-esque absurdity of the following conversation. Catch 22, methinks. But at least they haven’t quite yet refused to grant me permission:
“XYZ Ireland, Reception, how can I help you?”
“Hi there, can you put me through to the Communications Officer, please?”
“Who is it that you need to speak to?”
“Oh, I don’t know the name, can you just put me through to the Press Officer?”
“I am sorry, I can only transfer you if you have a name.”
“Ah, hm, ok. Well, where can I find the name of your Communications Officer?”
“I am sorry, but I am not allowed to disclose that information.”
“Eh, but how can I get in touch with your Press Department then?”
“Well, you can do that in writing.”
“Ah, good, I’ll e-mail then. Is it”
“No, I can give you the fax number, though.”
“FAX???? I don’t have a fax, how am I supposed to get in touch with you?”
“Well, that is all I can do for you.”

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