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Should you work for exposure? This is what the experts say

by: Ntandoyenkosi Dlamini - 17 November 2016

Untitled-1I’ve learned that “exposure” is every company’s favourite payment plan, since I started trying to get into the media industry. From writing jobs, to modeling shoots that I have done, I’ve always been told that “exposure” works just as well as money because more people will see my work and hire me for paying jobs. But is working for exposure the best way for young creatives to get a foot in the door? I asked a few creatives about the good, bad and the ugly.

“I decided never to work for free again”

For Scandal! actor and brand ambassador Siphewesihle Ngozwana, working for free does more harm than good. He says that sometimes people can afford to pay you but choose not to. “I was booked for a shoot by someone who told me that there was no funding whatsoever, and that there was no money to even pay for the photographer. But later on I found out that this person made money out of me and paid the photographer but didn’t even think of paying me.”

Siphewesihle says when he confronted the person, he was told the shoot would be good exposure for him. After that experience, he decided to never work for free again. Instead, he built his brand using social media and collaborating with influential photographers. “And that has led me to the Webbers Fashion campaign. Exposure didn’t get me here,’’ he says about his brand ambassadorship.


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“I performed for free for over six years”

Uzalo actor Siphesihle Cele says he spent years working for free without knowing whether it would benefit him or not. “I performed for free for over six years. During those six years I kept asking myself whether I was just wasting time or I was being impatient.” He says he got a call to perform for free at a theatre show at the Durban Playhouse. After the show, he was approached by Uzalo producers and that’s how he ended up on TV. Siphesihle says the other complicated part is that even if you are not willing to work for free, there are many others who are willing to do the same job for free.

“Don’t want to work for free? Just walk away”

Uno de Waal, publisher of Between 10 and 5, a site that showcases South African creatives and their work, says people have to weigh-in each situation. He’s worked for free before, writing a series of articles for leading weekly newspapers.

Although Uno didn’t get any work from that directly, he used it when pitching to other clients and creatives. That resulted in him signing bigger contracts that paid him. “People take ‘exposure work’ as insulting at times. I think they take it too personally. They should, instead, see it as a business transaction in which the trade value doesn’t match up. It’s quite simple; if you don’t want to work for free, just walk away. There’s still enough opportunity to do good, non-commodified work that people are willing to pay for,’’ he says.

What are your thoughts around working for exposure? Let us know in the comments section, below.

Photography by Abigail Zikhali. Shot at Debut store in Braamfontein