Step Up

This is the teacher in me coming out but if you call yourself a photographer and/or artist you need to step up. Photograph occasionally? Pick up a camera and take pictures when the scene is right, the light is right, when you "feel like it"?

I don't think so.

We are better if we shoot frequently, daily. We can reach a level of familiarity, fluidity, excellence and a pace that has rhythm when we photograph daily. Feeling rusty and out of it? It's because you're not thinking about it and making pictures constantly. Think about what a concert pianist does. Practice.

People can think they are in the big leagues, are contributing significant work by photographing occasionally or rarely, but they mostly they aren't. I don't know of anyone that's really good who isn't photographing constantly. I know, this makes for too many pictures. Photography for a long time has been a medium of too much, quantity run amok. This is where skilled editing should prevail. Editing is teachable, a discipline driven by lack of acceptance for anything but the best. A person's aesthetic, on the other hand,  not so much. This seems to be somehow ingrained into our genetic code. Good to look at it, though, try to decipher where it comes from and how it came about. At my age I do this quite a bit, look over my past to see where I came from artistically. 

This a hobby, a casual interest in making a few good pictures over a career or lifetime? Not me. This is what I do, make pictures. Not messing around or approaching this with less than a total commitment. That makes sense. To be really good you'd have to do it all the time with complete conviction.  Confidence isn't bravado, a conceit or placing yourself on a pedestal. It is just the knowledge that you are good because you've applied every lesson learned, worked your butt off, used every experience you've had, everything you've got to be this good. 

So, step up. Commit and invest. Give it all you've got. Don't compromise or accept less than perfection. Why should you? The plan is to make the absolute best pictures you can at the level you're at. Aspire towards greatness, why wouldn't you? Fail a lot, because you're pushing it then accept your failure only to redo, re-approach, figure another way and try again. Don't give up, ever. Be tenacious. Whoever said making art would be easy? It is one of the very hardest things to do, to be really good. So, go for it.

Talent is for amateurs. I hear this all the time: "She/he is so talented". So? It's what you do with the gift that matters. So you have a natural inclination towards visual expression? Great. Now go to work and make some art.

Don't worry about what others think, don't try for acceptance or fitting in. Don't pay attention to what others do, who wins what contest or best of show. Don't bother with all that crap. Go your own way, but with determination and yes, even some humor thrown in. Learn to laugh at yourself, because you will be ridiculous. A grown man or woman standing in front of some wall, some house, some landscape, some street with people streaming by, with a camera up to his/her face and taking a picture? Of course this is foolish. 

Also, you need to make your life centered around this thing called photography. It needs to be your priority. Not fitting it into your existing study or office, not shoved on a few flash drives or a few developed rolls of film in the back of your desk drawer. Get organized, file your pictures so that you can find them in the future. Back shit up. Hard drives will fail. Store your finished works like the gold that they are, precious and valued and something to behold. This work will be your lasting legacy, how you are remembered in future generations. How can someone else take your work seriously if you don't? And last, never apologize, never accommodate. That's for losers. You're an artist, not someone struggling to get another "job" another honorable mention. Remember, you are making your best work ever. Share it, show it, get it seen. A gallery director's position, a museum curator's job, an editor's role is to show great work. Magnificent work never seeing the light of day is nothing, doesn't exist.

And in conclusion, enjoy the ride. You are among the elite, the top of the heap in choosing to devote your life to this thing called art. You're not like regular people, just trying to get along. Not an easy path, but the rewards are deep, everlasting and powerful. 


This is a version of a lecture I used to give to graduating seniors at Northeastern University where I taught for thirty years. 

Topics: Commentary

Permalink | Posted October 26, 2018