This will be the first in a series of short articles detailing and hopefully debunking some of the myths and lies that the photography industry tells us. A lot of these posts will be applicable to the creative industry as a whole, but I’ll be focusing and directing my writing towards my photographer followers. My goal is to shed some light on the reality of what it takes to become a photographer, and give insight on how to overcome some of the doubt and anxiety of being a creative in general.
Growing up, I had a lot of heroes. These are guys I still look up to today. Their work inspired me to become a photographer, and gave me the drive I so desperately needed to work my ass off. In my mind, these guys could do no wrong. Their work was genius, their reach had no limit and their presence alone had a direct impact on the industry as a whole. To me, these guys had “made it.”
When I looked at the work of Nadav Kander, Dan Winters, Jeremy Cowart, Mark Seliger and others, I was reminded of why I do what I do, and given a benchmark for what it would look like when I too had made it. My goal out of college was to work under these photographers, and learn directly from them exactly what it took to get to their level. Well, I did (with the exception of Nadav, sad face), and here’s what I learned: These dudes have NOT made it.
I won’t bore you with the technical specifics of what makes their work so incredible. They’re all masters of what they do. Their work is uniquely their own, and they more or less have their style down to an exact science. I learned a lot about their process, and what they do to create the remarkable images we all see. But what I want to talk about here is more important than what makes their work so great.
Some of my favorite work from Nadav Kander, Dan Winters and Jeremy Cowart, respectively.
What I want to make clear today is that the masters of our industry still mess up. They still make mistakes, they’re flawed and in some cases our heroes are downright mean people. What I’m trying to say is, these guys are still learning, just like us. They’re still growing and figuring out how to be the best at what they do. They still haven’t made it and most of them will admit it. Jeremy in particular, often makes a point to humbly point out how he still has a lot to learn.
Now, rather than just pointing out all the flaws in some of the worlds best photographers, in an attempt to make you feel better, I’d like to address the real issue and drive home the point I’m trying to make.
The idea of making it is a lie. And it’s a dangerous one. Believing that there is an end goal, or a pinnacle that you can achieve sets the bar so low that you can become complacent. The truth is, there’s no finish line til you’re dead. There’s no magical land of success where you can live comfortably and just exist without the anxiety of being expected to perform at a level better than yourself. Your entire creative life people are going to expect more and more of you. You’ll always feel the pressure to be better than your last shoot. The lie we all fall into is that one day we’ll reach a point where that becomes a non-factor, but what we so often fail to realize is that the entire reason we ever succeed is because we push ourselves so hard. Without the constant self doubt and desire to better ourselves, we’d never grow as artists. These are the anxieties I see in myself, in the young photographers I talk to every day, and yes, in the best of the best in our industry.
What makes a great artist so great is knowing that they’re not.