“It’s not a level playing field. It never is a level playing field. You come into life understanding that. It’s not about fairness, it’s not really about talent, you know, it’s circumstance, it’s luck, it’s destiny… I don’t know what it is … but the best people deal with that.”
Sting – 20 Feet from Stardom
I love this quote. It applies to just about everything in life but in my secular life, I see a strong application for us photographers. Now, I don’t personally believe in ‘luck’ or ‘destiny’. I do believe that each person has a unique set of circumstances that will provide or deprive us of opportunities. I may have the circumstance being a well connected person living in a very populated or affluent city where it is easier to get clients. Or I may come from a background of little means and not be able to afford the props or website or camera that other photographers have.
In either circumstance I could be the best photographer in the world. Does that mean I will be famous? Win awards? Have 50,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook? Nope. It doesn’t.
When I first entered the photography field I was determined to learn and abide by all the photography ‘rules’. Rule of thirds, rules about cropping and highlights… That will make me a good photographer. That will make people hire me.
Then, a few years ago, I had the great privilege of taking a workshop with the amazing documentary photographer Christopher Anderson. It was a week long workshop and we each chose a theme to do a documentary project on. My theme was ‘Workers’. I went around Charlottesville, VA for a week photographing people in their place of work. One stop was at a Wig Shop that gives free wigs to chemo patients. As I spoke to the owner, I was taking pictures of the shop and her. One of the pictures was her, mid-sentence, reaching out to readjust a wig on it’s mannequin. Going through those pictures in class, that was the one he stopped at and loved. I had almost deleted it because it broke all the ‘rules’ of photography. He taught me that imperfect pictures that make you feel are better than perfect pictures that are empty of emotion.
The quote at the beginning of this post is from the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” which is about background singers. Some of the best singers IN THE WORLD are background singers for huge artists. We have no idea who they are, wouldn’t recognize them on the street and don’t know their names. The film mentioned that many of them like it where they are. They have no desire to be in the spotlight with all of the drama and expectations that come with it. They just love to sing. They love to make beautiful music. Let’s all be like that. Let’s just focus on making beautiful art and love what we are doing. If you become recognized, let it be a side effect of the work you’ve put in to perfect your art. Not because you have stepped on others to get there. And if you never get there, be okay with that.
Some of the most well known and talented photographers out there are not master technicians. They are master storytellers.
Of course I had to include this very ‘imperfect’ image that I took. I love it. It is among my favorite pictures that I have ever taken. I feel something every time I look at it. I have been criticized by other photographers for my propensity to blow highlights in my pictures. For awhile, it bugged me that I tend to blow my highlights and I thought “I’ll never make it as a photographer if I don’t stop doing this!”. Then I realized that I wasn’t doing it because I didn’t know how to shoot a ‘properly exposed’ picture… I was doing it because I LIKE IT. I love bright, washed out pictures like this. After a few years in the business, my skin is thicker and I know my identity as a photographer and negative comments (not comments that are truly meant to help, I so appreciate those, but mean spirited comments meant to tear down) that are made by other photographers about my pictures don’t get to me any more.