Photography can be a deeply lonesome medium for a multitude of reasons. First, because, unless you have a second shooter, you’re literally the only person around to capture what’s going on. And second because, as Anne Geddes has said, when you’re just discovering photography on your own, you often feel like the first photographer you’ve ever met, because that’s just not a job that exists in some places.
The career path for creative individuals — and especially photographers — can feel really murky. What are you doing? Is this feasible? Can I actually turn this into a job?
When you’re note sure that this is the medium for you, or you’re just feeling a little lost, a helpful thing to do is turn to the greats, who can remind you why, exactly, you got into this.
Here are eight incredible photographers from all different sides of the medium, explaining their challenges, their successes, and why photography is so enchanting.
John Greengo: “The hardest part of photography is being in the right place at the right time.”
Photographer and teacher John Greengo has a ton of great insight about life as a working photographer in 2012 CreativeLive clip, but this part stands out the most.
“The light, the situation, everything else…I can work around shutter speeds and apertures, but just being in the right place at the right time is just hard to do sometimes.”
Ansel Adams: “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera.”
Author and iconic landscape photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams was emphatic about the photographer’s role in every photo.
“You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved,” he explained.
Diane Arbus: “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
American photographer Diane Arbus made a living snapping images of the outliers of society. Her photos had a haunting quality, prompting the reader to ask themselves: What else is going on here? What’s the rest of the story? And while no one else may ever know, the viewer is given a great experience — and often, it’s the job of the photographer to give the viewer an experience they wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them,” Arbus also said.
Sue Bryce: “We need to, as photographers, tell the world why they need to pay us to take their photographs.”
Portrait photography is one step in creating a legacy, says master photographer Sue Bryce, who herself has had periods in her life where she wouldn’t allow anyone to take photographs of her.
“As a portrait nation, as a photography nation, the global message needs to be that you need to have beautiful photographs,” she explains. “You are good enough to be in a family portrait.You are good enough to be photographed with your kids. You are good enough to exist in photographs. You must celebrate your life. I don’t care how fat you think you are, I don’t care how old you think you are. My job, as a portrait photographer, is to take the most beautiful photograph you have ever seen of yourself, so that you can cherish this for the rest of your life.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson: “We photographers deal in things that are continually vanishing.”
In his book, The Mind’s Eye: Writings on Photography and Photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson dives deeply into the experience as one of the world’s foremost candid photographers, exploring his own relationship to the art. Here’s a bit from one passage of this essential read:
“We photographers deal in things that are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth that can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory. The writer has time to reflect. He can accept and reject, accept again; and before committing his thoughts to paper he is able to tie the several relevant elements together. There is also a period when his brain “forgets,” and his subconscious works on classifying his thoughts. But for photographers, what has gone is gone forever.”
Scott Robert Lim: “You’re not going to pay your bills with mediocre imagery.”
As John Greengo says, running the business is one of the most challenging and important elements of being a working photographer — but even an amazing business owner can’t sell images that no one sees the use in.
“There are too many photographers out there,” explains award-winning photographers Scott Robert Lim. “The competition is too good.”
Your images have to either be better or they have to be different than what else is out there. Period, full-stop.
Anne Geddes: “So much more goes on in the background than people realize.”
This is true for photographers as well as basically any other creative person. While the finished project is beautiful, it’s what happens leading up to it (including years of education and exploration, as well as all of the time and money sunk in to creating the work itself) that makes it possible. Remember this the next time someone tells you that it’s “just photography.”
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