When people ask me how I learn(ed) photography I never say that I'm self-taught. Because it's bullshit. I've learned from the greats like David Hobby, Chris Orwig, Matthew Jordan Smith or Amy Dresser. Do they know who I am? Of course not (actually Matthew does). I've never had the pleasure of meeting them, but I have learned volumes from their writing, videos, and tutorials. I'm eternally grateful to the various "teachers" I've had on this journey.
But I need to say this and this is a difficult post to write. You guys don't know this but there are several posts in my blogger dashboard that I've started but never finished. In that sense you could say there are two types of posts: Ones that I finish (and you read) and ones that I never finish for one reason or another. The second type usually results from somethings that are either too personal to disclose or too poorly thought out to construct a solid argument. This post is hard to write because it's very personal. As you're reading this post it's already 3-4 days old and I'm finally forcing myself to finish it.
I don't have any idols in my life. This also applies to photography. The reason is twofold.
The first reason results from my ideals. I believe an idol should never fall from his/her pedestal. An idol is an idol not temporarily but rather immortalized in my mind at that unattainable level. The distance between us should hence, never close.
Unfortunately, idols are still human. They have their limitations. They stagnate and plateau in their abilities. When you combine this fact with my ability to learn, that makes for a quickly closing ability-gap. This is truly disheartening. It ruins my ability to idealize/idolize these people. And too quickly it means I have to find new idols. This fear of disappointment usually precludes me from idolizing people... or at least living people. It's much easier to idealize people who've died because you'll never meet them (again) and their body of work is finite. Plus you can always infer in their work much more than they ever meant. The memories of the dead are usually immortalized.
Can you still learn from those that you've surpassed? Yes. But as a sponge, it's a lot easier to soak up lots of water when there's lots of water, rather than only a few drops left...
The second reason I don't have idols is because I'm highly competitive. I do much better when there's something at stake. Pride, a medal/trophy, or lunch even. It all stems from playing lots of competitive sports growing up. I'm one of those that believe T-ball teaches our kids it's okay to be mediocre. Yes. I'm that parent. But the photography game is not often played out in contests or in a forum where there is a singular winner. Plus photography is subjective and you can have many "winners". Yet, in my head there is always a "Is this photographer better than me?" contest. I'm very objective when it comes to these things. I don't always win in my head. I'm very hard on myself because I want to win by large margins, not by a few points. So if it's ever marginal, I lose. Yes, there are many photographers that I consider better than me. Hence the chip on my shoulder. I work as hard as I do because I hate the fact that there is anyone "better". Sure, in many years I'll realize that this little game in my head was pointless and that there are so many more aspects to the game than just the quality of the image. But for now let me be delusional because it's improving my "game". Let me deal with it later when it becomes a liability ;)
But when you're this competitive, it's easier to see everyone as an opponent. When everyone is an opponent, no one is an idol. The number one ranked player is just another person that you're looking to knock off that pedestal. Nothing is forever. The rankings are constantly changing. You can appreciate another opponent's game but that doesn't mean you think they're untouchable. And that's exactly what I'm getting at. I'm not unappreciative of others. I appreciate the work of many photographers. I just don't idolize them. I don't think anyone is so good that I'll never be as good as them. If I thought this way, I'd should just quit now. I don't live to be second best.
So there you have it. A twisted and sometimes conflicted psychology that is a constant battle between ideals and reality. As much as I want to have "gods" in my life and as much as I appreciate hierarchy, I realize that no one is perfect. Unfortunately for me, my criteria for idolization is perfection. So I shall continue to live in a godless world, though deep down I am still looking for my idols.