Skyfall. Perhaps the most "unique" image I've shot in recent history
Usually these posts are technical in nature. How to do something specific. How to read a histogram. How to select good models. Etc. Or at least I think those are some of the posts from past ToTD. Today I want to talk about what you should do when people don't like your work.
The question stems from a Facebook message I got from a photographer asking the following:
Q: Is there any style when photographing runway? I ask for many reasons. One is that some other people tend to discredit my work, while claiming that it lacks interest. I enjoy shooting runway, and have a passion for it, yet these concerns are brought forth to my immediate attention. From your perspective, in this fashion industry, are there many other photographers trying to get or take advantage of other photographers to get ahead?
CL: Why do you think people claim that your work "lacks interest"?
Q: Well, a couple of people brought it to my attention that my work lacks sophistication. And then tore apart my magazine, saying that it has no style and that a 12th grader could have done the text. Is it just jealousy or envy?
While I could answer these question as they pertain to this specific situation, I think there is much more educational value in answering these questions in the broader context of how photographers should deal with these situations. General disclaimer, there is no right answer. Everyone handles these things differently. YMMV (your mileage may vary).
First off "there's a little bit of truth to every rumor". While haters will hate, there is often some legitimacy to what haters say. If someone doesn't like your work and they offer a reason for why they don't like your work, it might behoove you to investigate the validity behind those claims. Hence my question above. Why do you think people claim that your work "lacks interest"? The photographer should know the answer to this question. Of course the question is loaded. Because in order to answer this question the photographer must first define "sophistication" and "style".
Without answering these questions, one can not gauge whether or not these criticisms are valid. What standards of style does the photographer adhere to? And how far is he/she from those benchmarks? And does said photographer aspire to even achieve sophistication? And what kind of sophistication is he/she trying to achieve? Lastly, what is "interest"? Is said photographer trying to accumulate Facebook likes? Or are he/she trying to get validation by way of clients? No right or wrong answer here. One just needs to be specific about how one defines "interest".
But regardless of whether or not any of these criticisms "check out", at the end of the day you're the judge and the jury of your own work. Which is to say, does it really matter if others like your work? To some it does. To others it doesn't. After you figure out which side of the fence you fall on, then you can decide how you should approach these issues. Because if you're just trying to make some pretty pictures as a creative outlet, then fuck all of what anyone says because you're doing this for your health. But if you're aspiring to some standard of excellence defined by the industry, then you actually do have to care what other people say.
Here's where I go into left field on the situation. Generally, photographers worry too much about what others think. Most photographers would be truly depressed without Facebook or Instagram or tumblr. Without 'likes', 'shares', 'notes', 'reblogs', life seemingly isn't worth living for many photographers. I understand that people seek validity through others. I really do. But do you really think that little of yourself to doubt your work when you receive random comments or criticisms? It's the nature of probability and statistics. Not everyone likes the same things. So when the population (of the people that see your work) expands you'll naturally get more people that like your work and more people that dislike your work. If you only focus on the people that dislike your work you'll complete neglect the fact that most people actually like your work.
And so what if they don't? That's the great thing about "art". It's open to interpretation. It's whatever you want it to be. If everyone liked it, then it would be "normal". And if it were "normal" then no one would think it were "special". And isn't that the whole point? To be unique? To be heard, you gotta make a little noise. And while not everyone will like that "noise" as long as you are passionate about your own "noise" that's all that matters. If more photographers were more concerned with creating their own style and less concerned with what everyone else is doing, you'd find a lot less light leaks and pink/purple streaks on Instagram.
And you'd also find more photographers that are happy with their own work.
I fear that social media has created a generation of photographers that can't wipe their own asses without public approval. That every move is predicated on "what will the people on Facebook think?" or "I wonder how many likes I'll get on Instagram?" And you know what's sad? Even I have asked myself these questions. FML I have been guilty of the same shit that I'm preaching against. My only saving grace is that I spend a lot less time surfing Facebook and Instagram than most photographers. As I often state, it's self-preservation and merely trying to insulate myself from tainting my own creative process. That being said, I'm still not immune to wanting to be liked.
So where does that leave us? Well, pretty much in the exact predicament we're in. A generation of photographers that do the same thing because they lack the courage to explore their own ideas. Considering that I only know 200 of my 5,000 friends on Facebook I'm pretty much whoring myself out for the approval of random strangers. If that isn't the lamest thing I've ever heard, I don't know what is.
Sure there's the argument that we need to abide by "industry standards" and that we need to be "relevant". But none of that has anything to do with having your own identity or having the courage to shoot how/what you want and not what/how others want you to shoot. You gotta be your own person. Maybe by turning off social media you'll actually discover who you really are and what you stand for.
Try it, you might actually find yourself inspired.