Over the past few months, several things have come up to bring me to the point of writing this post. And honestly, this topic continually cycles through my days working with photographers, and I have some strong feelings I would like to share.
A few months ago, a photographer whose work I really admire wrote to tell me that if nothing “major” hit for her this year, then she was going to hang up her fine art photography hat. I was so upset to hear this, for several reasons. Why would anyone so talented give up something they loved, just because they were not receiving the outside validation they wanted? Why weren’t the acknowledgements she was getting enough? And finally, don’t we make art because we love it? Because we are compelled to create and tell our stories? This makes my heart ache.
There is not one definition of success in photography, but if I had to write one, I would say this: Success is when you are creating something that excites you and the process of making is fulfilling.
Too many photographers (well, people actually – this is our nature), look at “everyone else” and think those other people are achieving more success, are happier, must be more talented. We do not all have the same end goal, nor should we. Decide what the top of the mountain is for you, and take steps to get there, celebrating your successes all along the way.
Just because the top of your mountain may be getting juried into a group exhibition and someone else’s is a MOMA retrospective, your accomplishment should not be any less celebrated than theirs. At a portfolio review this weekend at The Griffin Museum of Photography, a woman sat down with me and said she wanted feedback on an edit for an upcoming exhibition. When I asked where the exhibition was, she said it was her local public library, and she said it in such an apologetic way, I made her say it again until she sounded enthusiastic and proud of herself. Do you realize how many more people walk into a library than into a gallery?
Another photographer asked me if I thought he should change directions in what and how he was photographing in order to appeal to commercial galleries. I asked him why he was making pictures. If you photograph what you think other people may like instead of what you are inspired and driven to capture, you have lost before you even started.