Creativity, Social Media And the Voices In Your Head
The first photographs I ever captured were created on a beach in Oregon in 2007. I did not personally know any photographers and had no history of photography growing up. Honestly, I only became one myself by chance, fate or blind luck but that’s a story for another day. I lived in Portland at the time and a swell of landscape photographers, many whom you may follow on social media today, was just beginning to take shape and gain momentum on a website called Flickr. For those of you new to photography related social media, in 2007 the word Instagram had not been invented yet. Without 500px, the last place you were rated by your peers was most likely your high school yearbook and the only colored thumb people were proud to have was a green one.
Those first few years as a photographer hold very fond memories for me because my personal vision, creative process and motivation were all pure. I photographed exactly what I wanted, when I wanted for no reason at all. My only measurement of success for one of my images was my own personal experience creating it and how it made ME feel. Maybe you remember that feeling too. If you feel that way today, hold on tight with both hands for as long as you possibly can.
The Social Media Monster
It would be difficult to argue the fact that the world of social media has brought incredible advancements to photography and photographers alike. For many of us, without it, our entire audience would be comprised of close friends and family members. Some of you would simply be charging up the stairs of your parents basement yelling Mom! Check out this composition! Thank goodness for Facebook….am I right?
If you are like me, finding joy in photography has changed your life. Your excitement and search for knowledge evoked by this creative outlet has led you to try to absorb all the information you can and social media happily force feeds it to you at every turn. As a new photographer it is natural to seek out the work of others who are more experienced than you. What you find will either motivate you further or begin to water the seeds of self doubt in your mind. It is important during this process to remind yourself that you are just beginning to scratch the surface of your own creativity. Those you look up to now doubted themselves as well in the beginning. Today, thanks to social media and the relentless barrage of high quality imagery we face daily many are afraid to show anything but their very best work, once again placing restrictions on their creativity and their art.
The most important piece of advice I can give a new photographer is to never allow anyone to tell you that you can’t, you won’t or you shouldn’t and believe me, they will try. There are a large number of photographers on social media today who seem to think that THEY know how YOU should create art. They speak as if the opinions and ideas that they have are concrete fact and share them openly, many times at the expense of a photographer who has yet to find their own artistic voice. Pay absolutely no attention to these often egotistical people and understand that because they have placed these limits on themselves, they are often unsatisfied with their own work. Create exactly what you want to and how you want to regardless of how you think others may perceive it. The greater the level of freedom you allow yourself when creating your art, the more personal and rewarding it will become. It is crucial during this period that you follow your own vision and do your best to filter out the noise.
Finally, regardless of your status on the social media ladder, or where you are on your path as a photographer, please do not allow yourself to believe that the value of attention you receive online is greater than your own personal experience and happiness. While receiving praise through likes, thumbs up, high fives or fist bumps may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside in the short term, these forms of “click and run” praise offer little value in the real world and often inflate egos to the point of no return. Do not allow yourself to believe that your popularity online directly equates to the quality of your work or your value as a person. If you see imagery online that you enjoy, take the time to understand WHY you enjoy it and if possible, share those honest feelings with the artist who created it. Participating in this process will help you as an artist more than any award, accolade or praise you will ever receive online.
The Dying Art Of The Print
One trend I find troubling more than anything else is our spiraling freewill into everything digital. While I appreciate and enjoy technology as much as the next guy, I wonder what will be left of the world for our children, when everything tangible has been reduced to bits and bytes. As it relates to photography, I consider the print to be the final product of our creativity. While I support my family by selling prints and understand that I am fortunate to see my work more often than most, if you hear one thing I am saying it is this.....print your favorite image. Do it today. You don't need to purchase a 60" metal print to experience the beauty of seeing your work in its final form. You don't need to get a second job or sell a kidney. You can purchase a 30" print right now at Costco for ten dollars. I promise you that if you invest just ten dollars in yourself and your art today, you will learn something from it that is far more valuable. Of course, nothing can compare to the actual experience of being there, but after that beautiful moment, our fire begins to fade. It continues to smolder as we mold it like clay through the editing process, pushing it towards the final destination. The place where our hopes and our dreams, our passion and experience all come together colliding in a celebration of our art. A celebration of ourselves...... in a 612 px image on Instagram. Let that sink in a while. Then go find your favorite image and ten dollars. You will thank me later.
Thank you for taking time out to share in my thoughts today. To see more of my work please visit my website where I offer limited edition prints and a full schedule of both private and group workshops. As a teacher, 99% of my job is to inspire you. I hope I have succeeded in my attempt today. Happy Shooting!!