Making It Up

We’re a country of contrasts. We laud successful entrepreneurs, but most of the training we get in our families and schools is to be a good sheep. For the every Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs there are hundreds or probably thousands who’ve tried to do something original and failed. These “failures” are scorned and we’re again reminded that no one ever got into trouble by being a good Sheep.

I try to be a good sheep, but I fail miserably at it and being a sheep is so boring. Being creative and original is so much more fun.

The same goes for photography. I used to frequent a nature photographer’s critique site where I would post photographs. I tried to do good landscape photos, but I was never one of the stars. When I started veering into other subject matter—clouds, trees, grasses, I became even less popular.

At one point I realized I wasn’t benefiting by posting images on the site. These people obviously weren’t my audience and I would never find my audience there.

Some time later I published a blog where I warned about choosing your critics wisely, and someone I knew from the site posted a comment accusing me of being a coward for leaving. If I stayed, then I would have been a coward.

There are a lot of places where you can get your work critiqued, but I find most of these critics are blinded by what’s trendy. And, what’s trendy in nature photography is very different from what’s trendy in “art” photography. Occasionally an original comes along and manages to get recognized and then they’re trendy, and we see a whole lot of copiers.

Like most people my age, I learned about love from TV and friends. I tried to do the right thing with relationships but I was not very successful and I was mostly alone. Then by some unaccountable luck, I met my wife of 35 years. Shortly after we were married I noticed that I was very frightened because I didn’t know how to be the good husband. I was making it up as I went along. I immediately realized that that was it. There were no rules to being a good husband that meant anything. You had to make it up as you went along.

The same goes for being an artist. People who want to sell your art may give you all sorts of rules to follow so you’ll be successful, but ultimately success is mostly luck and being in the right place at the right time. You might as well make it up as you go along—your chances are probably the same.

Do you want to be a Sheep or a Failure? Even better, don’t be either. Just be who you are, naturally. Make it up as you go along.

When people ask me what the best photography magazine is, I invariably say LensWork. I’m thrilled to announce I’ll have a portfolio of my grass images or as I’m thinking of calling them, Grass Menageries, in the August version of LensWork. I’m just praying it wasn’t a psychotic episode and I really did receive the email.

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~ by danbaumbach on June 3, 2018.

4 Responses to “Making It Up”

  1. I can identify. I’m pretty sure I found you via that critique site, though, and I imagine some others did too. I think it’s worth emphasizing that the “art” photography world definitely has its trends and cliches as well, and personally I’m just as hesitant to be influenced by that world as by the mainstream landscape scene. Keep up the good work, Dan – I’ll have to make sure I get that issue of Lenswork.

    • I’ve met some very good friends from that site. None of them frequent it any more either. I was talking about the “art” photography world when I was talking about trends and copiers. I hope that was clear.

  2. I went through a similar experience in belonging to a camera club. I imagine some thought I left because I “couldn’t take the heat.” Really doesn’t matter to me, it was not an environment conducive to growth as an artist. The same applies to many online forums. To be honest, I don’t even seek out critiques anymore, for better or worse. My only growth measure is that I move in difference directions according to when it feels right to me, and how I feel about new vs. old work.

    A big congrats on Lenswork! It is truly the best out there in my opinion, and a notable accomplishment to join the alumni of that prestigious group.

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