Musings on choosing your peer group

The few paragraphs below came about on Facebook in a private group I belong to called Photographers Unleashed. This is a place for photographers to hang out, ask questions, get critiques and complain all in the safety of a private area. It’s also an invitational group so one needs to be invited to join. Someone needs to think enough of you and your work that they think you can be part of the group. It’s a nice compliment when a friend does think this of you. We have a huge range of experience and talent but the overall common features are we all are passionate about photography and we want to improve both as a photographer and as an artist.

This story starts a few days ago when one of the younger photographers posted he was quitting the group and in a nutshell, he felt that he was being picked on and expectations were too high. He didnt say it that way outright but the message was there between the lines.

Getting older does have a benefit or two and one of them is to say what needs to be said without fear. It’s the idea of ” I really dont care what you think because there is nothing you can do that has not already been done, said or put on me”. Older also means (most times) that one has learned a lesson or two along the way. So when I read this post from this photographer, I sat down and wrote a short but heartfelt piece that only an older and more experience person could write. Several people commented on my words but I never did hear from the young photographer. He probably views me as more of a jerk right now but then when I was his age, I probably would have done the same thing. I just hope he read it anyways and took it to heart.

It was suggested to me to re- post it on a blog and I thought it sounded like a good idea. So here it is.

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You dont grow unless you stretch beyond your comfort level and if you dont do that, you become stagnant which is a terrible fate for any artist. Natural talent will carry you only so far, at some point you need a teachers and a community. If the community does it’s job right, they will support you and help you grow but that does not mean it’s always compliments.

More often than not, it’s something that hurts because we as artists tend to impart our images with a great deal of emotional energy. So when someone says something critical about an image that we think is hot shit, it stings all the more no matter how true the comment is. All artists are guilty of this at one time or another and we all have to learn to live with it and somehow process it and grow from it. You can grow or you can run.. not much else is available in the choice categories. As (name withheld)┬ásaid, its┬áthe critical comments that really can add directiion to your path by showing you where you *need* to grow.

I put the word *need* in stars because it’s subjective but it serves to illuminate a point. I use critical comments all the time to act as a guide post as it were to help me see beyond my personal likes, dislikes, baggage etc and to get a glimpse of how other people see my work. Sometimes they see far better than I do because I’m too involved in the work, it’s too personal and almost impossible to pull back enough to see a bit of truth.

And yes, sometimes it stings.. alot. But, it’s a rare time I really let it get under my skin for any length of time. Note I said for any length of time, as it ALWAYS gets under my skin when someone is critical of my work. After all, photography is an extension of one’s self to a degree. But I can honestly say that in the past few years, after I learned to let go of of the emotional attachment and really listen to what was said, I’ve grown. Sometimes just a touch, other times it’s like the lightbulb going off.

You lose all of this support structure by hiding away from your peers or another way to say it, by hiding from those who would be critical of your work. It’s far easier to be somewhere where there is platitudes and accolades on how pure your work is, how cool it is and so on. But, the road less traveled is generally the better way to success. The path with resistance will make you grow and become a better person/photographer/friend . You just have to choose it and embrace it know that while it will hurt now and then, overall you will be in a far better place.

We can’t make you stay and we certainly wont beg but we would miss you and your contribution to the group. I personally wish you well on your path wherever it leads to.

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