Have you ever experienced someone attempting to kill your passion for photography?
Far too often, photographers, painters, musicians, and other artists would say that they have and that they have had that experience multiple times. We live in a world where a lot of people do not see art and artists as essential to society. Some even think that any creative endeavor is just a waste of time. There are so many struggling artists around that could achieve so much if only their environment was more favorable, but how many times has passion been killed by disheartening words?
'You Are Just Wasting Your Time.'
Let’s face it. Learning photography, practicing, and eventually starting a career out of it (or even just a profitable hobby) takes so much time, effort, and expenses. That’s probably why until now, photography is still a struggling art form in many parts of the world. You don’t hear that many people or parents, for that matter, tell their kids to pursue photography, at least not as often as you would hear them be told to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers. Photography or any career that is entirely reliant on creativity still struggles to be appreciated and properly compensated by many diverse societies.
In many parts of the world, people are still very hesitant to pay “premium” rates for good photography, especially in lower socio-economic communities. In many developing countries where basic necessities aren’t readily met, there is little to no appreciation for even the most brilliant works of local photographers and visual artists. Many photographers, videographers, designers, and graphic artists are paid a mere fifth (or even less) of what similarly skilled professionals are in more developed countries.
In a world that has very little appreciation of talent and dedication for such artistic endeavors, being judged as foolish and being told to look for something better to do might just be a regular Monday for some.
'Your Photos Suck and Will Get You Nowhere.'
To be fair in this discussion, we also have to swallow this hard pill. Vitriol among photographers and visual creatives is, for the lack of a better term, terrible. While many photographers thrive on shared ideas and inspiration, there is toxicity in the worldwide photography community that is growing exponentially, and it needs to be stopped
With the advances in technology and social media, even as the world stands still during a pandemic, photographers from across the globe are able to virtually gather, share their work and their ideas to others that they haven’t ever met. For the most part, this is a good thing. However, it has also enabled and amplified the voices of those who are toxic in the community. Cyberbullying other photographers for sharing their under-developed work is becoming way too common, and this happens in almost every scale of online and offline communities. To those people, let’s ask this question. Will that get you anywhere?
Crappy Photos Never Harmed You
Way too often, you see photographers being discouraged, bashed, or even bullied by fellow photographers for posting their work online when it does not seem to please them. This also happens very commonly on YouTube videos not just for photography content but generally any topic where a less experienced (or lesser known) person dares to share his work or insight with others. For more times than I can keep track of, I have read threads on forums and social media groups where older/more experienced photographers would lambast a newbie for sharing their work as if they were given the right to curate the entire world wide web.
Taking photographs of poor quality never really harmed anyone. Unless of course, someone paid them to do a good job, then the client has the right to demand better work. But in the context of a free and open social media platform or even in physical photography communities, there is virtually no reason for a photograph of poor quality to cause any form of harm to the viewer. So, why do people think that it is an excuse to be hostile?
Whether online or in person, no one has the right to tell anyone to stop pursuing something they are passionate about. Not when you are not paying them to do so.
Have We Forgotten How to Give Constructive Criticism?
In over a decade of being passionate about photography, I’ve met countless photographers many people call masters. They come in different forms, but one thing they have in common is the fact that they know how to teach other photographers to improve their work. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out flaws in someone’s work. In fact, that is the true essence of constructive criticism. The fine line that sets it apart is the part where the critic points out and suggests ways to improve the piece no matter how hopeless it may seem.
Every Master Photographer Was Born a Newbie
Perhaps the fact that many toxic photographers forget is that even they themselves were not born talented. It may be arguable that some people have a natural taste or natural eye for great photographs but they all certainly started not knowing how to use a camera. In this discussion, that might be all that really matters. We all started somewhere, and it is for certain that none of us started on top.
Lack of experience and taste is certainly a more modifiable trait than being arrogant. No matter how inexperienced or underdeveloped someone is, it is a free world, and they have the right to practice and share their work. If they are humble enough to accept that, there is no limit to how much better they can be.
Should You Quit Photography?
If you are reading this, signifying that photography interests you enough to read over a thousand words, then you definitely should not. Photography is for everybody. Anyone with an interest in it should be allowed to freely pursue it. If you are a newbie and you find yourself intimidated by other photographers’ works, take that intimidation, and turn it into inspiration. That alone can move mountains for you and propel you towards being a better photographer.
If you’ve been doing photography for a while now and find yourself stuck, if you feel like your growth has been stagnant, know that every great photographer has had their setbacks, but you have full control of who you turn out to be as an artist.
If you are a struggling professional who is having trouble putting food on the table, it is sensible to consider trying other means to make a living especially when people rely on you, but that never means that you should quit altogether. Photography might not sustain you financially, but it does not mean that it does not have a purpose in your life.
Photography is for everybody, and if it makes you happy, then you have every right to keep doing it.
I must say that I have only heard one voice tell me that my work sucks and I should just quit: my own. However, you are so right that the keyboard empowers many to say things that few would consider saying in person.
Thank you for your encouraging post.
Thanks for reading, David! I hear it from myself too. Then a day or two after, Im reminded that it's what fuels me. Cheers, man!
"Whether online or in person, no one has the right to tell anyone to stop pursuing something they are passionate about."
People have the right to say whatever they want.
Photographers (and people pursuing any activity) should make the choice to not be hypersensitive to negativity and criticism.
We all know that not being sensitive is often easier said than done. Especially when the discouragement comes from significant family or friends.
It's human nature to seek affirmation of one's choices. Some people are more sensitive than others and many of those are people who find fulfillment in creativity. Some of them like Van Gogh suffered greatly. Telling people to be less sensitive is like telling someone they should be taller, shorter, smarter, or anything else impossible for them to achieve.
For sure, my last 5 ex wives
I hope #6 supports you all the way!
My boss at my last 9-5 job. Called me into his office and sat me down to tell me I’d never go anywhere with it and to give up. I thought about it that night (and the level of a**hole it takes to tell someone that), went into work the next day and took a 3 hour lunch before returning to tell him I quit. 12 years later and I’ve been working for myself ever since, more convinced than ever photography is what I’m happiest doing (and learning).
I’ve gotten to travel, meet some awesome people, photograph athletes, politicians, musicians, etc, find myself in scenarios I’ll tell my grandkids about, and much more, all thanks to this occupation.. and an insecure store manager seeing someone succeed, telling them they should just give up.
Thats one Ahole of a boss! Glad to know that Photography pulled through for you!
I tell myself everyday. Not much of a listener though
Keep it up! :)
My parents, haha! They kept telling me how I'm wasting my time and how it won't get me anywhere, and I was doing photography as a hobby, so it wasn't like I relied on it completely. They just didn't support it and saw no purpose in learning different techniques and improving my skills. Their tune changed the day I did a photo restoration for some of the old family photos. Nothing special, just a few hours in Photoglory and the pictures got more colors and looked newer, but my parents were so proud of me because of that. I guess people judge each other just because they do not understand why is this particular thing important to someone, but once you start speaking 'their language' they come around,
Sometimes that language is buckets of money though. Some people only appreciate things if they see that it makes tons of cash
Nah...I have too much fun to worry about what others think. Sure, I like to have positive comments about what I do, but I know some of what I do isn't pleasing to some and that's fine. If photography becomes boring or I don't have fun with it, then I'll do something else.
I've not been told to quit, I was told by my teachers to not bother to try and do it as a job. In fact both my art and photography teachers told me that....I wanted to be an animator, not drawn since. I stopped doing photography soon after teachers said that, was put off going to university and then 15 years ago got made reduntant from a sucky job and made photography my full time career. Been chugging along ever since.
Glad you found your path!
I only hear this from my self. We are our own worst enemies at times.
That is true.
It also depends on the photographer. I once met a person who just began with photography. An expensive camera was bought along with a 70-200mm f/2.8. He went to an arts school, learning how to photoshop the photos (you know, e.g. black and white images with a red rose in the middle). The photos were so bad: composing, framing, light, but the worst of all: They never seemed to get any better. What wouldn't have been a problem at all if this person was not fishing for compliments all the time. And then one time the unavoidable happened. I was asked what I think about his art. What should one answer? Well, there is space for improvement? I see some interesting approaches? I got away with some phony compliment. - Some two or three years later I learned that this person had quit photography and is now painting. Photos are taken, then projected on a canvas to repaint them.
So maybe someone had the courage to tell this person the truth for the sake of us all.
I have a bit of an opposite problem. All my family and professional photographers I trust tell me my work is great. But whenever I have a client that just isn’t happy with their images I can’t help but question if I should be charging for photographic services. Wish there was a critique service that could give objective opinion and advice.
What keeps me going are the possibilities. I've shot trash. I've shot gold. What motivates me is reaching a level of being able to shoot consistently good work that my own eyes are happy with. That's a much more attainable goal than the appreciation of others.