Friday, August 19, 2011

{thoughts} finding a voice

As artists, we are always trying to "find ourselves." Whether it be on a personal or artistic level, we are constantly and continually on a mission to find our style, our voice. On a very base level, we want to be able to define who we are and what we do.

Depending on your specialty within the arts, you will find varying levels of support in this search party. Writers, I feel, have the hardest time. Writing is so personal, so provocative and heart-wrenching. You're baring your soul to others, awaiting inevitable criticism that will cut you to the quick. What amazes me is that not only are writers putting their heart and soul on the chopping block, they are doing so without a guaranteed monetary return. They continually throw themselves to the wolves, hoping that some day, some publisher will see the talent and dollar signs behind their story. On top of that, there doesn't seem to be a large network of other writers for the aspiring to turn to when they need direction. Most people are still in the writing closet, so to speak, because writing is such an extremely personal, provocative and heart-wrenching career-choice. I can see how it would be easier to keep one's true self closeted to others. So hats off to you, my writer friends. I am amazed at your ability to push forward; you are so much stronger than I.

As photographers, I think we have the opposite problem: we are inundated with information. On a daily basis our eyes are assaulted with the go-to photographers of the day, who's shooting with this, who's charging what, who's booking how much, how so-and-so made their money, "you can do it too!" and the like. There are a plethora of workshops, seminars and tutorials available. Yes, what we do is also extremely personal, but success seems much more accessible than say, to an aspiring novelist. When was the last time your aspiring writer-friend sold an amazing book to a publisher? Now when was the last time you heard of an acquaintance who is starting a photography business after suddenly "discovering a love for photography"? My bet is the latter wins, ten to one.

Unfortunately (artist soap box warning: beware!), I feel like photography has evolved from art expression to money-maker for the wanna-be artist. It seems as if people new to the business see photography as an easy way to make some extra money and work from home. Both semi-true statements; yes, you can make extra money and yes, you can work from home - but it is by no means easy. The one huge side effect of the photography get-rich-quick scheme? Our clients are suffering, two-fold. Not only are good people being charged for work they shouldn't be paying for, but as an art, the photography market has become diluted to the point where "art" is few and far between. The effort has not become quality, but quantity. Potential clients aren't looking for an artist in their photographer, they're looking for the best deal. 

Explain this to me: since when did cheaper art equal a better product?

As a generalization, those that appreciate art recognize a good painter. They recognize a great writer, an amazing poet. They recognize talent in sculpture, pen and ink. And now, because of the influx of said wanna-be's, it is becoming harder and harder for people to recognize a great photographer. It's not the client's fault that their focus has turned to price rather than product - that's simply the priority to which they've been exposed. 

Bottom line, I am an artist. Always have been. I am not new to photography, art or business. And in the end, my main focus is to create art whether or not it makes me any money. I want to catch raw emotion, new life and new beginnings. Do I want to make some money while I'm at it? Sure. But did I become a photographer to make myself oodles of money? No. I am a photographer because I am an artist, and my medium happens to be photography. 

This past week, I made a new photographer friend, Shannon. On her facebook wall, she had a link to a wonderful article by Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai called "My Advice for Aspiring Photographers." Not only are Cheryl's images stunning, but her words are equally as awe-inspiring. I've come back to this article every day this week just to process and reprocess the information - it's actually what inspired this obscenely long post. Of the list, a few really touched me and are things I plan on focusing on while I continue to build my artistic voice:

- You cannot specialize in everything.

Style is a voice, not a prop or an action. If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style. Don't look outward for your style; look inward.

- Never apologize for your own sense of beauty. Nobody can tell you what you should love. Do what you do brazenly and unapologetically. You cannot build your sense of aesthetics on a consensus.

- Never forget why you started taking pictures in the first place. Excellent technique is a great tool, but a terrible end product. The best thing your technique can do is not call attention to itself. Never let your technique upstage your subject.

- Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection.
And my favorite:
- Learn to say "I'm a photographer" out loud with a straight face. If you can't say it and believe it, you can't expect anyone else to, either.
Big props to anyone who actually finished this entire post. You're my hero. 
'Til next time...

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