'A Gift of Life', Portsea Victoria.
A Passionate Pursuit
Cast your mind back for a moment to your formative preschool years. Do you remember your arts and craft sessions? If yours were like mine, we often indulged in finger painting. Dressed in art smocks we would sit down at a long table, blank paper and a collection of brightly colour paints within easy reach. Before long we would be hard at work, handfuls of paint smeared across the rough surface of the once soulless paper. Paint on the table, the floor and across our faces. There were no rules, with the possible exception of not rubbing paint into your classmate's hair. It was simple fun and a journey of discovery. Through finger painting we developed our co-ordination and expressed our creativity without inhibition, fear of criticism or intimidation.
When we pick up a camera for the first time, it is almost as though we are back at that old familiar kindergarten table - our paper and paints laid out before us just waiting for a burst of childish self expression. Free of limiting rules and past experience, we set about capturing our world without constraint. For many of us, the first photographs we take will be of our loved ones - parents, grandparents, children or siblings. We may then dabble in nature, photographing ducks in the local park or nearby landscapes. Some photographs shine, while others are a definite work in progress. Keen to develop our skills we head online, learning basic photographic technique and sharing our adventures through Facebook or forums. We quickly connect with other photographers who are kind in their approach and generous with advice. All too soon however, unlike the nurturing environment of our early childhood finger painting, we discover the self prescribed "rules" and "ethics" of photography, which some enforce with a destructive passion.
In photography as in any creative pursuit, there are almost as many opinions as there are artists and interestingly, the standards, rules and opinions so fiercely held by one individual often conflicts with those held by others. While there is certainly a wide range of helpful advice which assists in developing fundamental photographic skills, there is an equally broad range of advice or "rules" which are simply unhelpfully and in some cases, poison for the creative soul.
Well Intentioned but Misguided Advice
I recently read comments in one Facebook group which revolved around post production. The original poster mentioned they were going through a rough patch with their photography and were not satisfied with their current efforts in Photoshop. A number of well meaning responses quickly appeared, with one suggesting an acceptable limit on the time spent post processing an image. Apparently any more than 2 minutes is excessive. Although well intentioned, this individual was unaware that Ansel Adams would spend hours and days working in his dark room, perfecting the printing of his negatives. Advice like this, delivered even with the best intentions places an unfortunate restriction on another's creativity and freedom.
Bullies and Trolls
At the other end of the spectrum, in the shadows of Facebook groups and forums lurk the trolls and bullies. From equipment, composition and lighting to editing and printing, these individuals know the "rules" of photography and are more than eager to admonish anybody who dares to transgress. As with most bullies, they like to build themselves up by cutting others down. Browse the internet and it won't take long to find their handiwork. Just recently, one Facebook user photographed the northern lights for the first time and with some enthusiasm posted his images online. In amongst the well meaning who congratulated him on his first efforts, the trolls and bullies weighed in to ensure he knew his technique and photographs were, in their opinions less than satisfactory.
How Many Photographers does it Take to Change a Light Bulb?
I once asked a famous photographer how he handled criticism. In return he asked me... "How many photographers does it take to change a light bulb?" Puzzled, I waited for the answer. "40" he said. "1 to change the light bulb and 39 to say they could have done it". Wise words from a man who has achieved far more than all his critics combined could ever hope to.
Find Your Own Voice and Vision
I find it helpful to remember that if we try to please everybody we will end up pleasing nobody, least of all ourselves. As we explore our photography, it is essential that we carefully pick and choose the advice we listen to. At the end of the day, photography is about the joy found in freely expressing our own voice and not merely echoing that of another. All the advice, "rules" of photography and opinions out there are very much like the Pirate's Code, which are, as Captain Barbossa observed in Pirates of the Caribbean, "… more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules...". And the bullies? Lets ignore their bait. Life is simply too wonderful to worry about them. Wouldn't you agree?
A Sample of my finger painting from 1979. I was 5 at the time.
Written By Chris Munn