Regular readers no doubt remember Ctein's (memorable!) column called "No One Cares How Hard You Worked." His point, in a nutshell, was that "If someone already likes your photograph, how hard you worked doesn't matter. If they don't, telling them how hard you worked is not going to change their mind."
But there's a corollary to that which is just as important: you have to work hard enough. Hard enough to get the shot you want.
You have to work as hard as you have to, you might say.
Just as a picture doesn't come with a letter of recommendation ("this photographer worked really hard to get this"), it also isn't excused by excuses ("this would have been better, but..."). You have to do whatever is necessary to get the picture. And sometimes, that entails a huge amount of work. And sometimes dedication. And sometimes expense.
The work can take any number of forms. Preparation. Content, like models and props, or arranging to work with subjects. Travel to locations. Multiple attempts. "Working" a subject, meaning taking a lot of shots of a particular subject to make sure you get one. Lots of shooting and careful editing. Improving your shooting skills so you can work fast on the fly.
For many amateurs, "working hard enough" just means making time to get out of the house with the camera.
I interviewed Sally Mann in the '80s, which was altogether a wonderful experience for me. (Her place on the Maury River really is as magical as it looks in her photographs. I visited her there several times, once with my friend Lely Constantinople.) At one point she was talking about her picture "The Last Time Emmett Modeled Nude," and she said, "Would you like to see the genesis of that shot?" Off she went, returning moments later with a beat-up 8x10 paper box. On the floor of her living room, she laid out dozens of 8x10 proof prints. It turned out that she and her son Emmet had made multiple trips to that location and she'd tried the shoot again and again. The final attempt was in late Autumn, and the water was cold, and Emmett said, "that's enough, Mom. I don't want to do this any more." Hence the title. But she'd gotten the shot.
(Two of them, actually. Over the years, Sally has circulated prints from two different negatives with the same title. Few people realize there are two different pictures. Only one variant is online, at least that I've been able to find. Maybe she phased out the other one.)
Sally had worked very hard on that shot. Exceptionally hard, I'd say. Why? Because she needed to. And the shot finally worked—it's one of her many classics, and has earned her untold thousands of dollars over the years—well into six figures I'm sure. (It helped put Emmet through college.)
I argued at the time that she should work with a high-end publisher to create a deluxe book of her pictures from that era, so the reproductions would do justice to the magnificent prints. But she went the opposite way—she wanted a cheap book that anyone could afford. The modest volume with so-so reproductions was published by Aperture, one of the biggest and most widely-distributed photo book publishers at the time. On the good side, the book is still available. Definitely a high point of American photography books in the second half of the 20th century, and a must-have for any library of American photography books.
No one cares how hard you worked—but the corollary is, you still often have to work hard. Sometimes very hard. You have to work as hard as you have to.
ADDENDUM from Ctein: Dear Mike, I think the extension to Bob Nadler's Axiom: "No one cares how hard you worked" should properly be known as the Nadler-Johnston Corollary, thusly: "No one cares how hard you worked...but they will notice if you didn't work hard enough." pax / Ctein
ADDENDUM: Here's what Emmett (and his Mom) had to say about the picture (thanks to Bill Mitchell for this):
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Eolake Stobblehouse: "Sally Mann is a genius. Immediate Family is one of the most beautiful books I have."