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Sunday, 18 August 2013


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This subject seems to have gotten some renewed attention lately, as I believe I've read at least two pieces (NYT and ?) on it.

Being a devout introvert I've given this subject much thought. (Extroverts don't seem nearly as introspective.) My disjointed Sunday morning thoughts are as follows.

- I suspect that one's version of -version has a profound impact on how one produces and/or perceives creative work. (I've long wondered if extro's first reaction to, say, a painting is "I wonder who did it?" where an intro's reaction is "I wonder what it is?".) But in photography it would be a mistake to assume that extros shoot people while intros shoot landscapes. Intros can and will make the somewhat uncomfortable effort to protrude when the return on the investment is rewarding. Which leads me to my next point....

- Intros are much better at impersonating extros than vice-versa. Many of us can be veritable social bees for hours or days at a time. Lock an extro at home alone and eventually you're watching Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. People who need people are not the luckiest people in the world by any measure I've discovered. Nevertheless,....

- Extros tend to be the most successful by nearly all measures. They tend to build and maintain supportive networks of people. They're not reluctant to dive into roomfuls of strangers.

Which -version produces the best photography (or art) is not answerable. We are each products of so many factors that, as investment funds are required to declare, past performance is no guarantee of future results. But it's still fund to consider...during introspective moments.

I'm a total introvert. That's why I hide behind a viewfinder, so I don't have to engage!


As usual Mike, you have me thinking, as it relates to photography, in a way I've not considered before.


Before she married JFK, Jackie O. was a photojournalist. I wonder if her work was any good(?), but obviously she knew a great photographer when she met him.

Hi Mike,
Generally I'd keep bad news to myself and share good news, and prefer to be on the periphery rather than the centre of things.
Growing up I was always the one who took a camera as I have an outside-looking-in attitude.

I reckon the person carrying a camera in a group of friends will normally be the introvert.

Interesting analysis and one that I've thought about before, especially about how it relates to my own photography. Being a strong introvert, I believe, meshes quite well with and benefits my street photography. I feel comfortable being a "detached observer" with no need to interact with my subject, and that allows me to simply wander, see, and photograph without having to--god forbid--talk to people! :)

On some level, it seems counterintuitive that an introvert would enjoy street photography, since there is always some level of interaction (even if just visual glances), and of course the potential for even greater interaction (positive or negative) when spotted, but it works for me. I wonder if the historically successful flâneur photographers (Bresson, Doisneau, Levitt, etc. ) were introverts or extroverts?

As an introvert myself, I found the book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain very insightful in helping me understand how I and extroverts see the world and behave differently.

Nice article. I tend to evaluate the personality of photographers on this regard too, I think this can give an interesting exra perspective to their work. I think David Alan Harvey is a example of a extrovert photographer, he really has a need to feel integrated with people and this shows in his work. On the other hand I see Alec Soth as a introvert struggling to connect with other people and the world.

Regarding myself, I'm the typical introvert in many ways like finding it easier to express myself in the writing form rather than orally and, like you said in the post, the need for solitude. But in my case I use photography for both my "state of minds" (for lack of a better term).

When I crave for isolation I tend to go to a remote place, often at night, and bring a dSLR + lenses and tripod and work on landscape-like photography.

When I want to feel "connected" I pave the streets with one or two compacts (Fuji X100 and/or Nikon V1), although the level of connection with people varies: I mostly prefer to shoot candids, but there are situations when I force myself to talk to strangers to get a shot, but even if I don't communicate directly with someone I strangely feel this connectedness in some way.

Interestingly enough, I'm both an introvert and an extrovert, or maybe some strange mash-up in between. When I was young, I really concentrated on product photography because I hated meeting people and generally interacting with people. I would be happy for hours by myself, puttering away in the studio doing some sort of delicate little product shot.

But, I found out I'm also a pretty good people shooter, the "key" being, when I have the auspices of working for someone else! It's easy to call someone, or accost someone, when I can say: "I'm Joe Blow from the Dickwad Agency and I'm here to take pictures." If it's for myself, I would turn shy, because I'd think: "why would anyone want to do this for me." Let's face it, if someone called me and said the same thing, I'd hang up on them.

Not the least in all this, is the older I get, the more my interaction with the general public is taking on an increasingly foul perspective. Someone famous said: "the masses are asses", and they couldn't be more right! I find mankind as individuals to be fascinating, and as a group to be terrible, more and more every day.

Strangely enough, it also seems to be location oriented. There have been cities I've lived in where people seem to be across the board, smart and funny and wry; which makes me want to be extroverted with them! And other cities where people seem to be dull, stupid, and tedious. Again, strangely enough, it's not all the places you might think. As much as people generally 'rue' NYC, I always seem to get along fine there, and conversely, many medium sized mid-western cities, where people are supposed to be god-fearing, hard-working, and open to the plight of their compatriots, I find populated by the dull and witless; which makes me more introverted!

I always paraphrase a buddy of mine that moved from his medium sized mid-western city to a city by a bay on the west coast, he said of the mid-western city, something to the effect of: "I'm tired of walking around being mad every day at perfectly nice people that just don't think about things the same way I do."

I think your history of personal interaction makes you introverted or extroverted. How many times do you have to be hit on your nose with the cosmic newspaper of life before you get the idea that you just don't want to interact.

Just another viewpoint: years ago I used to talk to people in line at the gas station waiting to buy a lottery ticket. They all used to expose the idea that if they won, they'd like to get a condo in NYC and see the shows and sporting events, move to the south of France, etc. Since the early 2000's, people all seem to talk about moving to rural America and surrounding themselves with a high fence in a compound, and just have stuff delivered by UPS. Maybe we're all turning introverted?

Growing up I felt as if something was wrong with me. Always feeling somewhat lost when people got together to have "fun". 2-3 or maybe up to five people were ok. Basically any five, just not too many at the same time...

Only recently as an adult I started to understand this a little bit more.
With a camera, and if I am on a "mission" to take photos, the camera, really helps to break the ice with others.

[Hi Johan, re your "not too many at one time," I made a similar discovery. As a child I was near the end of the school bus route. At the beginning of the route, with lots of kids on the bus, I was very quiet and didn't interact. The fewer kids there were, the more engaged I got. The last three or four of us on the bus often had some very animated, engaged conversations that I often relished.

And I remember puzzling over this, even as a third- and fourth-grader. --Mike]

I just heard an interview with a woman who wrote a book on this subject. My suspicion is that you either heard her interviewed or read her book, which sounds fascinating. From what she said I am probably a high-functioning introvert. I really need time alone, but am very social in groups. Her book was nice because it is non-judgemental and basically says that we need both types to be a useful society.

Sorry you got bad news Mike, whatever it is.
I'm an introvert and sometimes so over-socialised at an event that I'll have to make an excuse to go to the loo or have a wander outside, just to unwind even if only for five minutes. I sometimes see my camera as a shield (a therapist friend of mine first pointed this out to me - I thought it apt) - it enables me to be in a social situation, but not of it. I don't necessarily think that improves my photography, though having another language to describe some aspects of it is useful.

I feel most comfortable alone, so it's my default state when I want to relax. But by the same token I need social interaction to help form ideas and get inspiration.

But I generally don't enjoy parties or forced social gatherings like work functions. A small gathering of close friends is fine, but most of my socialising is with individuals.

I think I'm a shy extrovert, someone who does not like to initiate relationships, but when put in a forced social setting (like a party, or work) is really energized by the experience. A good discussion can make me feel like I've had several cups of coffee. My wife leaves parties drained, and often wants to go home early. Even Facebook is taxing to her.

Introversion and Extroversion are sometimes (incorrectly) liked to Narcissism. But since narcissism is no longer in DSM-V, I am cured!

I wonder if the definition has maybe changed over time? This current definition seems more useful, but it's not what I remember being told in school, which was more about "liking to be with people".

I'm a moderate extrovert, I think. So very not a people person, though.

One introvert I know is about the most social person I've encountered. They maintain more first-class friendships, and second-class too, and have more social events in a week, than I have since maybe college (when it was all a matter of who I ran into in the dining hall, hence very easy). But very very definitely a strong introvert. In fact that whole household is strong introvert.

I absolutely love these Off Topic posts!
Especially when you thread the photo theme through your writing!
The only thing I miss, and this is a after-thought, is the "send this post to a friend" link that you used to have.
There are a number of people that I would like to send this post to.
Your always interesting Mike, keep it up!

Tom Kwas hit on something. I too wonder if one can shift along the introvert/extrovert scale as time goes by and life experience piles up.

Decades ago, I took the Myers-Briggs personality test for some reason or another. I tested as an ENTP, E is of course for extrovert. But today, I'd call myself an introvert. Large groups of people tire me. When out for dinner or drinks, I prefer quiet places. It's not that I don't have fun at a party, I just find myself tired and worn out after one.

My personal photography runs from nature and landscapes to cityscapes and some street/people. I tend to photograph people I don't know as an observer, not an interactor. Professionally though, I've photographed a lot of people over the years and that seems to be when the extrovert switches on.

It could be, of course, that being tired after some big shindig is just age. I believe I'm within about a year or so as Mike.

I love what LJSlater pointed out above: I have always classed myself as a loud introvert, and it's comforting to see that others see themselves the same way.

I consider myself introverted, even somewhat of a misanthrope, but having lived in Asheville for the past year or so, I confirmed that I need to live in larger cities (having spent the previous years in New York City, Tokyo, and Bangkok). I enjoy my "alone" time, but I have no desire to be a hermit in the wilderness.

I guess I find some sort of equilibrium amidst my conflicting preferences by 'street photography,' feeding off the dynamics of humanity, even if just symbols of life, while still remaining just on the outside.

Anyway, years back, I recall a perhaps egregiously extroverted friend saying to another, within deliberate earshot of me, how she could just not understand shy people, as she just loved talking so much with others. My thought at the time was, "Well, maybe if you would shut up for a second, I might have a chance to speak."

I find it very interesting that self-identified introverts have made a large majority of the comments above.

Mike, it has everything to do with photography, and that's especially true when it comes to the so-called street photography. The way photographers interact with people in the streets is very important, though it is true that there were introverts making fabulous 'reportage' photographs. Robert Doisneau is another name you can add to the list.
Street photography requires breaking some barriers. The most important of them is approaching people and asking if you can photograph her/him. Some may say this isn't necessary when photographing in public places, and by the legal aspect of it that's true, but on the other hand there are rules of common sense, sensibility and decorum that mandate that the photograph is 'negotiated' with the person we want to include in the frame. It is easier for an extrovert type to do it, but for a shy person (please note that I am aware that introversion and shyness aren't necessarily the same thing) it demands quite a lot of nerve.
Character matters when you're making street photography. The introvert has to overcome a lot of boundaries, because taking pictures of people's backs doesn't always make for interesting pictures - but they can do 'reportage' photography as successfully as anybody else.

Definitely an introvert. Being with a handful of people for a while is all right, much more and I'm thrashed in short order. A few hours of trolling the woods helps recovery.

I describe myself as an extroverted introvert.

With total strangers, I am your typical withdrawn introvert. So I am not much good at socializing or networking.

But if there is a degree of familiarity with the people I am with, however tenuous, then I become quite extrovert, even to the point of being charming and witty. And from time to time, I set out on adventures that no introvert would possibly contemplate.

I guess that makes me a mixed up "kid" I am 60 by the way.

I have to thank living in America for ridding me of a lot, if not all, of my English reticence.

Individual differences between people extend to the actual amount of stimulation required to make individual nerve cells fire. Sensitive people have their nervous systems permanently dialled up to ISO 3200, and require far less external stimulation to achieve the same result as other less sensitive persons.

Generally speaking people with sensitive nervous systems will become introverts, and those with lower sensitivity will become extroverts. People will seek out or avoid situations such that they receive the level of stimulation they require.

A person with a low sensitivity nervous system may need to be the centre of attention at a party to achieve the same level of stimulation as the seemingly shy person standing in the corner.

Shyness may result from being sensitive and having a history of avoiding large or noisy social situations that would normally result in overload. But shyness is also related to self esteem and self confidence and many other factors can affect those.

Social media was invented for extroverts who can't stand being alone by themselves.

Has anyone done a study of men and women with regards to extrovert/introvert behaviour? I only ask because most of my female friends are much better at maintaining networks and keeping in touch than me or their male partners.

My vague recollection of my limited studies in psychology is that you can also be an introverted extrovert, or an extroverted introvert. Maybe that's why I my studies were limited. Also, I recall that introverts tended to be more successful in business. As a weak extrovert that might explain something too.

This whole area of personality types has become very popular lately. Psychologists who work in the area of human resources have now realised that at the moment most apects of human endeavour currently favour the extroverted personality types and tend to make introverts uncomfortable at best or at wort alienated. So the use of the Myers-Briggs personality tests has become very popular as a way of seeing which personality types are really suited to what so as to bring out the best of a persons talents. You'll be pleased to note that photography and reading rate very highly among the introverts.

I used to get extremely bored going to partys, meeting new people and making small talk with them. Couldn't understand it. Everybody else was having fun.

Fast forward a quarter of a century to a Meyers Briggs course where I got the following definitions:

Extroverts derive their energy for life from the group situation.

Introverts derive their energy for life from introspection.

So at partys, here were all these people recharging their batteries, getting their energy for life. This made sense to me, especially as 90% of people are extroverted in small or large ways.

I'm an introvert, so now I know why partys are so boring. They do nothing to engage what gives me energy for life.



I wonder if there is a correlation between introversion/extroversion and preference for b&w or colour

As an older (60) introvert, I find being in groups of people doubly exhausting these days. Besides the usual trouble with crowds, I am now finding that I've heard all the conversations before, so not only are crowds tiring, they're now also boring.

Introvert Plus! Hate engaging with others, either in person or in written or verbal
communication. Have doubts about the validity of many things, including all religions, forms of government and business as well as much that is presented as fact in the printed word, media and internet.
I tend to do my own thing, on my schedule, and have very few trusted friends.

My lack of any current photography activity probably reflects not being accepting of criticism of my results, be they self critical or commentary espoused by others.

Find it frustrating to even do regularshopping, avoid malls and crowds and places where anybody may congregate.

Find sitting in a open field unprotected by shelter as it could be, in the night to bemost relaxing...

The mention of Eisenstadt made me think of one subject for whom his charm was not enough, Joseph Goebels. In looking for the picture, I learned that there was more to the story than I knew:



"Extroverts tend to immediately seek comfort in company and companionship."

Hmm... I wonder if that is true with social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc). Do extraverts share more on social media? Do introverts share things on social media that they would feel uncomfortable sharing face-to-face?

Very nice article, as always! Thanks for posting this, Mike! I consider myself an introvert, and relate to many of the things mentioned here. Especially using my camera as a 'shield', on short trips with a bunch of friends. :-)
Tom Kwas's observations about it being location oriented were very interesting too!

I'm sorry about your bad news, Mike. I hope it's not TOO bad.

My understating of the two terms ... an extrovert is "validated" or feels better via external affirmation whereas an introvert feels validated by their own ideas / exploits working out.

FWIW, I'm an introvert who likes taking people photos. I prefer candids that reveal something about the person / people in the image.

Oh, two other observations. First, though I believe I'm a classic introvert, I actually love taking one-on-portraits. It's not a contradiction: I always feel comfortable one on one, and for short periods of time.

Second, reading through the comments, I would draw the unscientific conclusion that photographers are by and large introverts. Or perhaps just that photographers who comment on TOP posts are by and large introverts.

NO question that I spent the first 20 years of my life as a strong introvert, however I was heavenly influenced by a friend who was a strong extrovert and realized that if i was to succeed in any modest fashion in life I would be served to adopt some "outgoing" characteristics!

This is a great, great post, and a good example of why I come to this site. I'm a classic introvert, but I've never thought about how it related to photography and art. Thanks!

I'm definitely an introvert, though not a "strong" one these days; I was more so when I was younger though.

I do enjoy alone time but by no means dread socializing (though I definitely have a limit to how much socializing is too much). I have a very small group of people whom I consider close friends, but a fair number of "people I know".

My photography tends strongly toward things which don't expect me to strike up a meaningful conversation with them.

Nice effort Mike, but I see most commenters failed to see your point about introvert and extrovert being about energy, not about shyness. The Jungian Type Index isn't exact science, but it doesn't hurt as a tool for introspection. I'm not sure it has much relevance for photographers since we come in all forms and do it for vey different reasons. That said, I see a lot of succesful photographers being very energetic types, so if you want to stay charged, know yourself and seek out situations that energize you.

David, there's even more to the story.
In "The Eye of Eisenstaedt," he relates that two of Goebels bodyguards knocked on the door of his hotel room that night. Scared the hell out of him. But it turned out that they only wanted prints!

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