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Tuesday, 11 April 2017


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Lou Reed, Perfect Day

"Even if you would like to be yourself, wouldn't you like to be yourself but better?"

Yes. What reasonable person would not. This is why time travel into the past is impossible, it would remove free will.

I'd realised you were making the "hero worship" reference in the Idle Question post but really, no, I don't hero worship photographers in the way I might do people in other fields. And no, I don't think I want to be anyone else. I think that sort of misses the point, for me. I do some rock climbing and I think about being a better rock climber and I often have dreams where I can float up overhanging rocks without effort but with photography I'm happy being me and struggling through to find my way.

This post is easier to come to grips with than yesterday's.
I also would only want to be me, but to be "LIKE" another photographer for access. That is, access to certain people or places.
Mostly I should prefer to be myself but on commission for National Geographic going back to all the fabulous places I have seen and places I probably won't live long enough to see.

Most people just aren't excellent - I mean really, truly excellent - at anything. It doesn't matter how hard they work, they'll never be world champion. it took me a while to accept this, and even now I wonder if I'm using that as an excuse for not trying harder. But I think it's true - you need randomly-bestowed gifts to be great.

And as a dire warning about not persisting with the effort thing - have you encountered the poetry of William McGonagall? Here's the Wikipedia article:

I was once hired by a museum to write a non-fiction book about John Stuart Ingle, the watercolor artist. Ingle was a pretty amazing watercolorist and also an excellent large format photographer (and a University of Minnesota professor,) and I spent quite a bit of time with him while I was writing the book. He thought the key talent of any visual artist was the ability to see things, or as he said, to "notice" things that other people didn't. For him, both watercolor and the camera were ways recording what you noticed. Then he took the next step, enlarging the photos and watercolors to see things that you really couldn't see very well with the naked eye. So you'd look at one of his paintings of, say, a pear, and you'd think, "I've never quite realized that about a pear." From his point of view, a brush or a camera was simply a way of recording things that you noticed, and the medium you used for your noticing was unimportant (though he recognized the need for thorough training so that you could record accurately.) His particular insight has made me question whether people actually have anything you could call talent, as opposed to something you might call "persistence." If you have a particular interest (of some scope; not simply navel-gazing) and you work it hard enough, and persist long enough, whether as a painter, writer, photographer, or whatever, you may find yourself described as talented. IMHO.

Huh. Who would have thought that a person sharing 92 percent of my DNA controlling photo goals and self-criticism would be a 60-year-old with one bad knee and two bad shoulders living in upstate New York?

I had a similar experience with writing when I was younger. No burning, but the same "recoil" when I found myself mining deeply.

Regarding "talent", I'm reminded of Stephen King's quote:

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

Which, I'd argue, you have done, Mike.

If you had included H.S.T. in that P.S. list, I might have quit work early and opened a bottle of wine.. and pondered... (what, you don't think H.S.T. is up there with Chuck Dickens and Bill Shakespeare?).



"A fragile ego is a wretched affliction."

One thing I have noticed is that successful 'artists' have well developed egos. To the point of being insufferable.

David Vestal, "Do your work".

I'm still pondering the original question. Ideally one would want the combination of making really good work AND enjoying a happy life that has also brought pleasure to others. One might say Edward Weston, for example, but would you want the last dozen years (Parkinson's, &c.) of his life? I don't think so. Sudek but would you want to spend almost all of your adult life under the domination of first the Nazis and then the USSR? Again, not for me. I admire the work of Kertesz no end, but by all accounts he was a fairly bitter man for most of his years in this country. Dianne Arbus, no thanks. Callahan had more demons than I'd like to take on. So?

You put that so well. It gives me the heebie-jeebies for obvious reasons but thanks.

"I wanted to be a writer when I was young."

What a delightful irony, Mike. Anyone who can write like this has certainly earned the sobriquet "writer."

A wonderful post.

So you only burned all your stories! In my teens I got rid of a draft 'novel', then some years later followed this up by binning a 95 % completed PhD!

I find it very easy to imagine 'myself only better' as a photographer. My adopted corner of the North of England has been photographed by Bill Brandt, Fay Godwin, and Martin Parr, amongst others. I'm a dabbling amatuer -someone who only takes photographs for the love of doing it.

When Martin Parr moved to this area in the 1970's we 'hippies' were amazed by his work ethic. He was rumoured to be up and about before dawn every day, photographing chapels, and so forth. When I asked him if I could borrow some prints - monochrome landscape panoramas- to put up in a corridor at the Polytechnic where I was working he seemed really pleased that someone had taken an interest in his work. Look at him now!

Great post, a lot of it resonated deeply with me. Being yourself in your photography, for me, seems ultimately to be entirely the point. I have been doing photography for many years, but it's only recently that I've started to really take it seriously in the sense of being more myself in my work. For various reasons, it took me a long while to give myself full permission on that. While there are always digressions into attempts at mimicry of work I admire and some hero worship of a revolving stable of photographers, ultimately it's all to the service of developing skills that will help me develop my own visual language, and it's simply any artist who follows his own path that I admire.

But, anyway, "wouldn't you like to be yourself but better"? Absolutely. But I can't help but always wish I was ten steps ahead of wherever I am at any given moment, and that there was more of a mastery than a feeling of stumbling around in semi-darkness -- someone who sees pictures more easily, as your wrote. Maybe it will always be like that but, hopefully, the journey will keep periodically offering up encouragement to keep moving forward.

I just happened to spot this today: (John Cleese: You Should — No, You Must — Steal Your Way to Success)

While I think of it, anybody know why my link code doesn't work here any more? It's been a while.

I've read this post a couple times. I could have written it - if I were nearly as good a writer as you are. Thank you for the honesty and humility you displayed. But ... BUT ... you are much too hard on yourself.

Decades ago, source unremembered, I encountered the quotation, "All comparisons are invidious." Whenever I'm down on myself, especially with respect to someone else's attainments, I remind myself of it.

Away from TOP for a week and missed this great post! I don't think it's someone else, but rather the other possible versions of myself. The lifelong bachelor version of myself would be a very different photographer than I am. I make family life a priority and that tends to move my professional work towards less travel and efficient earning.

Most of the posts have trended towards one's talent level. I think there is another thread to this. Given the same natural talent, the different potential paths of our lives change everything about how and why we work. Would you be a better or different photographer if you made some different choices in life? Different spouse? Different profession? Different place to live?

I love the quote about having to reconcile with other versions of yourself upon your death. But everything has a give and take. For me, extending my attention to my personal photographic pursuits would come at a price I am not willing to pay.

I can live with leaving something on the table photographically. You can't give 100% to multiple things in your life. Something gets sacrificed. But yes, I do wonder what type of photographer I could or would be in a different scenario.

From Alain Briot's Fine Art Photography top 16:

Talent is not within our control
Hard work and not giving up are
Many more succeed because of hard work than because of talent
We succeed because we control what we do"

I wanted to list Alain Briot as my hero photographer, but the article closed to comments before I got the chance. Read his "Being an Artist" and "Being an Artist in Business" essays on Luminous Landscape.

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