We all know that there is no strict mathematical formula by which a successful image can be created. The photographic image does not and should not conform to any pre-ordained rules of success. This can be an issue for many who come to photography from other areas of practice or business who look for techniques, workflows, work process’s and aesthetic approaches that will deliver the creative success they crave. But as anyone who has been involved in the world of professional photography for any length of time knows it is only by knowing and then breaking any rules that do exist that a true personal visual language can be evolved and established.
This lack of structured career path and image creation formula contributes to the sense of creative freedom that attracts so many to photography but it also provides the base insecurity that lies beneath the exterior of so many photographers. In the less competitive environment of the past this base insecurity could be held at bay or diminished by receiving a commission. If someone liked your work enough to ask you to take a picture for them and pay you for doing so then you must be doing something right. A successful photographer was a working photographer.
But the digital revolution has left us with a far more congested marketplace and therefore a far more competitive arena for photographers to work within. Recognition through commission has become a rarer ratification of a photographers worth than was previously the case. So who will tell us that our work is relevant, appropriate, successful and of quality?
Much has been written of the loneliness of the photographer in the digital age, as we can so easily become connected to the photographic world only via a screen. And yet it is that screen which is the primary source of the validation we need as photographers to remain confident in the work we are creating.
Images posted on flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and personal blogs allow photographers to receive instant feedback, input and praise through a series of clicked hearts, ticks and likes. They give us the confidence we need to continue with what at times may seem like an impossible task: to get noticed and respected. In the moment this can bring an instant feel good factor and gratification if the images you post are responded to positively but as part of a broader aspect of your overall practice the responses you receive can be the difference between continuing or ceasing you work in a particular direction or in the worst case altogether.
The instant gratification or disappointment of posting images online may be a main source of emotional and creative support for many photographers but it is the delayed expectation of entering photographic competitions that can provide a much harder response to deal with. Days, weeks and months of expectation and hope having entered your work and invariably made a financial commitment can lead to a heavy blow to an already fragile confidence and self-belief.
We are often as photographers fragile creatures, dedicated to our work, passionate about our subject matter, desperate to have both respected and seen. We also need to fund our work and our lives and we need our photography to do that for us if we want photography to be our professions. None of that is easy but it is achievable even if the journey to your end-goal is neither easy or straightforward.
To remain balanced it seems to make sense to me that we are neither too elated or too depressed when looking at online responses and that if we enter competitions we instantly forget that we have. In that way we are not unduly swayed by feedback from unknown sources or overly fixated by a decision we can have no say in.
We are all in the same boat so I suggest that we make sure if you see someone who needs to be pulled aboard that you do. Don’t leave them drifting off to shore or hit them with a paddle. The photographic community could and should be mutually supportive as it evolves into a new landscape of interaction, understanding and engagement. It is our joint responsibility to ensure that it is.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of the United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer in Editorial and Advertising Photography at the University of Gloucestershire, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Focal Press 2014) and The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Focal Press 2015).
© Grant Scott 2015