I never want to achieve a ‘Wow Factor’ and I have no interest in progressing to the ‘Next Level’. Both are subjective and arbitrary achievements with no impact on what I do and how I do it. However, I may be in a minority in this belief. We are constantly being told that we should aim for the ‘Wow Factor’ and achieve the ‘Next Level’. These are put to us as aspirational achievements that will define our level of success, but of course they are not. They are sound bites used to provide a lazy description of progress.
I have never seen the next level, I may have been on the next level, I may be on the previous level, I have no idea where I am or where I have been and that is fine with me. The concept of improvement being gauged by the use of levels is directly opposed to the premise of creative practice.
Who are the judges who will define this siloed progress?
Photography workshops, courses and how-to-books often speak of their ability to take you to this mythical place, the next level, but it is clear to see that the suggestion is that you can only reach the next level and be as ‘good’ as the person attempting to take your hard earned cash if you buy their product. In this instance, the promise of a next level is nothing more than a sales technique, but it can be a dangerous one.
The inference of the next level is that you are not good enough. That you could be better and that you should be better.
The impact that this can have on your confidence, self-belief, and your reflection on your work can be negative. It can foster a sense of frustration and depression. The next level is deliberately intended to be unachievable as it does not exist. Creative endeavour is not a series of defined stages, but an evolving journey with ups, downs, confusion and moments of clarity. This is why it is so engaging, and rewarding.
A photographic journey is a personal journey. It is one in which you are your own judge of your own success, even when the desire for validation is strong. In the film The Dead Pool, Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan says, “Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.” I tend to agree with Dirty Harry here, but with the caveat that some of those opinions are worth hearing, when informed and constructive. Unfortunately, the quest for the next level is as hopeless as that for the Holy Grail. It is not based upon opinions but promises, promises that cannot be delivered.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a working photographer, documentary filmmaker, BBC Radio contributor and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).
Grant’s book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2021