The longer you do something, the more success you have the greater the pressure gets. That’s my experience any way.
I was recently asked what the best photograph was that I had made in the previous week. I answered that I hadn’t made one that fulfilled that criteria. My wife had made a photograph of our daughter that I really liked, but I hadn’t made anything that I felt was of any true value. As a professional photographer I am happy to make a handful of images that please me over a year, let alone seven days.
The very experience and knowledge that I have gained that allows me to understand how to create a successful image is exactly the knowledge that forces me to be hyper critical of my own work.
I deal with this by not looking at what I have just completed. I don’t read my books after they are published, listen to my podcasts after they go live or look at my photographs in magazines or books. I avoid the pressure of judgement by only looking to the future, to the next thing.
I am more interested in what is to come over what has been, and cannot be altered. Of course the pressure comes from knowing that improvement can be made, and personal ambition suggests that improvement must be made to progress.
Continual progression is a central tenant to our creative practices and to analyse the nature of that progression is challenging. When younger such analysis can be limited in its depth and breadth, but with age such analysis can be destructive and confining because of the very depth and breadth that can be missing when starting out. It’s a creative conumdrum and one which can result in issues of mental well-being and health.
I have no answer I’m afraid to prevent these issues showing themselves. Photography is not easy. Pressing a button is, as is buying a camera, but photography requires much more of you than that. If you sign a deal with the devil you can expect the devil to come calling, the secret is how you deal with him when he does. I refuse to open the door.
Dr. Grant Scott is the 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). His film Do Not Bend: The Photographic Life of Bill Jay was first screened in 2018 www.donotbendfilm.com
© Grant Scott 2022
If we are seeking to establish the true value of our work, are we really the best judges. We are communicators with a point of view and if we communicate successfully we are OK. Finding our audience is the thing.
You make me feel fortunate to have found my niche, where I feel no pressure, knowing what I do is what I enjoy and what is wanted of me.
I have looked back though, I’ve reassessed my work, learnt lessons and also seen how my work has changed, mainly through a refinement of my viewpoint. I have learnt to accept that even when I can feel happy with a picture I must allow for editors and designers to change it for their own purposes. Realising that keeps me alert so I don’t give them the chance as often.
Having said that the way the right clients select and use my work is often a usefully different point of view and more reliable than comments from others who seek only to please us. The mental issues come from a collision between my values and those of people I work for, but past work gives me an anchor in the storm. Its the same with awards. Its dangerous to work with them in mind, they are fickle, that’s all I’ll say. I think we must exercise our eyes all the time and not worry about cameras. Seeing without a camera is not wasted time, it what is validates us continually. When we stop seeing that’s when we stop improving I think.