This is a guest post by David Jackson, a Wisconsin-based editorial portrait photographer and an international award winning wedding photographer. In 2007 he left his full-time job of 14 years as a law enforcement officer to pursue a career as a full-time photographer and to maintain his life's priority as a devoted husband and father to three little girls. His passion for education has lead him to develop the Breaking The Rule Portrait Workshop, focused on honing photographers skill sets in creating more compelling portraits. David's fine art photography project entitled SIMPLE+DIRTY, has also gained wide attention through his documentation of abandoned structures and modern industrial ruins across the Midwest. Follow him on Twitter and connect with him on Facebook. And if you like his post here, trust me, you'll love his blog.
Here’s the deal and I’m going to cut right to the chase. This letter is an open and honest gripe specifically directed at you. Why, you ask? Well, we know each other. I view you as my competition, my nemesis and my enemy. I’ve been quietly watching your every move as an artist, a business owner and a person I typically respect. But this whole time I’ve been judging you. I’ve grown increasingly tired of the photo industry and I can see that you have a small integral part of its inherent failure as a whole. You’re just one more number in the growing sea of photographers who think they can make it and at the same time snuff out the veteran shooters. For this reason, I’m going to be blunt and an all-around asshole in what I’m about to say. I rarely take pot shots like this, but I’ve had enough and now’s the time to lay it all out on the table.
To begin with, you irritate me.
By no means does this come from a place of envy, but rather out of genuine frustration. I have seen your work many times before. To be honest, it’s really nothing to brag about. You are the same old thing that I see every other day spewed out on blogs across the web and sold as something fresh and “different.” Just executed in a similar “cheesy” and sometimes over-done way. I have watched the way you shoot. I’ve seen the way you indirectly portray yourself as “awesome” to the Facebook and Twitter masses just chomping at the bit to gain attention by other photographers around you. Not to mention having ambitions of getting hired by potential big-name clients who I’m sure, are knocking down your doors to give you cold hard cash. You’re that new up-and-coming photographer in the industry and you have it all figured out.
Well I have news for you. You’re far from it.
It’s like watching a slow-moving train wreck. You post photos and blog links like it’s going out of style and manage to get such GREAT compliments on the mediocre work you produce. It’s all too predictable:
“You are truly talented.”
“You’re an inspiration!”
Doesn’t the same old recycled essay of comments make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? It might, but all this positive fluff only enables your head to grow larger and you’re your ego to inflate to ridiculous proportions. Not your photography.
Well, let’s dissect your work. From what I’ve seen online, your post-production is all over the place. In the beginning you struggled to take a halfway decent photo. Although you have the basics down, I can tell you prefer taking the easy way out. You love the idea of using Photoshop actions and filters instead of actually editing your photos in a simple, organic way. You love shortcuts. You’re a product of the digital age and rely on your LCD screen to attain a halfway decent exposure. You barely know how to use a light meter. You have attended workshops, bought DVD’s and stalked numerous other photographer’s blogs with hopes to mimic their style. And by doing this you deliver photos that you can hardly call original, yet comfortably fit into the “what’s hot now” category. After all, it’s these trends that are selling at the moment…
Time after time you deliver the same old predictable photos that we’ve all seen before. What you don’t realize is that the things you are doing today to attain your new-found “signature look” will soon be outdated and un-marketable. And the further you back yourself into a corner, the harder it will be to get out of when you become the new “selective-color” of 2013.
Sure, your clients may fall hard for your work and you sometimes ooze fairy dust in a lovefest for yourself. But I don’t think you’re truly happy with any of it. You’re often afraid of other people’s opinions and constructive criticism. Far be it from you to get honest feedback without becoming defensive about your precious photographs or better yet, face an unhappy client. But then again you’ve NEVER had an unhappy client… Right? They ALL love you and your photos.
I can tell by the crappy outdated photos STILL in your portfolio, you are yet to update your extensively mismatched galleries or put any effort in getting your website together in a logical way. Looking at it closer, I see you continually struggle to find your voice. Who knows if you will ever find it? I however, look at your work and know exactly the things I should never do in the future. You call that marketable? Wait, I have a great idea… Delete it all and start over from scratch.
It’s awful. And you’re not even close to finding your true identity as a photographer.
How in the hell do you expect to get actual paid client work with the garbage you’re shooting? Sure there are some good-looking folks in some of your well-lit shots, but does that make your photos exceptional? Does that make you the next best thing? Apparently everybody is the “next best thing” these days. Your work does not speak to me or stop me dead in my tracks.
Early on, you wanted to romanticize the photo industry and the esteemed status of being a photographer. Truth be told, it makes me sick to think about it. You came into the photo world with big naïve eyes, hoping to save the world with your undying love for your clients, your “passion” for making “awesome” photos or your ability to “capture true emotion.” You love being called an artist, but you seemingly fall short most times.
Go to your website. Just read your bio. Listen to yourself! You sound like a pompous assclown. Amidst your redundant words and poor grammar, I know you want to shoot weddings in exotic locations due to your availability to “travel worldwide”. Yet oddly enough, you’re still stuck shooting in some dimly lit catholic church or one of those typical VFW reception halls. Oh, sooooo glamorous. But you never seem to find the motivation or drive to push yourself hard enough to get to where you truly want to be.
Take a hard look at yourself. It’s not difficult to see that you have idolized the status of some, if not all of the “rockstar” photographers who spew their gospel out to the uninformed photographic masses. Yet you yourself seek to glean some magic bullet of success from these folks by buying into the shit they are selling you. Come on. You’re transparent and wear your true colors on your sleeve.
It’s clearly apparent you are a clone of hundreds, if not thousands of other photographers out there. You’ve made all the classic moves; a slick URL incorporating your name, cool clothes, half-assed DIY branding and a web-sized ego to boot. Let me guess? Now you have ambitions of selling your diatribe to other photographers at some point too. Perhaps you have a desire to teach a workshop? Maybe you even want to publish a book or release a DVD someday? You want the recognition and status of rubbing shoulders with those who’ve “made it” in the industry, but you’ve failed to look at the bigger picture. No one cares about you. What the hell makes you so special? You’re a newbie on the scene and that doesn’t give you the right to spew your awesomeness to the hungry. You play it off well, but I can clearly see through you and your need to gain some amount recognition.
But is it about recognition or the need to feel accepted? Probably a mix of both IMHO. (Oh, that abbreviation is cool web-lingo for your social media devotees). You probably stare into your iPhone endlessly waiting for comments to appear on your blog, Facebook page, Flickr or get mentioned on Twitter. Or better yet, you waste half your day on a photography forum expecting it to provide you with some sense of real community but never actually participate in pertinent discussions.
You’ve now made the shotgun decision to move into a studio space because you are in such HIGH demand. WOW! Good for you. I can see the clients stacking up at your door as I write this. They must all think you’re a REAL photographer now, huh? You have a brand new studio, complete with a comfy couch, a flat screen TV and that nausea-inducing hiptser vibe we’ve all come to love lately. What you didn’t see when moving into your space is the stress this will cause on you financially and the toll it will take on your family, your relationship with your spouse and your friends.
And friends? Do you still have any of those? I’m assuming they’re dwindling by the minute. And the ones you use to be tight with, you rarely see.
To others, you make it seem so easy. You make it look like a breeze to live up to your luxurious happy-go-lucky photographer lifestyle. At least that’s what it looks like on the outside. But on the inside it’s not so shiny, is it? You make it seem like everything is perfect, exciting and well in Happyphotorainbowland, USA. You always tell people you are SO BUSY and that business is GREAT, because it’s the easy way out. I’ve seen the Tweets. You know, the ones where you brag about the number of weddings you booked THIS WEEK ALONE! What you don’t tell people is the truth. You never mention the struggles of actually running a business and balancing your life in a healthy way.
The truth is, you lack direction. You feel uncertain with who you are. You find this awkward need to feel accepted by your peers. You are struggling with your photography every time you pick up a camera. You’re clients aren’t always as “amazing” as you make them seem throughout your false façade of social media ramblings. Running a business is tough and the thought of having to walk away from it is always on your mind. You’re work is nowhere near stunning. And you have a long way to go before you even begin to reach your goals. It’s the brutal truth.
In the big picture, you are one small component to dragging the entire photo industry down. It’s because of this, so many other people in the photo industry stand in line beside you in the same boring old category of just being average at best. You have big hopes and dreams, but time after time you fail to inspire me. In fact, I only expect you to fail entirely.
I bet at this point, you’re probably rolling your eyes and fairly irritated at my all-too-typical sentiment plaguing the photo industry on the internet these days. You know, bitch about this – complain about that… Unfortunately, I tend to speak the truth. And sometimes it bites me in the ass. But I needed to get this out of my system.
Are you still listening to me Mr. or Mrs. Local Photographer? If you are, perhaps you didn’t see the real bigger picture here. Although I am writing this letter to you, what you didn’t realize is that I’m speaking about someone I know extremely well.
I’m talking to you, David Jackson. This is an open letter to myself.
I’m that Local Photographer. And I’m calling myself out for my views, techniques and ideologies spanning the past 10 years of my career in photography. I’m not writing this to bash myself over the head, generate a pity party or for that matter carry the bright flaming torch for the entire photo industry. But rather I view this as a means of keeping myself in check.
Sometimes we find the desire to point fingers, push blame, complain and endlessly bitch about all things failing in our current industry. At other times we inflate ourselves to epic proportions and end up looking like babbling fools in the process. Yet all too often we forget to look inward – to take a close look at ourselves and examine the things we do to box ourselves into a corner and push others away. We forget that we all have room to grow, to be better at what we do. Making mistakes is part of the game. And I have made plenty and will continue to do so for the rest of my career.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at myself lately, determining that this mentality will cause all of us to eventually self-destruct. As hurtful as this letter comes across at face value, we can never change others. We can only change ourselves and grow on a personal level as photographers, artists and business people. I’m finding out it’s not about the other people though. It’s about you and I. I’ve made the mistakes. I’ve followed the sickening trends early on and unsuspectingly listened to the masses. But I’m the only one who can do what is right for me. I need to remind myself that coming into my own isn’t an overnight process. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours trying to find my voice and place within the industry. I have yet to even scratch the surface and I still have thousands of hours ahead of me.
However, if we as creatives muster the courage to be honest with ourselves and follow our hearts, then we’ve begun to make a step in the right direction. There’s no handbook issued to us at the beginning of our journey, outlining the right moves and keeping our heads safely above troubled waters. We have to forge our own path. We make our own decisions. We are the ones who need to be honest with ourselves.
And at the end of the day, that is the only thing that truly matters.
What's your take on this open letter? Can you be so candid … to yourself? Tell us down below by your comments. A dialogue is a good thing. Your voice is heard here.