Your Photography, Your Story

I think about what I make for street photographs, street portraits, and documentary photographs and how altogether they add up to my story. They tell you how I see, what I see, and the way I see it. It’s a connection for you to my world, places I’ve been, and people I’ve met and seen.

There’s really no other reason for me to share photographs unless they are true to me, what I really see and care about. They tell you everything about me. If you care to see what I photograph, you know you’re getting the truth. This is why I don’t photograph things just because they’re often photographed–dilapidated buildings, old cars, sunsets–though not to disparage them, they can make good subjects. I don’t because I don’t care about them. And to photograph them to get a like isn’t a reason I make photographs.

And you certainly can get likes with those kinds of photographs.

I don’t make art for likes.

I only care about one person liking my work–me. Anyone else who likes it is a bonus and they know they’re getting the real me, photographs that mean something to me.

It’s my art, one I can claim 100% my own.

I often ask photographers why they’re making the work they’re making. What’s next for it? Gallery show? Book proposal? Calendar? Printing and gifting to friends and family? Hanging work on their own walls? What’s the end goal?

Some may just enjoy the making. I’ve heard photographers say that, they just like to go out into nature and make landscapes and don’t need to see it afterward. They’re enjoying the process of being there like a fisherman, with no need to actually bring home fish.

That’s not me. I make work to share. To exhibit in galleries. For online documentary projects. To work into book proposals. This is what’s right for me.

You can count on the fact I’m never trying to win likes. I don’t even really like social media and the whole like-farming that happens there.

That look of love! Some things I will always photograph, like my partner MaryLee, here sitting outside Cafe Reggio in Greenwich Village. I have no choice but to photograph what’s dear to me–family and friends.

The same is true for my blog, this one. I get 50-100 readers when I post a new article. I’m not trying to get more. It grows organically. Or doesn’t. I don’t have any control over that. The way I see it, if I have a story to tell and 50-100 people come into my theater to hear what I have to say, I’m happy with that crowd.

Would 200 be better? I don’t know it would make any difference to me. How about 300? 500? 10,000? 50,000? 1 million? What do any of those numbers mean? I’d prefer whatever number of people who really connect with the work I make the way I make it than doing anything to “up the numbers”.

I don’t care about the numbers. I care about the art. I’d rather reach one person who hears something I say and gets inspired than reach a huge number of people with work that’s meaningless. Because chances are those big numbers of followers would attract companies that would want to reach them, and would encourage me to become their spokesperson.

Whether they like my work of not would be immaterial–they would simply want my followers.

“Show me the numbers, baby!”

That’s the dirty little secret. Young people often say the thing they would most like to be is an influencer. Go ahead, do it by any means necessary if numbers are what you’re after. Companies looking to buy your influence don’t care about how you got it or what you make, they just want your numbers. You can make terrible work, doesn’t matter if you have a huge following. When you lose the following, you’ll lose their interest as well.

I’m an artist in the photography business, not some Pied Piper panderer in the numbers business.

I also don’t make money from my writing. That’s okay. It’s not why I started this as I have a career as a photojournalist and commercial photographer. Is it always easy? No, of course not. The business of photography is a lot of time marketing the business to clients and a little time photographing–the part of the business most newcomers to the industry don’t see and don’t expect.

Some viewers of my YouTube channel, Here’s To Good Light, do send a little support via Patreon, but it’s not much. It pays for a few beers for which I am grateful, certainly.

If they all quit supporting tomorrow, I’d still do the exact same thing. There’s never going to be a paywall in front of my work. I make it because I can’t not make it. While most people are out with family or friends on a Saturday night, I’m sitting at a favorite brewpub writing this post in a dark corner. There’s nowhere I’d rather be–I live to create, which is why you can find me here once or twice every week. Doing what I love to do. Creating work. Composing words. Talking about photography and the art we are all engaged in. Why we do it. What we’re doing. What we’re going to do next.

(As a freelance photographer, I also have a schedule that doesn’t limit me to meeting up with friends only on weekends.)

It’s the life of an artist, not an influencer. If I’ve inspired even a few people, that’s enough for me. I prefer inspirerer over influencer any day. I’ll take true connections while sharing work that’s meaningful to me. That’s what I consider success.

The numbers don’t equal value or quality. Just look at some of the biggest influencers in the photography industry. Many are better marketers than photographers. By far. I was listening to a cringe-worthy podcast just today by a photographer who claims to be “trusted by” many big magazines (that’s what it says on her website) yet she doesn’t call them clients. Hmmm. A search of her name and Vanity Fair brings up no results. Huh!

Her whole podcast is marketing her courses on how you can do what she does, jet set around the world as a fashion photographer. Yeah okay.

Seek the artists presenting truth and work, not selling you how to live the dream life they have. Selling glamour and riches. Chances are they make their money off other photographers rather than actual paying clients.

Making the art that we have to make that is true to ourselves, that’s all that matters. What happens after that is out of our control. No one can make themselves famous. It happens at the confluence of good work and luck. All we can do of those is make the work.

Just make the work, and then make more.

If you seek fame, you’ll never achieve it. If you do good work, it’s a long-shot possibility that you will get known for it.

But you get to make it the way you want. Full authorship. 100% you. And if it takes off, well, then to continue all you have to do is make more of what you’re already doing, what you love to do.

Because what they’ll be clamoring for is the real you.

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