“Have You Ever Thought About Plumbing As a Career?”
For those of us who have been in this business long enough, the title of this blog has been the subject of an urban legend that has been circulated widely as a response to a photographer during a portfolio review at one of the more prestigious workshops in the country. And although I have been offered corroboration by people who claimed to have heard those words uttered and witnessed the recipient running off in tears, the only person who may know that truth is the photo editor who allegedly offered those words of advice as a critique.
Now some may argue, that this kind of “tough love” may have actually been beneficial to the photographer, perhaps even “speeding up” their decision as to whether they wanted to pursue photography as a career. But I contend that there will always be better ways to say the same thing. And this is not about the “carrot or the stick,’ or the “spoonful of honey,” or pick any analogy you wish. This really comes down to just being civil — something that has been lost in the social media world we are now immersed in.
I wrote a similar blog last year after a photo appeared of three young photographers, cameras in hand, “watching” the game-winning play at the NCAA Championship football game, rather than shooting it. The amount of “piling on” these young girls took on social media was unbearable. No one was offering any words of encouragement for a lesson learned. It has become so much easier to debase than debate.
And sadly, this loss of civility has become so rampant, that it has actually made people, as I read in one recent posting, “choose camps.” Why are we choosing camps? Are we preparing for war? The divisiveness is palpable. And at a time when we, as an industry, are being labelled as “The Enemy of the People,” what possible benefit could there be in tearing each other down from within? None!
People write blogs. I do. And I am sure many of you who are reading this do as well. Most blogs are forms of expressions; many times the writer’s own opinion on any given subject. They are not meant to be definitive statements. They are most times, not irrevocable facts. They are thoughts shared and perhaps even believed by the writer to be true — in their world. And the healthy way to respond to any form of expression is to challenge that opinion if you disagree. But please do it in a professional, respectful manner, even if you are angry at what was written or said.
There is nothing to be gained by saying someone’s opinion is “bullshit,” or by calling people names. Do you really want to be Dan Aykroyd blurting out, “Jane, you ignorant slut!” Because that is how you will come across.
Many of you will realize this blog is a response to some recent postings concerning a perceived lack of appreciation for some of the seasoned veterans of our business by younger photographers. Some people turned this into an “agist” issue saying it was a direct and personal attack on younger photographers. And after one of the subsequent blogs, one person wrote that this was “…just another piece written by ‘an old white guy,” bringing race and gender into the conversation as well.
Both of those postings were written by industry veterans. One of whom gives back to our business in the form of cash grants to photographers in the tens of thousands of dollars — from their personal account! Both are brilliant photographers. Both have my utmost respect. But that doesn’t mean I can’t disagree with what they may write in their blogs. We all have opinions, and we must respect that.
I had a long and healthy conversation with one of my favorite nieces last week (I have 2,800 nieces and nephews) who asked me if I really thought that photography “sucked” today. I told her I did not. That I responded to a sentence in one of those articles regarding the “manipulation” of images, which I wholeheartedly believe should always be truthful. But that did NOT mean that I agreed with everything else the author wrote.
I also told her that I mostly refrain from posting my “opinion” on social media because some people will spin what I say to prove or disprove whatever narrative they are espousing. It has happened to me on more occasions than I care to share. To give it a sports analogy, when you are in a battle you can’t win, you lose the incentive to play the game.
But what I do like to do is comment on the great work I see being produced every day, by talented photographers of every age and gender. I get great enjoyment in being able to share the remarkable work being done by one of the industry’s best, Carol Guzy, who has more compassion and dedication for her subjects than any human being I know. Or Maggie Steber, Lynn Johnson, Mary Calvert, Renee Byer, Carolyn Cole, Barbara Davidson, Lisa Krantz, I can go on forever.
And I am equally jazzed when I see the amazing work by my other nieces; Steph Chambers who is killing it daily at the Pittsburg Post-Gazette! And Carolyn Van Houten’s (aka Van Hoooooten) powerful coverage of the migrant crisis in Mexico for the Washington Post. And Casey Toth’s multimedia work for the Raleigh News & Observer. And pick dozens more young and talented photographers who are carrying TODAY’s torch. I salute you. You bring pride to our profession!
And yes, I specifically chose women. And I am absolutely positive, that NONE of these young photographers ever took lightly or took for granted, the important work that was produced by the great photographers who preceded them and whose shoulders we all stand upon. This is a great big sandbox and we should all be able to play in it without kicking sand into each other's eyes.
We are living in a time where we need to lift each other up, not tear each other down. We need to bask in our unity and not look for issues that divide us. We should share in our accomplishments and help those among us who may be struggling. And we must always, always, respect each other, even if our opinions or philosophies differ. And when they do, let us discuss, not disgust.
Love to you all. (Especially my nieces and nephews) Uncle Jimmy