Start Where You Are
If you can do it wherever you are, you can do it anywhere.
Many photographers think they often have to travel far and to the other side of the globe before they’re able to produce images of reputable content. And while the case for professional photographers (many of who must travel on assignment to various destinations across the globe to document events of the times that otherwise would get no coverage) would suggest this to be true, most of us fail to realize that they, too, began small, in their local community, within the confines of their circle of friends, documenting the stories that was closest and most meaningful to them, before the “big break.”
A lot of photographers nowadays are too impatient to endure the small stuff. They have an insatiable hunger to create similar content to professionals in the same line of work without first getting their hands dirty. As a result, many forgo investing time into fine-tuning their craft and instead waste time chasing trendy destinations, high-class gear, or the next best thing that’ll take them over the top. These people want to play in the big leagues without having been tried and tested in the preliminaries. There is a clear distinction between being inspired by the works of those who are well-seasoned and traveled, and striving to emulate them without an origin story that is unique to you. The latter is how inauthentic and disingenuous artists are made.
A large organization does not become one overnight without having gone through years of the humbling grassroots phase. In the very same way, photographers are not awarded lucrative opportunities that afford them access to the world without starting small and local — where “home” is. When it comes down to it, it’s all about the willingness to embrace small beginnings and the level of diligent practice and skill deployed and honed over time. And this, I fear, is where most photographers today (amateurs, especially) struggle most.
Given the current landscape of technology (social media for one) and how it is causing a major shift in human behavior, many creatives need, desperately, to replace the desire for instant gratification with persistent patience, upheld by unrelenting hard work and strategic planning; one option fails to stand the test of time while the other builds legacy.
In essence, if you cannot figure out how to create compelling content from wherever you are and with whatever is at your disposal, then you have no business on foreign grounds attempting to do so. Even some well-traveled photographers have nothing substantive to show for it.
Much like you can make compelling photographs with any type of camera (see Daido Moriyama), you can surely make them in any given place or position you might find yourself in; American artist Carrie Mae Weems developed her entire ‘Kitchen Table Series’ in her own home and, as you might’ve guessed, kitchen.
So, in choosing to create where you are and attempting to make something out of what seems like nothing, you end up doing three things:
1. You quickly develop a newfound appreciation for the seemingly mundane things you always overlooked. You learn to see critically what others are only accustomed to looking at.
2. You open yourself up to the idea of being challenged, embrace the unknown and carve a path of your own in the process, while others continue to follow trendsetters.
3. You master the art of telling compelling stories no matter the setting and/or limitations.
All in all, the message here is really simple: To be great, you first have to be good.
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