Anytime you share your creative endeavors in a public venue you open yourself up to criticism. Maybe you’re a writer, a painter or even a photographer like me. You have to have a thick skin, or you will likely become discouraged. You might even quit, and that would be a shame. This is especially true in this day of social media.
I’ve quit every online photography group and forum I’ve ever belonged to for that very reason. To pursue your craft you do not need negativity in your life. Positive critique is another matter, but it is rarely forthcoming. The art of critique is fast becoming a lost art, whereas the mindset of public criticism is running rampant through all aspects of our society.
My brother is a writer, a creator of novels, short stories and the occasional newspaper article. Do you know how hard that is? Do you know how hard you have to work to be competent, much less good at it? I do a little writing myself so I have a keen appreciation for what is involved. It can take a lifetime to become an overnight success, and very few really ever do.
As creative people (artists) we appreciate the love and support of our family and friends, but what we really crave is acknowledgement and affirmation from our peers of equal or even superior talent. It doesn’t have to be praise (although that is like mana from heaven), it can be an honest appraisal of our work when the intent is constructive and not destructive. Creative people are sensitive people (whether they show it or not) so tread carefully.
The other conundrum for creative people is: why do other people insist on putting them in a box? Why are creative people constantly being told to continue with exactly what they’re doing, and not to venture into new territories of expression. Stephen King became so frustrated that he began writing using the pseudonym Richard Bachman, his reading public (and publishers) wouldn’t allow him to explore new genres under his own name.
So why this creative rant? While traveling the world taking my pictures I have been often-asked if I have an online portfolio showcasing my work. I do share my work on this blog Expat Journal and on my gallery at Indochine Photography, and of course I share many of my images daily on Facebook. What people are really looking for however is just a small snapshot of my work, they don’t want to wade through hundreds of images with narrative. Publishers and agents often request the same thing, they just want to see a small portfolio of your best (or typical) work.
So, having some extra time yesterday I put together a small portfolio highlighting or showcasing some of my better work. Twelve images in three different genres: wildlife, scenic and people. I emailed the link to three of my photographer friends. One is a bit of a curmudgeon at 90-years old, and is very set in his ways. He is extremely opinionated and not overly sensitive. He thinks of himself as a so-called purist, and is always quoting, or mis-quoting, his idol Ansel Adams.
We have major philosophical differences when it comes to photography, for me it’s art and for him it’s mostly technical. I think of myself as an artist, and I think of him as a gear-head (in a kindly way). He’s very critical of my use of Photoshop and post-editing in general to create an artistic vision. He abdicates his vision to his camera’s factory-set algorithms and thinks that is being a purist (it’s not). He’s just allowing someone else to make his creative decisions for him. Ansel Adams was not the purist he thinks he was (I’ve studied Ansel Adams extensively for years), Ansel Adams was an innovator and experimenter. Much of what we have in Photoshop today came from Ansel Adams experimenting.
Shooting film was not the good old days, digital is better. I shot film for most of my life, and the work I am able to produce today with digital is better (by far). I should not let his criticism of my work affect me, but it does—I’ll get over it, I have a thick skin. I am commercially successful, I have been shooting professionally since 2009 and operate my own photography company, I’ve sold my work online, in galleries and in cafes and I even shot for a newspaper. A pat on the back from this old guy would have meant a lot to me, even constructive criticism would have been appreciated. My vision is not his vision (nor should it be), but the world is big enough for both visions. Oh well, we all tend to be true to our natures I guess.
I’ve included the link to my new portfolio if you’re interested. You’ve probably seen these images before if you follow my work, but not in this format. If you have creative friends or acquaintances be careful with your words and intentions, words can cut deeper than knives and bad intentions can destroy the fire in a creative person. And if you’re a creative person, keep slugging away and ignore the naysayers if you can. And good luck with your endeavors.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler