Up until about 1998 conventional wisdom said about 25% of the population in the United States were introverts (indicating the remaining 75% were extroverts). This was a random, unscientific statement made by Isabel Meyers (Meyers-Briggs) in the early 1960s. In 1998 Briggs-Meyers did a more scientific study, and found the ratio a little more than 50/50 in favor of the introverts—current statistics show there are slightly more introverts in the United States than extroverts (Meyers-Briggs Study), with men outnumbering women in that regard (no surprise there).
I’m an introvert. I can be socially charming when the occasion demands, but my natural tendencies lean heavily towards introversion (social interaction drains my energy). I’m also a photographer which might, at first glance, seem counterintuitive. But I think empirical evidence will suggest the introversion ratio in photography far exceeds the Meyers-Briggs’ model for the general population. I’m a contributing author with Northrup Photo, and write about photography and photographers (I know a lot of photographers at all skill levels).
My article How to Capture Street Portraits talked about my introversion, and how introversion affects my ability to capture candid street photographs of people I don’t even know. I thought many of the comments made by readers (mostly other photographers) were interesting. Evidently I’m not alone in my struggles with introversion and photography, it seems to be a common affliction among us creative right-brain people. I’ve found through the years that photography helps me with my social reluctance, and I now think of it as: Photography Therapy for Introversion.
Here’s a short list of specific therapeutic benefits I get from photography, and they’re a lot less expensive than going to a shrink – psychiatrist. They’re not listed in any specific order so you can mix & match to your heart’s content:
- Photography gets me out of my cave (wherever I’m hiding it forces me to go out into the real world).
- Photography forces me to look beyond myself (to get outside of my head and see).
- Photography is my shield (my camera physically separates me from danger – people).
- Photography is my excuse (my justification for initiating social interaction).
- Photography allows me to engage (without the threat of social commitment).
- Photography is a solitary activity even when I’m among people (it energizes it doesn’t drain).
I began my early life as a traditional artist (oils, tempera, acrylics, pastels, pen & ink, charcoal, pencil), but it made me crazy and enabled my introversion. Photography (also an art form) helped to break that cycle, it forced me to face the world and interact with it.
I made a similar decision with my career choices. I went from a military career (a good refuge for introverts) to a bean counter career (purchasing and logistical management). Like the military these first career choices enabled my introversion. I knew intuitively that I had to extricate myself from that sheltered existence, and finally shifted to a sales path (the scariest thing I ever did). This eventually led to a thirty-year career in retail banking management where you’re expected to be onstage. I’ll never be an extrovert, but I’ve learned to work within the confines of my introversion.
Photographer’s note about the photograph used in this article: As is my custom I was on an early morning walkabout in the small Guatemalan town of Antigua. I saw Juan Pablo sitting in a doorway enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, and I thought it was an interesting image. Pulling up my big boy pants (my courage) I approached him, and in my fractured Spanish extended the greeting: “Buenos dias señor.” He smiled and replied: “Muy bien, gracias.” I asked if I could take his photograph, and offered him 5 GTQ (Guatemalan Quetzal), about 65¢ U.S. (his smile got even bigger when he said yes, but asked for 10 GTQ = $1.30 USD). This figure wasn’t out of line with what I was willing to pay for a photo so I proceeded to take my photos. Look closely and you’ll see the money I paid clutched in his hands (yes—I had to pay first). Our social interaction lasted less than ten minutes, but it’s indelibly imprinted on my brain: my caveman Spanish and ludicrous pantomimes, his bigger than life smile and attempt at petty extortion. My younger self would never have made the attempt. Now I have a great photo and an even better memory.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, and World Traveller