First posted 11 January 2010
I’ve been thinking recently about how I see myself as a photographer/artist and how my students see themselves. They generally downgrade themselves with comments like; ‘I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be shooting this kind of stuff’ ‘Is this ok?’ and ‘I feel like I’ll never be as good as you’. The trouble with this kind of thought is that it keeps the student in a state of indecision and negativity. How can this progress into ‘I am a photographer and I feel confident in my ability and vision, -look out world, here I come’.
At what point do we morph from indecisive blundering to confident artist? The technical stuff can be learned, but when do you consider you have got to a point where you can hold your poise in a room full of good or great photographers?? For myself, I often thought I was not good enough, and I used to think that was normal.
I assumed that all other photographers felt that their work wasn’t up to standard.
I tried hard, kept learning and trying new techniques, always pushing myself to be better. I mastered various techniques and then moved on to others like I was passing exams. I did nothing with the finished pictures, they just sat in boxes at home. I would occasionally show them to friends, but never thought they were good enough for anything else.
Then I was pushed into taking my work around various galleries and publishers in London by my (then) first wife.
She booked a coach and arranged for us to stay somewhere, so I looked up a few galleries and publishers and we traveled down for a few days. From that visit I got a few prints in a group show in a small gallery.
The boost that show gave me created a greater urge to improve and learn, so I applied myself to a greater degree, but I didn’t try to be a commercial photographer or earn money from it, because I never saw myself as ‘qualified’ yet.
I was eventually persuaded by a good friend to enter the world of commercial photography and so I began to tout my folio around advertising and design agencies. By this time I had been doing photography seriously for eight years.
I found work pretty quickly, but after a few years of this kind of photography I realised it wasn’t for me. I eventually pulled out and made money by doing non photographic work.
I can say with all honesty, that each day I worked in these various trades I was thinking to myself that I wasn’t meant to do this, I should be doing photography. I knew I was in the wrong place and I knew I was wasting valuable photography time. This convinced me that photography was my calling, I had to take it more seriously and to see myself in a different way, which I did. Once I stopped seeing myself as an amatuer who happened to have a few strong shots, and to re-brand myself as someone who had a mission to be part of the real world of photography (at least the part of it that my style of photography fitted into), things really started to take off. I wasn’t snapping away, waiting to see if it came out, I was really thinking about how I saw things.
Some of the strongest images in my portfolio were taken in those years. My life was busier than it had ever been, with three small children to look after and a gallery to run, but I was on fire! That simple change in my perception of myself and my work improved my output in a really profound way.
Nowadays, when my students have achieved a certain level of ability I tell them to see themselves as photographers, not students, even if they are still in the education system. I believe that self belief is crucial to your personal development. Not a deluded kind of self belief which shouts from the rooftops, but a sense that you are on a mission to produce something of value to the world.