It seems that most photographers are men. I have never really understood why, because, on the whole, those women who do make images seem to be very good at it. I think I am on safe ground to say that men tend to be more competitive than women too. So we have large group of male photographers bursting with testosterone all with an eye on the competition. So the question arises, can there be a photographer, male or female, who could rightly claim to be ‘the best photographer in the world’?
No, I don’t think so. How could you possibly go about measuring such a thing? Even if you were to try and become the best landscape photographer in the world, or the best fashion photographer, wildlife photographer it would be impossible to make a decision. Would you base it on income? Or output? Number of books published or exhibitions held? Would you measure it by Twitter followers or number of Facebook friends? I can’t think of any measure that would work. I can’t see why anyone would try to establish themselves as ‘the best’.
Photography, like all art forms, is subjective. I know who I feel are the best photographers in the world, but they only get that accolade from me – it is my view, dependant on my taste. Others may agree with me, many would vehemently disagree. None of us would be right. In some ways, trying to improve as a photographer is like playing golf. Golfers while out on the course in a tournament can do nothing to affect what the other players do. They just have to play the course to the best of their ability. If they get round in the fewest number of shots they win. (this is where the illustration breaks down! Because if they win more tournaments than any other golfer that year, they do become ‘number 1’). As photographers, all we can do is our best. We need to strive to hone our skills with the camera and develop our abilities in composition (and, today, in the digital age, increase our skills with software too). We can build a reputation as a good photographer. We might make some great images. Our sales might increase. We might exhibit or be published. Others may view us as an authority or as an inspiration. From a personal standpoint, we can measure our growth as a photographer and have a gauge we apply to ourselves as to how we are doing. But, like a golfer, it is pointless comparing ourselves to the competition, because there is no competition.
Some photographers seem to see our ‘game’ as competitive. Photographic societies and clubs foster a competitive spirit. Some photographers jealously protect location knowledge or technique skills. I can never understand this. I have much greater admiration for those photographers who freely pass on knowledge and encourage others to develop. I believe if we do this we, ourselves, benefit as others will likely help us too. I see little joy and satisfaction coming from being a ‘Scrooge’ amongst photographers. I once emailed a photographer in the Lake District to ask him if he would mind giving me some help on the best place to park at a location. His reply left me stunned as he basically told me to ‘bog off’ – why should he help me to get an image that might be better than his? What drives a person like this?
You sometimes experience it on location. There you are on some beach or hillside in the pre-dawn light and another photographer turns up. You wave, smile or try to initiate a conversation and they just ignore you and give you the cold shoulder. Been there? I have, many times. What is their problem? Wy do they seem to resent our presence? What is wrong with being polite and friendly? On the there side of the coin, I have heard stories of other photographers who have met men most of us admire and look up to as being at the top of our game – men like Charlie Waite and Joe Cornish. They have met them in the field and these leading lights have been friendly, helpful and complimentary. Not aloof and distant. What a much better way to be.
I have experienced so much help on social networking sites from other photographers. Twitter is a great place to help and advice from respected leaders in our field. I have asked for advice on kit and within a minute had several replies which have been so useful and saved me so much mine and hassle. I have had location advice and help with technique. Nothing seems to be too much trouble for these guys. Hopefully I am able to the same for others because social networking is not a paces for leeches who just use it to promote themselves and suck stuff out of others. It should be a medium to be used primarily to give rather than take and then occasionally we can use it to promote ourselves. I soon stop following individuals who only want to blow their own trumpet and expect me to follow and fawn over them. Whereas those who try to offer something, even if it is just links to useful websites or to photographers sites worth looking at, I follow avidly and try to help them in return.
So, what is the point of this rant? Forget trying to compete. none of us can be the best in the World. Be happy when others sell a picture, have an exhibition, get something published. Help them do it. Share information. Give advice when needed. Promote what others do. Hit that retweet button. What goes around, comes around. Help others and we will be helped. Be friendly and contribute something. Don’t be a misery only looking to feather your own nest. What’s the point?
A great post Doug – there’s some hard-hitting, but very honest advice in it!
All the best,
My first ever ‘comment’ but I so, so agree with you. I’ve read the article a couple of times over the last few weeks. As a camera club member I know what you mean but there are some notable exceptions. Irene Froy, a lovely lady and superb photographer, is one. I hope I try to be the same. Thanks for the blog it is great to read. Christine.