An Open Letter to Myself
June 1, 2015
Okay, you have been taking photos since 2008. You started this whole thing as a hobby, and it has since become a full-blown, insatiable passion. You love what you create, you love the experiences you've been having—but you get down on yourself from time to time.
Your love for photography has only grown, but so have your desires. You want to create more, you want to do more. You want to create in new ways, in new locations, and you want to expand your visibility. Not only that, but you want to be compensated for what you do. It's understandable. You've been wondering what it is you're doing wrong, and it gets you discouraged from time to time. How about we look at what you're doing?
Actually, let's start with something you're not doing. You are not sitting around and waiting for someone to discover you. You regularly create content, and you regularly put that work in places where it can be seen. That means you don't just put it online and hope the right person sees. You constantly search for people and show it to them. It's hard, and it's frustrating, and most people won't respond...but you do it anyway. All of the searching and researching has only made you more resourceful, and being resourceful is a great skill to have.
That picture up there, of Sarah Jaffe? A result of being resourceful. Reaching out to people, making connections, trying to maintain them—all of those things are important and valuable. Making use of a window reflection and the crowd to compliment the framing? Also resourceful. The point is, you are not idling, and you are not being passive in chasing down what you want to achieve.
The reason you got to shoot The 1975? Being resourceful, reaching out to the people who could get you the access you needed. Doing the things you want to be paid for, the things you want to be known for.
Have you gotten that break yet?
Is it annoying?
Do you still want it?
Keep going. Keep reaching out. Keep making connections.
A friend shared this article on Noisey, and at first you didn't read it, because the headline was addressing (recent) college grads, and that's not you—but you read it anyway, and it was just what you needed.
The article featured interviews with a number of people in the music industry, and they all answered a few basic, but crucial questions. There were two questions in particular that were most interesting: "What advice would you give to recent graduates?" and "What is something you wish you had known when you were starting out?" You may not be a recent college grad (or a college grad at all, for that matter) but you're still incredibly new to this photography thing, and by that regard, you might as well be fresh out of school. The things that were said were very smart, and kind of reassuring.
Stand out comments?
"Embrace failure. The biggest thing that has held me back is fear. Fear of not knowing what I’m doing. Fear of being discovered for the fraud everyone secretly feels they are. Fear of finding out I’m not up for it or everyone else realizing the same. That fear is totally normal and totally useless. You will absolutely fail. You absolutely don’t know what you’re doing. You are without a doubt a fraud in some ways. But so what? So is everyone else. The only cure is work. There is no greater feeling than facing all that shit down and finally figuring out how to solve a problem in a story or do a great interview or just generally express what you see in the world. Embrace failure. It’s the only way to get free enough to find out how far you can actually go."
"It makes a big difference to understand the world that you're shooting in. Don't be an entitled asshole. It's really noticeable and obnoxious being at a show and seeing a photographer literally run around the stage or be shitty to bands. The band is way more important than you, and the show is way more important than you. Not understanding that is what gets music photographers a horrible reputation. Test your flash with the band and the sound engineer during soundcheck to make sure it's not going to bother them. And when pushing through a crowd to get to the front, apologize to people. Move around so you aren't blocking the same people for the entire show. That's a really long-winded way to say live what you're shooting, know your place, and don't be a jerk."
"Also, 95 percent of jobs will not reply to your awesome cover letter and resume. It's a super huge downer. But something that I wish I knew while I was applying for those jobs, is that 95 percent of people looking for work go through the same exact experience. No one writes back to anyone. We're all in this world of shit together."
"No one is going to do shit for you. People will help you, they'll mentor you, you'll find some solid people to have in your corner—that's great. But unless you're your biggest cheerleader, ain't shit about to happen for you. Believe in yourself and for the women, don't forget, men are trash—especially in the music industry."
"Don't model your career path post-college after how everyone else you were taught to worship has lived their lives. I think it’s easy to compare yourself and your trajectory to those around you, but I see the people that I admire in life have really carved their own way and did things in a creative way that works for them. Also, trust your intuition and start from the very beginning only working with people you feel good about. When you do meet someone you love in your field, put them on your team. Start making a team of awesome people early, and keep them around forever."
So, what are the takeaway elements? You are out there doing so much work, and yeah, you feel like you're spinning your wheels, and it doesn't always feel like you're doing the right things, but doing the right things doesn't mean instant success—nothing does. People who are doing the things you want to do also struggled, and they don't stop working. They don't stop trying. Neither should you. Keep emailing the editors, the PR reps, the photographers you admire. Keep meeting people in person, keep showing off what you love, keep asking questions about what you don't know.
Don't give up. If the people who are making it have been saying you're on the right track, don't get antsy. It's hard not to do that when things don't seem like they're happening fast enough, but just be patient. It's coming. You aren't wrong for wanting to be respected for your music photography, and your street photography, and as an artist.
Oh, and the things you're not as good at? Start figuring them out. Get comfortable with portraits, get comfortable with lights. The things you are good at? Stay sharp, keep improving them. Hang in there.