I am very good at it. Oh, I can surely make a ton of shit photos for which I am embarrassed to look at, even when no one else is checking behind my back. If printed, I would probably not even piss on them if they were on fire.
I started taking photos at the age of 15. I am now 38 and guess what. The oldest image I've got in my portfolio is only less than four years old.
That is right. All I did in photography for the 19 years out of the 23 was shoot bad, terrible photos, before coming up with a good one. Not just bad photos actually, that would have been an overstatement. I was making exposures with my camera. It would be wrong to call them photos.
However, although it may feel embarrassing looking at them, I have learned to love them, because these crappy photos are the ones responsible for my better ones or say the good ones according to my today's standards.
Let me slip in a parable. Let us take Thomas Edison, America's greatest inventor. Did you know that Thomas made over TEN THOUSAND attempts that failed, before coming up with the electric light bulb? (that's 10,000... which is ten, followed by three noughts, or ten times a thousand... or... Let's try it once, nope didn't work, ok another idea, let's try it again, nope, not that either.... ... ... ... ok that 5,567th time I am sure it'll work... nope... you get the idea).
What I am trying to say here is that humans are programmed to learn by making mistakes. Think of it: If I explain to you how to ride a bicycle in theory, would you be able to mount that bicycle and ride it? Or, if I explain to you the theory of music and how to play the piano, could you sit on a piano and play?
No and no. Unless you are an alien or Neo from Matrix. Wisdom is mainly acquired by making mistakes. It's not a difficult process, the only thing that makes it too difficult to understand is that we are taught otherwise. School teaches you to not make any mistakes. Although now that you are reading these lines it might sound easy to understand, most people's subconscious cannot take it in. The problem is that the more educated you are, the more difficult it is for you to deeply grasp this idea.
Schools are made to create employees and workers. They are not meant to make entrepreneurs and creatives. Creative thinking is suppressed at school because western societies need more workers. The worker must not make any mistakes. You don't want a doctor who is going to operate on you or a lawyer who is going to defend you in court to make any mistakes.
Had Thomas Edison had a boss at that time, he would have given him the sack. Imagine that. 10,000 failures? Which company would have tolerated that loss of assets? What the fuck is that? What am I paying you for? To play around with your little weird stuff? Fuck, no. Get the piss out of my company! That would have probably been the natural conversation.
You could probably be taking on average maybe a thousand photos in the time that would take Thomas to make just one attempt. So the equivalent would be to make 10,000,000 (ten million) of pure horse shit photos before coming up with one actual photograph.
If we admit that photography is 10 times easier than electrical engineering, which I am not sure it is, having been on both sides, let's make it one million.
Anyone who asked me to give one piece of advice on making good photographs had heard the same. You need to be patient and persistent. If you have not the drive and determination to make this part of your life, be out there and shoot and shoot then what the fuck? Why do you even read this? What do you expect? People are greedy, they want everything right now.
You come up with the idea to become an artist and you expect to do it right here and now with a magic formula, or by reading a few articles and watching some YouTube videos. You want to be rich and you expect a hot tip for a stock, or investment will bring you unlimited wealth. You want to lose weight and you look for a magic diet or a pill that will transform you from a couch potato to a 6-pack fit guy or gal overnight.
Guess what dumdum. That ain't happening.
The whole world is built around our greed. You can sit on your couch, watch a movie and pick up the phone and order some ready-cooked food to come to your door. No, not even pick up your phone. Order from a smartphone app. Want the same thing as last time? click, done. You don't even have to browse the menu, let alone take your bow and arrow and go find your food in the wilderness.
Art doesn't come to your door as most good things.
You can test your greed by reading the below statements. Are you guilty? I get these from almost all of my students.
- Oh, this guy just came inside my frame at the last minute. What could I have done?
- It was so hot and I was walking around with all this weight on my shoulder. What do you expect? This is good enough.
- We were passing by in the car, and didn't have the time to stop, so I took this image.
- I've been in a fantastic scene the other day. If only I had the camera with me.
- I couldn't just stand in front of this guy and take his picture, he was scary!
- But there were so many photographers, I couldn't find a better spot to take the picture from.
- I had to shoot through the bars, I didn't have access inside.
- Yeah, I know, it's my camera. If only I had one of those expensive lenses.
- Look at this guy spitting fires. I know there is a motorcycle behind his head, but the fire is impressive at least.
- Look how cute is this little girl! Her gaze says it all. I know it's not much of a photo otherwise.
- So this guy is giving her a special gift, you can't see it here. I know you can't tell but this lady's daughter suffers from leukaemia and she's lost her husband. They are very poor and there is more... .... ........ .......
- Look at his face. This guy would have been very interesting. Imagine him inside his wrecked home. The photo would tell his life's story.
WHO THE FUCK GIVES A SHIT??? You are just an incompetent photographer! Of course, you could do something about it! You could throw this junk in the bin!
Ever been to an exhibition at a worth-mentioning place with mediocre photos that have been put there just because that was the best this photographer could do? No fucking way. This is stuff that you see at your cafe next door where a monkey could put up his work and exhibit.
I've done that too. I've been this monkey exhibiting at the cafe round the corner. That was a mistake. But I have learned from that mistake and I now take extreme, very extreme caution in how I exhibit my work. Your work is the way you communicate and communication is the reason behind any creative work.
So mistakes can make us wise. I say "can" because you choose to either learn from your mistakes or keep on doing them. The latter is called experience.
Yes, you may be a very experienced individual, who is still incompetent. This means that you may be repeating the same mistakes over and over again. The very definition of insanity, according to Einstein. It is wisdom you are after, not experience.
Ever heard of a professional photographer saying:
"Oh, with all this new technology, smartphones and the internet, no one comes to us. We lost business! I have over 40 years of experience".
Yes, but your photos are shit, man! 40 years and you are the monkey you started as in the first place.
So, long story short, keep on making bad photos but try to learn from your mistakes. As an engineer would say, use the feedback by reviewing your work constantly and optimise it along the way.
Rest assured that your first few hundred thousand photos will not even serve you as coffee coasters.
Get your copy of the book by George Tatakis, "Throw away your camera & become a photographer"
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