I was talking with a young photographer who I admire the other day, and I advised her to be bold – to move forward – and to do it now. Don’t wait for permission from someone else to take the next step in your career because permission is rarely given. If you wait on permission you’ll likely be waiting forever. I decided that I should write about this thinking there may be many of you who can use similar encouragement.
It’s a universal truth: photographers who are passionate about their craft simply want to make images that matter. And if you have that desire beating in your chest all you can do is try to satisfy it as best you can. Your circumstances don’t matter. It’s your opinion of your circumstances that matter. Those can change. If your opinion of your circumstances is keeping you from achieving your goals, get a new opinion. That’s easier than changing your circumstances.
When I started out making photographs for money, (in my teens) I was lucky enough to find myself on the professional motorsports circuit traveling the world with my camera (for very, very, very little money mind you) and I had a blast. But on a fairly regular basis, I was told I was too young for the job. Good thing I didn’t listen because during those days I supported myself with a camera. Just barely, but I did support myself.
Fast forward several decades and now I am on the opposite end of that story. On a very regular basis, someone (especially on social media,) either hints that I am out of fashion or outright simply tells me I am a has-been, irrelevant, too old to matter.
Good thing I am not listening now any more than I did when I was a kid. I am a much better photographer today than I was 40 years ago and I was able to support myself then thanks to photography and I if I need to, I am still able to do that, irrelevant or not! My ability to make important photographs isn’t dependent on my race, my sex, my religion, my ethnicity OR my age. It’s dependent on my desire, my vision, and my passion.
When it comes to photography, I have never waited for permission in my life. It has ruffled some feathers to be sure, but I have no choice. Just like you, I only get one life. It’s up to me to do something with it. I don’t have time for a committee to meet to decide my fate. I will decide it by going out and making the images that I think need to be made.
I find that making photographs is simply the best thing I can do with this time I have here on earth. I will continue to make photographs until they put me in a pine box. It’s pretty much the only thing I am good at. It’s also just about my only redeeming quality! I’m not asking for anyone to grant me permission to do that which I need to do. I am simply doing it. I make stuff. That’s what I do. I make photographs, and books, and videos, and teaching presentations, and blog posts, and art prints, and images for commercial use and …. well you get the idea.
By simply being prolific, I am able to drown out the noise of those who say I should wait for permission. I am too busy working on projects that matter to me to worry about whether or not they will matter to someone else and THAT is the key point I am trying to make.
If you are a photographer because you want to impress someone else, that amounts to waiting for permission. I suggest that you consider being the kind of photographer who makes what you can without concern about whether or not the critics like it. After you make that decision, keep making it. Make more. Make lots more stuff and more stuff and more stuff. You cannot control what other people think of you or your work. So why let it impact what you do? Simply do the thing your heart tells you too – do it loudly, proudly, often and repeatedly until your heart tells you to do something else. If you are photographing with your heart, your work will be the best it can be. Let history decide if it was good enough. Thats not your job. Your job is to make stuff.
This advice applies wether you are fat/skinny, gay/straight, religious/agnostic, rich/poor, Black/White/other and even whether you are young or – like me – old. Photography transcends all of these labels when it’s done from the heart. Don’t let anyone else define you. YOU decide if you have something to say and only YOU can decide if you have the heart to execute on that vision – nobody else. Just you.
P.S. For those of you who are still not convinced and you think you need permission, well okay. Here it is. No matter who you are or where you are, I hereby give you permission to photograph what moves you, today and every day, with vigor and purpose. Now get busy!