Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Enter the Whiners

Over at one of my daily reads - SportsShooter.com, I was doing some reading there, and was reminded of the fact that the opinions of a student in school somewhere just isn't deserving the same amount of weight and respect as a veteran photo editor, or Pulitzer Prize winner. Unfortunately, students still wet behind the ears, who would never dream of walking up to a veteran in person and tell them think the veteran is out of line, think nothing of doing it online.

To that end, I wrote a post there, that I will re-write here as a standalone piece.

If your status is Student or Intern, you need to be more circumspect in who you suggest has written a critique you don't like and refer to it as "uncalled for". Sorry to be so blunt, but this isn't the Special Olympics, and not everyone gets a trophy and a pat on the back for their performance.

(Continued after the Jump)

Every photographer here wants to get "called up" to "the show", and play in the big leagues. They want to compete against the staff photographer who's won a Pulitzer. They want to stand shoulder to shoulder with the repeat POY winners, and call them "my colleagues".

A pervasive mentality has swept the high schools about 10 years ago, and it's crept into colleges and now many of those beginning their professional careers, of deserving of success. No one gets an "F", and if you feel that 2+2=5, well, then, that's ok if you feel that way.

You have to earn your way to the top - there are no short cuts, and the path has become more treacherous as staff positions become more and more scarce. Freelancing is even harder.

If you are a student - ask good questions, and then pay attention to the answer. If you respect someone enough to ask them the question, you should have done your due diligence in determining if the person you are asking knows what they're talking about. Don't ask a staffer what it's like to be freelance, or how to charge for a freelance gig. Almost all of them treat freelance work like gravy, while the rest of us see that work as meat and potatoes, and know what the market will bear, where to a staffer, it's walking around money.

If you've ever sat in the back of a room where judging was taking place, and had the privilege of watching and listening to the judges at work, you learned a lot. If your work was there, and you heard three people say "out", well, that's one thing. If two people said "out", and the third started arguing for it, then the other two will start trashing it, rightly or wrongly, with a politically-correct attitude or not, and you'll learn a lot about how the viewers/readers will perceive your photos when they're published.

Sitting around listening to your friends pay you compliments is worth very little, except that it's a nice stroke of your ego. When I have solicited the opinion of my friends on my work, I have said to them "don't say nice things, tell me what's wrong with it..." and when they would say they couldn't find anything wrong with a particular image, I knew I had a winner.

What a judge of your work or a portolio reviewer says something you regard as overly harsh, or out of line, with their years of experience it's likely that what was said, - many people - likely thought. You don't have to like what they said - heck, you don't even have to agree with it. Whether I like it, or agree with their comments, is irrelevant. And if what a judge or portfolio reviewer said was offensive to some, get over it. FAST.

If you've ever been sitting around waiting for a rain delay at a NASCAR track, in a ballpark, or waiting for a delayed press conference anywhere, you've heard photographers talk about other photographers work, and not in pleasant terms. The criticisms are straight, honest, and blunt, and they are often profanity laden. The same goes for photo editors. I know many a photo editor, and they know a good photo from a bad one, and they can see the perspective. This makes them good photo editors - they can send someone they know is a compassionate, quiet person, to a funeral, and they can send the aggressive guy who listens to Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson to the event where they might be most comfortable. They can send the guy who can recite accurate sports stats while drunk to the ballgame, and so on, and so forth.

So, if you want to pour a double-espresso, or work the photo booth at Wal-Mart or the olde-tyme photo shop at a resort town, then feel free to whine when your feelings get hurt. If you want to step up your game, and earn a shot at "the show", then you'll not take your critiques personally, and instead, you'll respect the opinions of those who have been around and know a thing or two about good photos, and maybe, just maybe, you'll learn something.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm definitely looking forward to the day that I can be painfully condescending to young aspiring photographers. Until then, I guess I'll just sell my stuff for really, really cheap—or give it away.

Anonymous said...

John is on the money. You either learn it now, while you are still in school, or you will understand these lessons when you confront them in the real world.

A similar theme is being explored on A Photo Editor that is focused on collectives. The comments are on target. If you can roll with the big guns, then do it, but you really don't know much of anything (from my own experience) until you are in your late twenties or early thirties.

I was shooting for National Magazines when I was 25 and I did not have a clue about life until I was thirty years old. I was never coddled or encouraged. The worst thing you can do to someone who is young and talented is to tell them everything they do is good; or worse, that it is great. The stakes in the pro game are higher than they ever been and it requires fortitude, diligence, desire, intense motivation, goal setting and the ability to get of your ass and away from the computer.

If you can not handle the honest appraisal of your work, then you will not make it.

The judging of your work is a gift, if someone cares enough to give a hoot about what you do or shoot, then listen, they may be off base or the may be pointing you in the right direction. The worse thing that can be said is to say nothing. In a world full of copycat photographers who think nothing about cribbing a style or approach from another shooter,

To do something important, unique and true to your heart and soul takes strength that you will not find unless you are challenged and can stand up for your work.

Playing nice to make you feel good is a disservice to you and the profession.

I'll leave you with a quote from one of my masters. (And believe me, if your images sucked, you'd know about it)

If you are out there shooting, things will happen for you. If you're not out there, you'll only hear about it. - Jay Maisel

Anonymous said...

I'm a professional photographer. I've worked hard and made plenty of mistakes; paid my dues assisting for many years before I even thought of putting up my shingle and starting my own business. I listened to all the advice, good or bad that was given from those that I assisted, and I've tried to run my business on the straight and narrow so that my clients would get great imagery for their money.

Too many students don't want to take the time to learn from the professionals in their marketplace. They get their gear and out on their own they go; hoping to learn the business as they "grow" their business.

This is a recipe for failure. I know far too many students that want to be "one of the boys or girls" for that matter, but yet you've got not a lick of experience and haven't shot your first paying job; yet you act as if you've been doing covers of Business Week and Vogue for years. Yes; I'm doing the unthinkable, I'm calling you students out. Give us professionals a break; don't be someone who thinks that you don't have to pay your dues. I'm speaking for myself when I say, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of having a student come to me when they've bitten off more than they can chew and need someone to help bail them out of a bad situation because of their inexperience.

The lesson here is to be humble, assist numerous photographers, listen, learn, embrace the profession, and understand that this business is not about the equipment you have; it's about the business relationships and the photos you deliver.

Now stop calling me when you screw up.

Steve said...

Unfortunately this is fairly indicative of what, as a society, we've become. We've created a world for our children where the line between winning and losing have been blurred and everything they do is "wonderful".

I am a father of three children and while I am not purposely harsh, I certainly don't gloss over the harsh realities of life either. I teach my children that there are winners as well as losers and how to behave gracefully in either situation. Criticism is an opportunity to learn and grow and not an excuse to curl up and cry.

John, I see exactly what you have described time and time again in the various photo forums I frequent. There are just too many people posting examples of work, asking for feedback and then getting offended when someone offers some well thought out and constructive comments. Obviously they are simply posting their work so that we may all tell them how wonderful their images are. Sorry boys and girls, I'm not your mommy. If it's warm milk and cookies you want look elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

Well, John, I wonder if the whiners are going to have the temerity to call you out for calling THEM out! Everyone's a winner here! Yaaay!

Thanks for writing frankly about what I've had the opportunity to witness as real in TWO professions.

Anonymous said...

I think the initial discourse was centered less on the harshness of the critique (everyone knows that a harsh critique is often a helpful tool for growth) and more on the odd personal comments made by the reviewer.

Anonymous said...

What's better for growth?

A harsh critique or a client that gets a job done for .25 cents on the dollar with all rights included?

Anonymous said...

As an artist or a media professional, you have to be able to take constructive criticism. Sometimes it's useful criticism, sometimes it's not useful, but as long as it's constructive, you have to set the bruised ego aside. I agree that you also need to learn the rules before you can break them, as they say. However, non-constructive criticism is pretty much worthless, and any good artist or media professional should know the difference.

Anonymous said...

John I'm surprised you didn't have a different take on all of this. You are constantly harping on how photographers need to be more professional. Several times you've pointed out behaviour that is not accepted in other industries but is in photography. What about this time? Did the reviewer really act like a professional? In most other fields, if a superior said that kind of stuff to an underling wanting some career advice the superior would be reprimanded. In photography it seems like the old boys network is alive and well though, as many think like you, that the reviewers behaviour was not only acceptable but to be expected.
Photography, especially journalism, seems filled with Archie Bunker wannabes that love to be crusty and cantankerous. Somehow this equates to knowledge and wisdom. I think a much better take would be, it's time for these types to be put out to pasture. It's little wonder the industry is collapsing when it clings so doggedly to these old ways.

You can tell a person you suck at taking pictures, and here's why, and really let them have it. This reviewer didn't seem to do that. It was just you suck, no you really really suck. If I was the student i'd have a hard time getting motivated by the review. Instead i'd probably think, that guy must have been drinking when he wrote that, or his wife just left him, something gave him a mad on.

Anonymous said...

I feel Franklin has the best representation of the specific situation over at ss.com.

Franklin said...
I think the initial discourse was centered less on the harshness of the critique (everyone knows that a harsh critique is often a helpful tool for growth) and more on the odd personal comments made by the reviewer.

At this particular site, I'd be happy to go toe to toe with you John posting thread links of the "Whiner Threads" started by the pro's first about everyone else and firing off their mouths before their brains activated.

This is not the place to go to find integrity imho.

Anonymous said...

Special Olympics?

You can't mean that John.

Anonymous said...

Franklin's comments were right on. The reviewer was an @ss. Totally, shamelessly, and deliberately. There was hardly any constructive criticism, and that's the problem. This was almost entirely a personal attack. When he couldn't find enough to hate in the images he went straight to trashing the caption.

IMHO the portfolio deserved to be ripped because it isn't very strong, and the caption writing deserved to be ripped a lot because it was awful.

This, however, wasn't a critique, it was some guy sharing his bad mood with the world. Sure, someone might read it and say the kid sucks and we won't hire him, but I wonder how many will read it and think the reviewer sucks and won't hire HIM instead.


Anonymous said...

Someone trying to get a critique on Sports Shooter?

Huge mistake.............you need to go to Photo.net for that.

What was that person thinking?

Anonymous said...

Slamming someone in a critique is as much a photographic cliche as treating your assistants poorly!

Dean Casavechia said...

this is a very good point that I have often talked about with other new photographers. They often miss my point all together. Too many people have their friends puff them up about how great the work is. You need to get feedback from people who know. Real feedback from people who can point out things you might have miss. I have been a photographer for 10 years and never miss a chance to get feedback. I want to get better everyday.

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