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Blog // Thoughts
October 4, 2014

Looking Back – Before Good

There’s a game photographers play online. You get serious, you get good and you only show your best work. But, for the sake of marketing, you pretend you were always that good. So, people think you’ve been a great photographer for 20 or 30 years, when really you’ve only been doing it seriously for a […]

Paris Busker
There’s a game photographers play online. You get serious, you get good and you only show your best work. But, for the sake of marketing, you pretend you were always that good. So, people think you’ve been a great photographer for 20 or 30 years, when really you’ve only been doing it seriously for a lot less time than that.

It’s an odd, self serving game, but I guess it works, especially in an age where we can air brush our biography as quickly as we can re-write our social media profiles. It reminds me of an old word we seldom hear these days, arriviste, which means an ambitious social climber, who tries to break into the upper classes by pretending they had always belonged there.

Looking Back To Before I Was “Good”

Over the past year I’ve been paying attention to the photos I took before I got “good,” before I went on workshops, or took lessons, before I bought Lightroom, or started processing images in Photoshop. I’ve been curious to see what I was looking at, trying to capture, trying to understand, with a camera in my hands, on the streets of various cities around the world.

This image is from Paris in 2009 and was taken with a little Panasonic point-and-shoot camera. I spent most of that summer travelling through Europe and I remember it was a hot afternoon when I heard this busker playing blues music on the streets of the Paris Quarter. Critically, I can see lots of things I don’t like about the image. But, that doesn’t really matter to me much right now.

Looking For Style Before There Was Any

What does matter is how much I like, from the mirrored lines (the guitar neck is parallel to the bottom of the window frame, the leg on the right of the image reflects the angle of the busker’s head and chest) to incongruity of a dressed up musician on a casual street corner. There is so much in this image that is present in the best of my later work. So much here that reflects the aesthetic and cultural experiences I’ve brought with me into photography, the creative seeds that only grew later, as I took thousands more photos and read hundreds of books and articles.

I believe we are often too quick to discard our less than best images, especially those from before we got “good.” There may well be very good, compelling reasons to only share our best work. But, when it comes to learning about our creative motivations, understanding our growth in an honest and authentic way and striving to make better, deeper, more meaningful work, there is a lot we can learn from the photos we made before we got good, before we had solid technique to help us and before we were out trying to impress the world.

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