Continuing my recent trend of taking inspiration from other people for my blog post, I was reading Kriss Abigail’s latest blog post. The one part that really stuck out for me, and is something I’ve complained about for quite a while now, is the reluctance of working photographers to mentor. She wrote:
One of things that I noticed when I went looking for a photography mentor was how many of them were unwilling to teach me. One point blank told me that I was competition. In the land of “I have a camera, so I’m a photographer.” he considered me competition.
Finding a mentor amongst the assholes
There are a lot of people out there that think the same way this guy did. I guess in most retail/business situations, those who sell the same service or product that you do are considered competition. But, in my experience, that just doesn’t apply… aw shit, it can’t apply to photography and art.
First of all, if I take four other photographers to a spot to shoot something like a fountain. We are going to end up with five very different images. Why, because more than anything else, style is the predominant difference between each of us. In fact, I’ve said that defining your style is so important that my friends and family pretty much roll their eyes in that “<sigh> yes, Rob, style is important” kind of way. If style is that much of a separator, then I can give anyone all of my knowledge and tips without having to worry that someone is going to take much business from me.
Hey, if a client prefers my style over someone else’s, that client will hire me. If they prefer another photographer’s style over mine, then they are not going to hire me. Whether or not someone has learned my technique carries a negligible risk to me.
Another phrase I like to use on a regular basis is one I stole a long time ago. Someone deserves credit for it and, in my heart, I am grateful to them for coming up with it. I just wish I knew who said it. Anyway:
New photographers talk about equipment
Professional photographers talk about technique
Master photographers talk about light
So, when I hear someone protecting their technique, I chuckle. I used to get pissed off about it and rail against them but, in the context of the above, it just demonstrates that they’re stuck at the “professional” level (and that’s not a compliment). Look at all the great photographers who willingly and eagerly share their knowledge or mentor others. Ted Forbes has his video podcast, there are countless interviews available on YouTube with Ansel Adams (here’s part 1 of a great four-part series), and Henri Cartier-Bresson even held teaching seminars. Joe McNally offers several learning opportunities, Moose Peterson has a mentoring program and, while I am nowhere near on their level, I offer classes and, through this blog, offer some tips and techniques for free.
Let me boil it all down to this – Art, IMHO, only advances when we share our talents and our skills amongst ourselves.
There are a couple of photographers who don’t share their secrets and I’m cool with that because they’ve spent a lot of time developing techniques on their own. It’s the shooters who take some classes and read books or watch videos (in other words, learn everything from others) and then “guard their secrets” that really chafes my ass!
If you are a new or emerging photographer, don’t stop seeking a mentor just because you run into one or two ass-hats. Frankly, use that as a filter – if someone answers you like the jack-wad answered Kriss, then consider yourself lucky in that you just dodged a bullet. That’s not the kind of person you want mentoring you anyway. After all, being a professional means more than making photography your profession. It means accepting the responsibility and challenge of (eventually) mentoring those who are coming after us.
So, to Kriss and all the others, don’t give up on learning from others. A lot of us enjoy it and we realize that helping others in their art vastly improves our own.