Thursday, May 7, 2015

Compliments & Photography

Cathedral Spires From Cook's Meadow - Yosemite National Park, California
I get complimented on my photography all of the time. But I'm not always sure how to react to compliments. Usually I will politely reply, "Thank you for your kind words."

Very recently someone called me a "modern Ansel Adams." This was a stranger who (as far as I know) isn't a photographer but sees photographs every day as part of their job.

This isn't the first time that someone has compared me to the legendary photographer. Many years ago a photographer saw one of my prints (this was back in the film and darkroom days) and said, "This looks like something Ansel Adams would have made!" He bought the print, saying that it would go perfectly in his office.

Something that I've learned about praise is that those who give it quickly forget it. They have their own lives. My photographs are fleeting in their minds. I might remember what they said for a long time, but it is soon forgotten by them.

This is the same for everyone, including myself. I might think some photograph that I see in a magazine or online is great. But how quickly is it completely gone from my mind? It's human nature. We think that people are looking at us, judging us and analyzing us much more than they really are. But the reality is that people aren't nearly as interested in each other as we think they are. Each one has their own life to live.

It's easy to get excited when someone praises my photography. It's easy to get upset when no one does. But I must remember that I'm not doing any of this for them. I'm doing this whole photography thing for myself. In other words, I'm intrinsically motivated to create images. If I were extrinsically motived I'd be highly disappointed.
Mystery Drive - Stallion Springs, California
I think it is important to not take too seriously praise received and also praise not received. If some people think that some image of mine is pretty good--well, that's great, but what does that really amount to? And if there is some image of mine that no one likes--well, why should that matter to me?

I'm reminded of a song entitled The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes and The Pride of Life by the 77's. One of the verses says:

     And I love when folks look right at me
     And what I'm doing or have done
     And lay it on about how groovy I am
     And that I'm looking grand
     And every single word makes me think I'll live forever
     Never knowing that they probably won't remember what they said tomorrow
     Tomorrow I could be dead

Those that give compliments mean well and I truly appreciate their kind words. They didn't have to take time out of their busy day to say something nice to me. But it is important for me to keep everything in perspective.

I'm self-aware of my photography, which I've learned by looking at my photographs historically. I've noticed that images that I thought were good really are not good at all. Time does that. So I've come to understand that I must be ultra-critical of my own work. I must study the fine details of my own photographs and realize what is good and bad about each. I must contrast those images with the great images made by other photographers.

Those Ansel Adams-like images of mine pale in comparison to those photographs made by Ansel Adams. I'm no Ansel Adams. But that's alright because I'm not trying to be Ansel Adams. I'm trying to be Ritchie Roesch. That's all that I can be. And I can only attempt to be the best Ritchie Roesch possible, hopefully a little bit better today than yesterday.

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