The positive response to my previous post tells me people are interested in the topic of art, photography and competition. I’d like to add a few more thoughts.
First, for anyone who might think otherwise, make no mistake, I believe camera clubs offer great value, especially to beginning to intermediate photographers. My friend Chuck Robinson feels the same way. This is what he had to say about his club experience. “I joined our camera club when I first got started into photography. I wanted to meet people with similar interests and learn more about photography. I ended up befriending some great people who are awesome photographers and I did learn a great deal through these friendships. I enjoyed the competitions at first because I thought it was a way for me to gauge the growth of my photography compared to others that have been shooting way longer than I. I felt that it also pushed me to become better. As a novice photographer at the time, I felt that it was beneficial to my growth” I agree with Chuck, his feelings mirror many others I’ve spoken to about their club experience.
Chuck goes on to say, “Nine years later my feelings have changed. Today, my personal view is much different. A little over a year ago, I was becoming frustrated in my photography. Although I did very well in the competitions, I felt that the comments from the judges from month to month were all over the map. Now I can take constructive criticism, in fact, I look forward to it. But some of the comments were just ridiculous. More importantly, I felt like I was creating images just to win competitions and I was becoming very frustrated and lost sight of why I wanted to create images in the first place. I was losing my desire in photography. I was chasing what I thought someone else would think was a winner. I had to stop and regroup and distance myself from the club. I feel so much better now that I’ve done that” This too, is common feedback and emphasizes my concern with competition.
I am currently traveling with my tour partner Dan Sniffin. We have been conversing about the value of camera clubs and the feedback to my last post. We even called Cole Thompson as someone shared with him a Facebook link with some of my comments regarding this subject. We all arrived at the same conclusion. Getting people to think about what and why they are creating images is important and healthy.
Second, In no way am I advocating that everyone who owns a camera or is part of a camera club should ascribe to my way of thinking. There are some who enjoy competing, winning points, pins, ribbons and plaques. If this is what brings you joy, who am I to say otherwise? For instance, I have a friend Gunther Riehle who is one of the highest ranking PSA nature photographers in the world. His work is stunning, yet follows a different vision and the guidelines of PSA. I am simply suggesting that following your heart or your vision could bring a different level of joy or satisfaction. Or as my friend Dewitt Jones says, another right answer. Let me share a two stories that might illustrate what I’m trying to say.
I was on the first day of a fall weekend photography workshop. The colors were astounding, the conditions could not have been better. A participant came up to me and said, “I am going to go home.” I asked if I had said something that offended her, had I done something wrong? She said, “No, its just I am not finding what I came for.” She then shared that she had a competition at her camera club and her expectation was to find a particular image that she could win with. Rather than find another right answer, a different and maybe better answer, she went home. Isn’t that sad?
Contrast that experience to this story. Dan (tour partner) and I were scouting for our spring Smoky Mountain Tour last year. When we arrived, he said to me, “John, don’t worry if I don’t shoot much. I’ve been to the Smokies a number of times, I’ve got all the images I need. I’m going to just relax. I have no expectations for this trip. I’ll just shoot when something moves me.” Normally Dan would go on a trip and have a “shot list.” Not this time, he was going to be open to what moved him, spoke to him and inspired him. Guess what? He produced the best work he has ever produced from the Smokies. His success was so good, he did the same thing in the Palouse a couple of months later with the same results.
These stories capture the essence of what I was hoping to express in this and my previous post. I am simply suggesting an alternative approach. A more contemplative approach, where you are open to whatever turns your head and will create based on what makes your heart sing.