You’ve probably heard the generally derisive comment, “Everyone’s a comedian” when a person makes an unappreciated joke. Unfortunately there is no equivalent one to receiving unwelcome advice. “Shut up” or “Did I ask you for that?” doesn’t quite have the same ring. Art and craft has a lot of experts. A lot. And they don’t mind telling you.
Art doesn’t appear out of nowhere, though many artists have had experiences in which they created something that surprised them in some way. They “got lucky” or “I was unaware of what I was doing” or “it just flowed”. Most of the time we have to work for it. I’d bet I make at least 25 crappy pictures for one good one, and that doesn’t include the in-camera failures, development issues, bad film, dead developer, head-scratching wonderment at what the hell I was thinking when I committed to a shot, and so forth. The realities of making our craft unfortunately does not stop people from pontificating about the “right” way to do it. It seems to stem from this:
Photographic art is about making stuff. Making stuff requires equipment. Equipment comes in various qualities. Some quality is subjective. Subjectivity breeds argument. Argument takes time and eats energy. Less energy means less output. Little output means more time to argue about the equipment that you use to make the art you aren’t producing. Catch my drift?
Recently I was at a gathering of large format folks. I go to these to talk to other photographers and to remind myself that I know not of what I speak except where it applies to me. Thus, I was taken aback when a woman I had not met before told me my choice of developer was, essentially, ridiculous. She had prefaced this declaration with a statement that photographers who had been around awhile like herself usually settled on just a couple of films and a couple of developers. I use that old workhorse D-76, but she had “given that up years ago!” Bully for you. Plus, shut up. Her evident conclusion, based on her raised eyebrow and pursed lips, was that not only was I a twit, but I was an ignorant noob.
People like to ask questions simply so they can tell you their own superior thoughts on the subject. It really has nothing to do with their interest in your answers, because they have none. They have learned that by asking something first and then lecturing you on that subject makes them appear more polite than dispensing with the question altogether and launching straight into the lecture. I would waste far less time if the politeness charade was dumped so I could walk away sooner.
Witness this guy. At another gathering I was told that LF photographers should select just one lens when they go out into the field to stimulate creativity, lighten the load, and produce higher quality images. No, YOU should select just one lens when you go into the field. The rest of us can do what we want. The same fellow was certain that he could produce an inkjet print that perfectly mimicked the pt/pd process and he didn’t know why anyone would bother with those icky chemicals. Again, YOU can do those prints and the rest of us can decide whether or not we want to follow suit.
This is not to say that I don’t enjoy a hearty discussion of the merits of various lenses, movements of different types of cameras, film and developer combinations and so forth. A person needs to discuss their passion and share ideas. A person does not need, however, to tell me what I’m doing wrong when I did not ask for input. The combination of preferences I choose make up my work as I want it to be constructed. The reasons for my choices matter primarily to me because they are part of my creative continuum.
Here’s my point. What matters the most is what matters to YOU. When it comes to your equipment, your art, your process, I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m not you. Conversely, you don’t know about my equipment, my art, my process. This is just as it should be because doing someone’s work for them means you’re not doing your own.
How about you go out there and do what only you know about–your own work–and leave me to mine.