I recently shed my responsibilities of judging a photo of the day award and it got me thinking a lot about my experience learning photography a while back. I used to spend a hell of a lot of time on Flickr, actively discussing photos and moderating groups and there was always a constant battle over what was worthy of being discussed or allowed in certain pools. Photographers that were told their work was not good enough would demand to know why and would either take the criticism on-board or go away and post to another more forgiving group. In my mind there are two types of groups on Flickr, the mediocre and the amazing. Many will probably say thats an unfair comparison, but whatever.
There are the groups where everyone seems to pat everyone else on the back for taking part and with which I take great offence at. You would go through the photos and see the same recycled themes and junk over and over again, yet they would receive huge amounts of praise and congratulations. The photos would be simple and faceless, with no style, depth or story. You would look at individual’s photostreams and see that for years their skills had remained a constant. I’ve heard it said that to become a great photographer you need to find your “voice”. Those defining themes which means that somone could look at one of your photos and think “A-ha, I bet that was taken by X.”. But here were photographers receiving pats on the back, which were for lack of a better description “photographerless”. My dislike wasn’t at the photographers or there photos themselves, but mainly at the culture of “amateurism”. Learner photographers congratulating other learner photographers, which doesn’t lead to becoming a better photo. How am I to know that I need to improve if I never receive any criticism? How am I to know what I need to improve if I never receive any criticism?
Then there are the “elitist” groups, or rather that was how I viewed them as when I first came across them. I was stuck like many other photographers, unable to get my photos accepted by them, and while many others came and became angry that they too weren’t accepted, I stuck with it and finally made it. It was a stark contrast to the groups mentioned above. Criticism was at the heart and soul of every thread and topic. Moderators were constantly bashed and accused of not knowing what they were doing, yet they had the best photos of virtually any other group in their stream. People’s anger would flair because their own measure of a good photo was so different to what they judged to be good. This anger grew even more because they just didn’t “get it”. They would look at the photos in the stream and scream as to why something was allowed in over their submissions. 99% of the time, they would leave, mostly to the confines of the groups mentioned before, to never return, but some would stay. And as time went by, and as they took on what they were told they quickly got better. They saw the criticism not as an attack on themselves personally, but as an opportunity to grow and develop as a photographer. Then when they were accepted and you looked through their photostream, you would actually see this marked and steady rise in skill. These people truly did find their own voices. They began to “get it”.
It’s easy to pander to the mediocre, because that way you’ll probably never upset anyone. The mediocre like the status quo and like things to remain average. Which is fine if that is where we want to be and all you want to achieve. But if you want to grow and create something great you need to ignore the pats on the back and seek out the criticism, not be angered or put off by it, but take it as an opportunity to grow and become a better version of yourself.