On Breaking the Rules= Don't Always Show Your Best Work?

February 01, 2014  •  4 Comments

Deer Isle Ice Cakes

There's a popular photography euphemism that goes: "only show your best work". I get it. There's another that goes "your first 10,000 photos are your worst". And then there's another that's something like- "you'll be remembered for your worst photo?", and another that says "My favorite picture I'll make tomorrow". I get all of that. But it occurred to me after looking at the Ansel Adams calendar that my Mom gets me for Christmas every year that there are some images in those calendars that I've never seen before therefore aren't necessarily his most iconic and famous pictures, like Moon Over Half Dome or Moonrise Over Hernandez are. And I've seen a lot of other Ansel images over the years like his color panoramas when he was doing his ad campaign with Polaroid and close up detail images of barns etc that you wouldn't necessarily associate with Ansel. He produced a lot of photographs in his life and all of it wasn't always necessarily spectacular in the way those Moonrise Over Hernandez and Moon Over Half Dome are. But don't get me wrong, I love almost all of it. And it's the very nature of having a varied and diverse portfolio that makes those standout shots even more stunning and impactful.

If I were to stick by the virtue of only showing my "best work" then I would be a scarce entity around these parts. I hope for around 12 good shots a year which comes from another of those popular photographers euphemisms. I think it's more important to keep a presence and to keep a slow but dependable drip of content coming in these days of the social internets. My way of producing is pretty much make images around once or twice a week of maybe 3 to 12 scenes and then work on them over the next few weeks/months/years to nurture something out of them. After a while your work accumulates and makes for a body of work that you call a portfolio and which will have natural high points and low points. Just like a symphony, it's not always forte and in your face, sometimes it's the more quiet connecting periods that are more beautifully nuanced. And those are what makes it interesting to follow someone over a long period- to see what someone is going to make tomorrow, can they top that last awesome shot, what changes will you make over time, etc. And if we were only showing our "best" work then it would be a lot harder to get an average of the whole thing, to see the arc. Know what I mean? Now don't think I'm making excuses for boring content- every new time out with your kit and post processing session in front of the monitor should be another opportunity to do your best work, to keep the learning curve moving in an upward and or forward direction!

There's another reason why it's useful to show your work- to get feedback. Not just out of pride fluffing or on the other hand being dealt a pity party, but if you subjectively consider how your images are being received then you can modify accordingly. I find it rewarding to show my images and track the feedback and popularity of particular pictures sometimes out of just sheer entertainment but other times to see what people and other photographers like. Not that we should care what others like, or think, (make that work for you artist person: I dare you!) but it always gets me when I post an image that didn't make the initial cut and seemed to be a big mistake but which later is a big hit with everyone else. That always leaves me shaking my head. Therefore maybe your best photograph you have already made you just haven't realized it yet? Woah. That's heavy.

One more time: that doesn't mean that anything goes. Standards are everything. With every new image I'm giving it 'my best shot'. With every new image I'm continuing trying to master the workflow of creating a "fine art" photograph, I'm trying out new approaches and modifying technique that will hopefully all go to making a better image tomorrow. You see where I'm coming from here- you have to keep up with your game in order to build on where you've come from, and hopefully in the process there will be standout opportunities that make the definitive shot of the year. 

Anyways- just goes to show that the "rules" are there for a reason but also are there to be broken and exploited and twisted and manipulated to our satisfaction. Just keep the Lolcats and duck face selfies and what we had for lunch to a minimum and everybody wins!


Comments

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2.Ron Rothbart(non-registered)
I happened to see an interview with David Fokos a few days ago where he said he only publishes four images a year and has 60 in his portfolio after 30 years of shooting. He joked that then people think all your images are that good, which of course they're not. I thought, gee, I don't have that kind of self-discipline! I think of it more as layers of professionalism. For example, I use Flickr as a testing ground, I'm pretty liberal about what I post there and appreciate whatever feedback I get. Then I display my better ones in camera club competitions and on Google+. I don't have a portfolio, but I imagine that if I ever do, it will only contain the best of the best.
1.Jason Philbrook(non-registered)
you are inciting me to ramble too... Ansel's other stuff was good, but not world class. It doesn't have to be world class to be appreciated by a photographer, and other photographers are often our audience if we're not trying to make a living at photography. I saw his color landscapes at the Eliot Porter exhibit several years ago at PMA and he didn't hold a candle to Porter. At the PMAs f64 vs pictorialism show they had one of Ansel's soft photos among the other pictorialists he resented. It was good and did what it was supposed to and I appreciated it, but it didn't stand out from the other pictorialist's he came to resent. He found his niche where he's known for. I don't know if it's the 10,000 hour thing popping up.

I am a serious amateur and do photography for my own urges. What people like is secondary and hard to figure out. It's sort of like asking "have you figured out women". I've got a variety of people looking at photos (mostly photographers which are easier to figure out) and they have a variety of interests and provide useful feedback that helps improve quality. It's not merely showing that does that, but showing mixed with discussion.

I too think the idea of only have best and consistent photos to show is narrow minded or old. It was for a professional audience that didn't know you and wanted to see you could do something repeatedly and good and wouldn't take the time to see what you can do. Or it was for a gallery where space and costs dictated selection. You are right that a steady stream of interesting is more practical and valuable, because we live in a social media online system. Creative people appreciate photographers who live and breathe photography rather than pick up a camera and shoot a postcard once in a while.
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