Fragile Artist Syndrome can hurt you


Ominous clouds–Even though inclement weather brings challenges for photographers, it can also provide unusual vistas especially in Southern California. I found this image shooting from a parking garage looking upwards at street level. I intentionally exposed for the sky so that the pedestrian is a solid silhouette.

I’m certain everyone agrees in order to grow and learn we constantly need challenges.

So it’s no different when it comes to photography.

We all need to step out of our comfort zone. Not doing so means we stagnate. In a way beginning photographers have it easy.

There’s so much they don’t know. Fragile artist syndrome hasn’t set in.

They haven’t been told their work is so wonderful so often that their head still fits through the door.

Drawing from my own experience as a student, I was never the photo student who stood out in college. Neither did I get “A”s in all my photo classes.

I did know one important thing. My grade never reflected what I learned from an instructor.

Instructors being human after all tend to have favorites.

They are not meant to be there to stroke your ego but to teach you.

It never bothered me once either that I wasn’t among the favorites.

Remember I wasn’t the typical student but one who had worked for at least 5 years in the airlines. So I was more mature than most of my classmates.

Very early on, I decided as long as I was getting at least a “B” in my photography classes, I should be more concerned about whether I can get images that are good enough to be added to my portfolio.

Why is that? If you’re a photography major, what will get you your first job is ?
Drum roll….

How good your portfolio looks. Not what your GPA is. Or what school you attended.

If you plan to major in the arts, that is as real world as I can put it.

Having a 4.0GPA is only going to help if you are going to be a Art History major dealing with scholarly criticism. In other words, theory.

Since photography is never theoretical, it’s infinitely more important to have a great body of pictures than A’s.

So when I realized I wasn’t among the favorites, was I crushed? A little at first.

I was old enough to know that the grade in the class only reflected one instructor’s opinion.

It’s inherently unfair but it’s unavoidable. Photography is unlike Math or Science. It’s not like this classic line offered by Mr.Spock to Captain Kirk in Star Trek:

Jim, in this part of the universe even 2 plus 2 equals 4.

I didn’t whine. As painful as that was, I sucked it up, walked it off and carried on.

Attitude is so important when you’re trying to learn anything.

Humility is paramount

Don’t be like a former student of mine who said, “I’ve been shooting pictures for years and years. I’ve never had a use for panning.”

I’m certain as much as he won’t admit it, he learned how that semester.

My photography instructor in college showed us the page in the textbook which mentioned how to do it. Then we had to figure it out.

I must have blown through 6 rolls of 36-exposure film before I got something usable.

I sure as heck didn’t cop an attitude. I read the book, tried and tried, took good notes and figured it out.

Charlie Brill didn’t get on a scooter or a bicycle and raced up and down for his students.

But I still owe what I am today to Charlie. He knew I could handle being pushed harder than the others.

He had his favorites and a lot of my classmates used to complain if you weren’t one of the anointed, you would have to fend for yourself.

I was correct in my assessment because as soon as I interned at some newspapers, I found the confidence I needed.

I went out of my way to do better than the favorites and that challenge served me better than if I had lots of As.

I would never had otherwise created a portfolio of pictures that helped land my first real job at a major newspaper.

2 thoughts on “Fragile Artist Syndrome can hurt you”

  1. Hello Tracey,
    Thank you for stopping by and leaving your comment. I learned something from you, believe it or not.

    It never really occurred to me that “some instructors seem to never get to teaching but constantly show their own work…” because it’s catering to their vanity.

    Now you have me second-guessing myself. I show my work especially when it pertains to the lesson.

    Instead of showing other photographer’s work, I tend to bring those photographers into the class so that they can show and answer those questions themselves. It helps when I know a lot of out-of-work newspaper photographers I suppose.

    Just about anyone can scour the net and find great examples of good photography then proceed to discuss it at length.

    One thing most beginners don’t realize is photography is a solitary activity even when it involves photographing people.

    I can’t concentrate wholly on my subject if I have to teach, demonstrate and take pictures at the same time.

    I’m often conflicted too when something I want to photograph happens on the weekend and I really, really want to go do it but I have family time responsibilities.

    So I can totally empathize with you.

    Don’t count on the photo walks to be the place and the time when you will get that great picture. Those are really only expeditions to learn.

    The odds favor you finding that gem of a picture usually on your own when your classmates aren’t around.

  2. So true about favorites in photography school. I, too am beginning my professional/academic photography career later (I’m 49) and am finding I’m a bit left out when everyone’s constantly going off on “photo walks” and I’m choosing to spend family time with family. So, not being in the “in crowd” I tend to feel left out. I didn’t realize much of photo school was about the instructor’s ego. Some instructors seem to never get to teaching but constantly show their own work which would be fine if there was a lesson somewhere in there. I hope I don’t sound whiny and ungrateful. I truly appreciate photography schools yet I know learning is on us as individuals. That’s why I supplement my education in many other ways. Take care.

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