Are you a photographer or an artist? by Jeff Farr, publisher of NYN Online Magazine
Are you a photographer or an artist?… I was recently reading an interview with Tom Morello. He’s not a photographer ~ he’s a guitarist known for his work with the band Rage Against the Machine ~ but his comments are right on target for anyone active in the arts including, and especially, photography…
“Everyone has to find their own path. There are two roads you can go down as a guitar player. There’s a road as a musician, and there’s a road as an artist. And both of them can be very, very satisfying, but they’re different. As a musician, you want to amass the technical ability to play the music you love and to write music at a certain skill level. When you cross over to becoming an artist is when you figure out who you are and what’s inside you that you’re able to share through your music.”
So are you an artist or a photographer?
The distinction is interesting, and in some ways, the two require opposite thinking.
Let’s take a look…
As a technically-oriented professional photographer, you learn your craft by studying cameras, lenses, exposure, composition, lighting techniques ~ etc. ~ so you have the ability to “get the shot” as required by your clients.
The process is very much like a professional studio musician who has practiced mega hours to gain the ability to play multiple styles and reproduce a wide variety of sounds as required by recording studios .
Like many pro photographers, studio musicians can get paid well for their services, and they are some of the best “musicians” around. But they are not well known to the general public because they are not artistically unique.
As Tom Morello notes, being a good “musician” ~ or photographer ~ is not necessarily being an artist. They are different paths, and Morello talks about his crossover to becoming an artist…
After “amassing technique as a teen and 20-something, practicing eight hours a day, 365 days a year”… we were opening up for two cover bands, and each of them had a technically amazing guitar player. I was thinking, ‘if there’s three shredding guitar players in one shitty gig on a Wednesday afternoon in the San Francisco Valley, do I really need to run that race?’ I answered no, and made a conscious decision to exclusively focus on the eccentricities in my playing.”
Like the world of guitar playing, there are plenty of technically-proficient photographers, and the path to becoming a “better photographer” is clear and well worn… as you are certainly aware, there are mountains of resources you can use. But unless you make the crossover to artistry, your best “gig’ may be similar to the dime-a-dozen, technically-amazing, guitar players performing in copy bands.
And making the crossover to artistry often requires a process that is opposite of becoming a better photographer. Here is what I mean by that…
Instead of endlessly gathering up “photography skills” (and equipment) with the hope they will lead to artistic accomplishments, you will need to ~ as Tom Morello says ~ “figure out who you are and what’s inside you that you’re able to share,” and then get what you need to make that vision a reality.
And that process has little to do with cameras, lenses, and Photoshop.
It has everything to do with self exploration, absorbing all that life has to offer, and having a perspective. As a good photographer, you may know the “language,” but you only become an artist when you have something to say.
OK, just a short update this week, but hopefully, long on a useful idea for you. It’s nice and necessary to know details like what f-stop to use and how to SEO your blog, but without the bigger picture, you risk becoming another ship “adrift without a rudder”, and I certainly don’t want that to happen to you!
Jeff & Pam Farr, Owners
P.S. Jeff & Pam are excellent instructors, in my opinion. They offer a free photography business course that includes an outstanding newsletter. The article above is from a recent issue.