There’s a surge in the photography industry with people passionately decrying looking at other photographers’ work. They shout that photographers are all producing the same mediocre stuff because we’re all looking at each other and discovering what’s acceptable and publishable and cool. The idea is: free your mind and you’ll produce amazing work that’s completely your own. We need artists who aren’t clouded by other people’s work.
I acknowledge the problem, but the solution is garbage.
The first thing writers have to do before they can write well is read. A whole lot. A variety of really fabulous literature, and then they read for pleasure and discover what they like. Eventually writers narrow their reading focus and soak up one author or genre for a long time, all the while writing like mad. They’re not trying to copy anyone; they use reading to nourish their own writing. We should be taking in bunches of creative works, letting them mesh and digest and gel together with our own creative juices to take us to new levels as artists.
You’re going to see photographs; you’re going to be influenced by them. You might as well control what you put in your creative belly–junk in, junk out, love.
This doesn’t mean you should fill up your life with endless scrolling through random photography blogs or that you should only look at “current” photographers or that you should look only at photographers within your field or outside of your field. Those choices are up to you as an artist. I think you should be very, very selective with the photographers whose work you look at, choosing only photographers whose work inspires you crazy much and makes you see the world a little differently and pushes your comfort zone.
Above all, this process should be nourishing–if it makes you feel competitive, snarky, bitter, depressed, or arrogant–you’re doing it wrong. Find the source of the yuck and cut it out of your life.
I’d love to hear your thoughts: what do you think about photographers looking at other photographers’ work?