We have to stop comparing

As photographers, we are always looking at the work that other photographers produce. This is how we learn and grow as image makers; it is one method of cultivating our photographic eye and honing our perception and our observational skills. We advance our craft by learning from the work of iconic photographers as well as our peers.

Where we can easily get off in the ditch is in comparing our work to the work of the titans of the photographic realm, both past and present. We do not want to go down that path, for that way madness lies.

Anyone who has consistently produced arresting images did not get to that point overnight. Some got there more quickly than others, some got there more slowly - but every last photographer who has risen to the top (or to the middle, even) worked long and hard to get there - we’re talking years, not weeks or months.

Honing your eye - your perception as an image maker - is an evolutionary process. It takes time - a long time. It takes thousands of hours of having your eye welded to the viewfinder of your camera, hundreds of thousands of exposures made and thousands of hours of processing and editing. If you seriously want to become a world class photographer, there is no other way.

That may discourage or depress some people who have high hopes for their photography - but the good news is this: There is a way to get there. No, it’s not a quick way or an easy way, but there is a way.

A photographic mentor of mine once said to a workshop that I was attending, “I have no natural talent. I knew that this is what I wanted to do and I worked terribly hard at it.” He started at the same place we all started - at zero. Where did he end up? As a full member of Magnum Photos, the photographic cooperative founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and others. Constantine Manos - my mentor and workshop leader - started at zero like the rest of us. It was not natural talent or connections that elevated him to the pinnacle of his profession - it was relentless, obsessive work for years on end.

I do not compare my photographs to the images of Constantine Manos, Steve McCurry, Oliver Klink, Jim Brandenburg or others who have developed similar reserves of enormous talent and photographic insight. I look at their images and draw inspiration and motivation from them. I look at these giants of the photographic world as models of what is possible for any of us - if we want it as badly as did they and work as long and hard at it as they did.

Zack Arias: “Jarvis sucked. Carsch sucked. Avedon sucked. Adams sucked. Mary Ellen Mark sucked. Every photographer in history was a horrible photographer for some period of time. They learned. They grew. They persevered.

That is the way of the artist. Just be patient. Keep on going. Transformation takes time.

From what I have seen in my life, it really is worth [the work and] the wait.”

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