Unfortunately there are a lot more stories still in my mind that need to be written one of these days.
You often hear comments these days: Oh, I have seen a similar photograph. Can you give any tips about how to impart your own vision on a scene when there are many photographers around you?
You can almost apply the rules of meditation here – start by clearing your mind of distractions. These may include preconceptions about subject matter, standard compositions, “best” light etc. If you leave your home with the mindset of “I’m going to Yosemite to get a shot of Gates of The Valley at Sunset,” you’re pretty much guaranteed to miss everything along the way until you get that one shot. You’re also guaranteed to be deeply disappointed if that one shot doesn’t materialize as you expected. If you leave the preconceptions behind your mind will be free to see an infinite array of possibilities in every tree, every flower, every creek and lake, patterns in rocks and hillsides… you may find so much you may to keep you occupied you may never even get to your original destination, but more importantly - you’ll be happy and creative and those images will be *yours*. You can always go back to the well-known spots another day. Don’t lock your mind into what you plan to come back with. Just be in the moment every moment and keep watching and you’ll never be disappointed, even if you come home with no images at all.
Almost every other person has got access to a decent camera and digital darkroom tools. Technology (tools like google map, internet sources) has turned many spots which were relatively unknown until few years back into semi-icon status. You see tons of similar images posted on websites such as flickr. Where do you think this is taking us to? What will happen to the professional photographers who earned their bread and butter via stock images?
Another excellent question and one I can only partially answer. I’m not a stock photographer myself so will concede there are many others who can offer a more educated view. My personal sense, seeing the explosion of Royalty Free imagery and the astounding quality of work posted on various sites every day, is that stock will never again be as lucrative as it used to. On the other hand – being financially successful with photography is only partly attributed to the quality of the work. Being a good business person is paramount and those who know how to market and sell will probably continue to thrive but may need to adapt their business model or add new revenue streams to remain viable (e.g. workshops, etc.)
As far as unknown locations – that’s a double-edged sword. In many cases sensitive places simply can’t sustain high traffic. On the other hand, if they are unknown they are in danger of being sacrificed for various extractive interests with no one to protest. I’ll avoid the politics though and say that from an artistic, creative, and spiritual standpoints I strongly discourage copying other artists’ personal compositions and ideas. I consider it unethical to pass someone else’s image as your own, and by image I mean the concept and visual arrangement rather than the physical file or film. Just because it’s captured on your memory card doesn’t make it your image. The vision belongs to the artist who conceived it.
I wrote about this quite extensively in the past. Here are a few relevant articles:
Thoughts on Original Work
Originality and Soul
The First Step Towards Personal Style
In my favorite (and I know it is your favorite too) book ‘Mountain Light’, Galen Rowell mentions a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand and Stars
Nobody grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay of which you were shaped has dried and hardened, and naught in you will ever awaken the sleeping musician, the poet, the astronomer that possibly inhabited you in the beginning.
When I read it my friend he responded in German which can be roughly translated as – He was Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and interpreted as ‘You are either born or not as an artist‘. Your take?
I disagree with the interpretation. My view is more in line with the Confucian principles of Great Leaning — that every person has the inherent ability to become great. I have no doubt that much of a person’s future success and potential to realize their talent is dictated by their upbringing and socioeconomic background but great art can be found everywhere and cuts across all cultures and tiers of society. In fact I think at the core of producing great art is the belief in one’s self. I wrote about it in the Third Bullet of my article Six Silver Bullets.
What I believe Antoine de Saint-Exupéry meant was that people become set in their ways after the formative childhood period and it becomes harder and harder to adopt new perspectives and ideas as you get older. I think one of the most important exercises a person can go through at any point in their adult life is to take some time to tear down everything they believe in and that shapes their world views and question and re-examine it as objectively as they can. It takes a lot of courage to realize and admit it when your core beliefs (politics, religion, etc.) no longer align with your perception of reality and to be willing to rethink your life and be honest with yourself. I had to do it, and it was a painful experience but looking back I have no doubt I’m a better person for it.