Photography is a captivating art form. It has the unique ability to capture moments, emotions, and stories with a single click. For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this craft, it becomes more than just a skill; it becomes an integral part of our identity. My journey into the world of photography has been an enlightening one, filled with passion, persistence, and a profound understanding of the digital landscape. As a professional photographer based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, I have had the privilege of documenting countless stories through my lens, whether as a wedding photographer, a headshot and portrait photographer, or an event and editorial photographer. However, my path to this point was not without its challenges, one of which was learning to navigate the intricate realm of online criticism.
The Birth of a Photographer: Finding My Way Through Homelessness
Photography was not always a part of my life. In fact, there was a time when I found myself in a vastly different situation – I was homeless. For two years, I grappled with the harsh realities of life on the streets, struggling to find my footing and regain my sense of purpose. It was a period of profound uncertainty, where each day was a battle for survival. But amid the adversity, a spark of creativity ignited within me.
I discovered that I possessed a unique ability to see the world through a different lens, even in the most challenging of circumstances. It was during these years that I developed an acute sense of observation, capturing the stories of those around me through the lens of my makeshift camera, my imagination. While my gear may have been non-existant, it was a start.
From Homelessness to Photography: A Journey of Resilience
Emerging from homelessness was a journey in itself, one that required resilience, determination, and an unwavering belief in the power of transformation. After being housed I was given a camera and I found solace in photography, a medium that allowed me to channel my experiences and emotions into visual narratives. The camera became my confidant, and the streets and surroundings, my canvas.
As I honed my skills, I realised that photography was not merely a means of expression; it had the potential to be my livelihood, my escape from the shadows of the past. It was in this realisation that I decided to pursue a career as a professional photographer.
A Glimpse into My Photographic World: Wedding, Headshots, Portraits, and Events
My journey as a photographer led me to explore various niches within the field. Each area of specialisation offered a unique canvas for me to paint my stories. As a wedding photographer, I had the privilege of capturing the most cherished moments in couples’ lives. The joy, the tears, the laughter – all frozen in time through my lens. It was a deeply rewarding experience that allowed me to be part of something truly special.
Transitioning to headshot and portrait photography was a different yet equally fascinating chapter. In this realm, I delved into the nuances of capturing individual personalities. Every click of the shutter revealed a facet of the subject’s character, and I cherished the opportunity to bring out their essence in a single frame.
Events and editorial photography opened up yet another dimension of storytelling. From corporate events to community gatherings, I had the honour of documenting moments that would go on to shape narratives in various spheres. It was a dynamic and fast-paced environment that constantly challenged my skills and creativity.
The Dichotomy of Online Exposure: Appreciation and Critique
With a growing online presence, I decided to take a step beyond showcasing my photographs and offer a glimpse into the person behind the lens. It was a decision that led me to create a blog post where I shared not only my photographic journey but also a piece of my personal story. In this blog post, I chose to include some of my photographs, as images have always been my chosen medium for storytelling.
The response was swift and varied. My photographs resonated with many, and the stories I shared found a place in the hearts of those who connected with them. It was heartwarming to witness the images being shared, appreciated, and even celebrated. It reaffirmed my belief in the power of photography to bridge gaps, convey emotions, and transcend boundaries.
However, the power of the internet has a flip side, one that I had encountered in the past and now faced anew. Within hours of the blog post gaining traction, the criticism began to pour in. It was a relentless barrage of opinions, some constructive, but many laden with negativity. It was as if the digital world couldn’t resist the urge to dissect and critique, regardless of whether the critique was sought or not.
The Echoes of Early Days: Fear and Self-Doubt
As I found myself in the midst of this digital storm, I couldn’t help but be transported back to the early days of my photography journey. Those were the days when every photograph I posted online felt like a leap of faith. Each image was a vulnerable piece of my creative soul laid bare for the world to see, scrutinise, and judge.
What made it even more challenging were the contradictory nature of the critiques. Some asserted that my images lacked the necessary sharpness, while others argued that they were overly sharp. Composition was criticised by some, while others nitpicked white balance, exposure, and other technicalities. I even received comments that ventured into the subjective realm, offering unsolicited opinions about the appearance of the subjects themselves. It was a kaleidoscope of critique, often contradictory and occasionally cruel.
These early experiences with online criticism had a profound impact on my creative process. It was not uncommon to feel the looming presence of that fear of judgment every time I contemplated sharing my work. It was as if the voices of doubt had a permanent residence in my mind, ready to pounce at the first sign of vulnerability.
Understanding the Troll Phenomenon: A Shift in Perspective
Yet, as time passed and my experience in photography grew, I began to perceive the phenomenon of internet trolls through a different lens. I came to a fundamental realisation: trolls are often drawn to exceptional work. They’re like moths to a flame, not because they admire it, but because they’re frustrated creatives themselves. They lack the courage to put their own work out there, and instead of channeling their energies into improvement, they resort to dismantling the creations of others.
Trolls wield the technical jargon they’re familiar with, seizing upon minute details in exceptional work because they’re acutely aware of their inability to attain that level of skill or artistry. It’s a perplexing and self-inflicted frustration that drives them to lash out.
To further illustrate this point, I propose a test: when faced with online trolls, take a moment to explore their profiles. Delve into their creative endeavours, if any. It’s a revealing exercise because more often than not, you’ll find little evidence of remarkable work. This isn’t a blanket dismissal of all criticism; rather, it’s about learning to distinguish between well-intentioned feedback and the malicious intent of trolls.
So, in the face of online criticism, particularly from trolls, I’ve found the most effective response to be no response. Engaging in a battle with trolls only serves to fuel their satisfaction while deepening your own frustration. Instead, shift your focus towards constructive criticism that emanates from a place of genuine desire to see you improve. This form of feedback is invaluable, offering insights that can truly enhance your craft.
The Art of Embracing Your Creative Vision
One of the challenges that every artist, including photographers, faces is finding a balance between staying true to their creative vision and being open to improvement. It’s a delicate tightrope walk that requires finesse and self-assuredness.
Embracing your creative vision means having the confidence to express yourself through your work. It’s about staying true to your artistic instincts, even when faced with criticism. This doesn’t mean you should be closed off to feedback; it means you should know when to trust your intuition and when to consider alternative perspectives.
For me, this realisation came with time and experience. I learned to cherish my unique perspective as a photographer. I understood that my vision was a culmination of my experiences, my emotions, and my artistic influences. It was what set my work apart and made it authentically mine.
However, this doesn’t imply that I became impervious to criticism. On the contrary, I learned to discern between critiques that resonated with my vision and those that didn’t. It’s essential to remain open to constructive feedback that aligns with your creative goals. Such feedback can help you refine your craft, see blind spots, and evolve as an artist.
The Resilience of an Artist
The journey of an artist, be it a photographer, a painter, a writer, or any creative pursuit, is often marked by highs and lows. It’s a path fraught with self-doubt, external critiques, and the constant pursuit of improvement. Yet, it’s precisely these challenges that mold an artist’s character and deepen their connection to their craft.
As I navigated the storm of online criticism, I learned that resilience is the artist’s greatest ally. It’s the ability to weather the harshest of critiques, to withstand the doubt that creeps in during moments of vulnerability, and to emerge stronger on the other side.
Resilience isn’t a quality one is born with; it’s cultivated through experience. It’s the product of countless moments of doubt and self-discovery. It’s the choice to keep creating, keep improving, and keep pushing the boundaries of one’s creativity.
A Mature Artist’s Approach: Elevating Others
One of the hallmarks of a mature artist is their capacity to elevate others, even when those individuals may seem ahead in their creative journey. It’s an act of self-assuredness and generosity that goes beyond the realm of competition.
In my own journey, I’ve come to realise that celebrating the success of others doesn’t diminish your own achievements; it enriches the collective tapestry of creativity. When you see someone doing something exceptional, whether in photography or any other art form, it’s an opportunity to extend a hand of congratulation and offer constructive insights if asked for.
I’ve witnessed how this approach not only fosters a sense of camaraderie within the creative community but also propels individual growth. When we help others improve, we contribute to the elevation of the entire field. It’s a testament to the maturity and depth of one’s artistic journey.
Conclusion: The Unwavering Commitment to Creativity
In closing, the journey of a photographer, like any artist, is marked by a deep commitment to creativity. It’s a path that meanders through the highs of artistic triumphs and the lows of self-doubt and external critique. Yet, it’s precisely these challenges that shape an artist’s character and refine their craft.
For me, the transition from homelessness to photography was a profound transformation, one that taught me the value of resilience and the power of creativity to transcend adversity. My evolution from novice to a recognised photographer and ambassador was not without its share of critiques, both constructive and otherwise.
The dichotomy of online exposure, with its blend of appreciation and criticism, is a reality that every artist faces in the digital age. Learning to discern between valuable feedback and the noise of trolls is a crucial skill. Embracing your creative vision while remaining open to improvement is a delicate balance that every artist must strike.
Ultimately, the mark of a mature artist lies not just in their ability to create exceptional work but in their capacity to elevate others and contribute to the collective growth of the creative community. It’s a journey that requires unwavering commitment, self-assuredness, and a deep love for the art.
So, to my fellow photographers and creatives, I say this: Keep creating, keep evolving, and let your art speak louder than any criticism. Your journey is a dynamic and ever-unfolding story, and each photograph you capture is a chapter in that narrative. Stay true to your creative vision, remain open to learning, and above all, continue to find beauty in the world through your lens.