Being an artist is terrifying. Especially in a medium like photography, where so much depends on the slightest angle or editing touch, it’s not uncommon for aspiring creators to feel as if they’re blundering around in the dark, tunneling away from the work they dreamed they’d be doing. Those stumbles are also usually haunted by knowing that it’s a small, competitive field, and not everyone—in fact, very few—are going to “make it.”
A new video, The Photographer’s Struggle/Creating In Spite of Fear, confronts that uncomfortable truth head on. In a swift montage, a series of established photographers reflect on their own moments of doubt and fear on the road to success. One man recalls sitting in a photo class where students were asked to tell a story with one roll of film. As he watched his classmates’ images go up on the board, he collapsed inwardly. “I was like ‘oh my god, what have I gotten myself into,'” he said. “These people are so talented.” That man is Tim Tadder, currently the most followed photographer on Behance.
In a following snippet, Erik Almås, a former DJ and now one of the top commercial photographers on Luhrzers, admits, “At times I’d look at my work and be like ‘Damn I’m a shitty photographer, fuck. It’s nothing.”
Just like that, the armor comes off. The trailer, which teases a series of podcast-interviews that the photo-education studio RGG EDU has been rolling out over the past month, shows several successful creatives discuss how they got to where they are in bluntly honest terms. Often, it comes down to passion—and sacrifice.
“I was cater-waitering,” said Chris Knight, an established photographer who now teaches at the NY Film Academy. “I’d work till 11 or 12 at night, then retouch until 3 or 4 in the morning. Even though I didn’t really have the talent, I’d be willing to work when other people were asleep.”
The actual interviews, of which there are four—Almås, Michael Eastman, Ben Von Wong, and Chris Knight & Lindsay Adler—provide fascinating insights into several distinct creative approaches, as well as the convulsive recent evolutions of photography as an industry. While swilling whiskey (or water) at a table with hosts Gary Martin and Rob Grimm, the guests open up about both their come-ups and their daily grind. As the interviews are each around an hour or more, they have time to get specific about the minutia of their craft and trade.
“My life is a little bit like an emergency room, right,” Almås tells Grimm and Martin in his interview. “Where the stuff that needs to happen now gets done, and whatever that doesn’t need to happen right now gets put on the back-burner. You try to catch up. You do what’s most important and meet your deadlines and that goes out, and then you take care of all the other stuff afterwards.”
Aside from work-life balance (Almås recently got married, moved, and is expecting a baby), Almås discusses the merits of having an agent versus the trend of getting more work off of social media. At one point he recalls an art director who sought him out for a big job because he’d encountered his work on Behance.
“That has nothing to do with an agent. That has to do with me and my assistant putting work up that’s intriguing enough for someone to find it, and connect with it, and hire us,” Almås said. “That chain is very different than an agent going out to sell me.”
As Almås says, “The market is changing. We all know that, but no one knows where it’s going to go.”
While veteran photographer Michael Eastman isn’t thrilled with every aspect of the internet revolution in photography, he thinks it helps photographers outside buzzing cities like New York get attention for their work—and steer clear of the buzz culture and constant bombardment by other people’s work that can get in the way of discovering one’s own voice.
“You don’t want it to get in the way of you finding your vision,” Eastman said in his interview. “And then once you have a vision, whatever you do–whether you do a nude, whether you do a wall, you’re going to go through that part of you that makes images.”
“It took me years to figure that out,” Eastman reflected. “That’s one thing about teaching yourself: you do reinvent the wheel. It wobbles funny until it works its way through, but it’s good to do that. It’s good to start at the beginning and see what worked there and what didn’t work there.”