Legends are our Martin Luther King Jrs, our Bill Gates, our Audrey Hepburns, Albert Einsteins and Coco Chanels—those forever immortalized for greatness, those who changed the world as we know it. But it seems today that, as with most things, the label has lost its shine; its meaning muddled and diluted to a point of obscurity. Think Barney Stinson of How I Met Your Mother—in his eyes nearly anything is legendary so long as it has some factor, no matter how small, of awesomeness. The word “legend” has been incorporated into casual teen lingo: “Did you see Tommy destroy in beer pong last night? That guy’s a legend.” There is even a wikiHow titled “How To Become A Legend” with a simple set of nine steps available to anyone who knows how to use Google. But the label should be sacred, reserved only for those who…who what? What, really, is a legend? What defines this grandeur label, or better yet, who is worthy of such a title in today’s day and age?
There are two things to consider: what establishes someone as worthy of Legend status, and what is essential in securing such a title?
To start with the first: “Legends are born out of necessity,” Victor Ha, director of eCommerce and Marketing Channels at MAC Group, tells me. He continues, “We want to tell a story about somebody, or we want something to be remembered. Legends are born out of a need to tell a story.” This is certainly true—a Legend often serves as a lighthouse to those who strive for success or at least an understanding of success. They are the people who persevere and overcome, in a steadfast pursuit of their passion. A Legend embodies the essence of their field and beyond, as they push bounds and forge an entirely new set of standards for those that follow in their wake. On this ability to make waves and influence a field, photographer and entrepreneur Chase Jarvis says “In the future when we reflect back on legends of this era, there will be a lot because this was a time ripe with reinvention.” What makes a Legend is “a specific need out of a community,” often a need for reinvention—someone to serve as a worthy representative in their field, not only in their personal success but also in their ability to influence and mold an industry for the better. They are those who encompass that which we wish to be remembered. If all were to be lost—the world destroyed for some reason or another—and there was little that remained to enlighten some future beings of our existence, “Legends” would hopefully be those to represent us—the pioneers who embody the passion, innovativeness, and stamina that we all strive for.
So there are those worthy of this legendary status, now how is this title secured? “You can’t be a legend overnight,” says well-established photographer Peter Hurley. “[It’s] a time thing…a time has to elapse for you to get legendary status in anything.” A “Legend” is recognized based off of their legacy, or what they leave behind years after their prime. Hurley, who just recently participated in a Photography Legends tour, adds, “I don’t feel like a legend…I don’t know that I’m a legend. There should be a new word for people who are very good at what they do.” Hurley feels “Legend” should not serve as the “blanket term” it has come to be. There is a difference between being very good at what you do and being a Legend. It all depends on legacy, what will be left behind. Think of the “Hall of Fame” concept—a majority of the people inducted into any given Hall of Fame were prominent “years and years ago and are just now being recognized.” It is their ability to create some long-lasting effect on an industry that makes them worthy of Legend status. Of course, there are those whose effect on society is recognizable instantly, their legacy beginning while they are still in their prime, but this is rare. It is this ability to continue influencing even after their time that solidifies someone’s status as a Legend.
Now, how has the Age of the Internet and the accessibility of information affected our perception of a Legend? DP Review editor Barney Britton finds that it has become rather difficult, in this day and age, to secure that Legend status. He says a legend is “somebody who is outstanding in a given field,” however, “We have moved into an age where people like that are no longer allowed to exist.” With our relatively newfound ability to obtain a massive amount of information about not only someone’s professional life but also their private life, we blur the lines of what makes someone legendary. No longer is it the case that an artist’s work is the primary factor in determining their status. Britton tells me to take Louis CK and the revelation of his sexual misconduct as an example— “[His] work is critically and publicly acclaimed. But now, do we view his work in the same way? In the past that wasn’t an issue. Personal and work were separated. It didn’t matter what someone did, it’s their work that we have a relationship with.” But in today’s world, a person’s work is not the only thing that matters; in fact, their work is easily dispelled in the revelation of scandal or misconduct. This means a Legend is even harder to come by, as they must exceed not only professional standards, but also personal standards, as their private lives are pushed even further into the public eye. How exactly this will affect the Legends of the coming decades is not fully clear, as it has become difficult to secure Legend status with the ability to uncover every small, unbecoming detail about a person’s life.
To be a “Legend” is an honor, not to be thrown around loosely, as this sort of sacred recognition is easily devalued in its overuse. Defining a “Legend” is a difficult feat but there is one thing that is for sure: Legends are timeless—their contribution to their respective fields will long outlive them, so much so that they may never even know what they’ve truly achieved.
Illustrations By Emil Rivera
Victor Ha, Marketing Director at MAC Group
Chase Jarvis, Photographer and CEO of CreativeLive
Peter Hurley, Renowned Photographer
Barney Britton, Editor at DP Review
This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 Issue of Resource Magazine. You can buy the whole issue HERE.