Dear Photographer on the Edge of Greatness,
I see you. I know how much you desperately want to be great. I see you at the park laying on the ground underneath your child swinging above you, hoping she won’t kick the camera that cost twice your month’s mortgage, praying that one of your shots turns out the way it exists in your mind. I see you at school, pointing your long lens through the sea of iPhones, juggling the gym lights and the daylight and your settings. That camera is heavy and you’ve been holding it for an hour now. Your arms are begging you to put it down, but you won’t. You won’t put it down until you’ve got it. I can see you.
I see you at the farmer’s market crouching behind the fruit stands, framing the perfect photos of your daughter. The light behind her is perfect and I know you got your shot. You think you know it, too, but you can’t be sure. You won’t be sure until you get it home to criticize. You won’t know it until you can see how it hits online. You might not know it until you find that photo again in two years. But I can see it. I can see you.
I see you in Target. Taking “the Target photo.” The leading lines here are killer, I know. And that photo you’ve seen so many times is exactly what you want to take. You don’t need to take it to have the photo, you need to take it to prove to yourself that you are confident bringing your camera to the store. They can all see you waiting with it in the basket on top of your bag – waiting for the perfect moment when everyone is done selecting their organic frozen pizza. I see you light up. You have your moment. You have your shot. You did it. And I can see you.
You’re distracted again when you’re supposed to be editing. They’ve pulled you in again and the imposter monster is sitting behind your right shoulder whispering to you as you scroll through the sea of beautiful, unattainable work. I see you as your shoulders slump and the work you were so excited about minutes before becomes garbage in your mind. She’s got that light and that water and that preset with the perfect blend of contrast and clarity and how are you ever going to get a shot like that in your land-locked tiny town? How will anyone ever notice you if you can’t make work like that? And where is everyone getting all the money and time to go to Iceland? If you could just have more time and money, you could go to Iceland and make work like that, too. Then you’d be noticed. And when you abandon your computer and head outside to clear your head, I can see you as the light comes from behind your garage in a way that makes your heart soar. You grab your camera. And you try again. I can see you.
It’s Sunday evening and you’ve been gone all weekend, photographing other peoples’ families while your family carried on without you. You can hear your children’s soft snoring in their bedrooms while the glow from your computer illuminates the dark room. You’re filled with questions: “Why am I even doing this?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Will I ever be great?” And you think about giving it all up. You have two weeks of work for each session you shot and you feel like you didn’t charge enough to miss these moments with your family, but you need to get the work out there. You need people to notice you. To see you. You don’t know what you’d do without being a photographer and you need to make this work. You need to make it all work. I can see you.
I see you. You’re struggling through obscurity, trying to make a name for yourself while trying to make work that feeds who you are on the inside – but what does that even look like anymore? Maybe motherhood clouded it a bit, making it difficult to see who you are outside of your familial identity – not allowing you to remember who you really are at your core. You find beauty in everything and honing in on your photographic identity is impossible. The work you love isn’t popular or you don’t love the popular work. You’re afraid people won’t get what you’re doing, so you give them what you think they want. But it’s not you. You want to let your voice shine through, but you can’t see it. But I can see it, because I can see you. And I can see that the power is already within you.
You are a photographer because you can’t not be a photographer. You can see the beauty of the world through the viewfinder that you can’t see without it. You can find meaning in the details when you’re at 85mm and you find the joy in a moment at 24. You can make time stand still at 1/4000th of a second and you can capture a feeling at f/1.4. You can make a timid woman confident, you can turn a little kid into a superhero, you can find magic in the light on a dirty window. You can make something out of nothing, find meaning in the mundane, and turn moments into memories. You are here to make a ruckus. To be a force. To be heard. To be seen. And I can see you. You just need to be able to see you. Because when you can see yourself as clearly as I can see you, you are unmistakeable.
My dear photographer, you are poised on the edge of greatness because we are all always just at the edge of greatness. We’re all here with you, just waiting for that perfect last thing to push us to the next stage. But no matter where any of us are on our journey, whether we have 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 followers, greatness is always just out of our grasp. It’s a journey without a destination and you have endless routes you can take, but the carrot is always going to be dangling just one step ahead of you. But you have nowhere else you need to be right now, so you can take your time and pay attention to the cadence of your breath and the sound of your feet on the path. You can rest when you need to and change course if the one you’re on doesn’t fit. I’m going the same way with you, though, so you can reach out if you stumble and seek guidance if you can’t find your way. And I’ll be here to help, because I have walked this way before.
Greatness is what we develop as we venture on the path of uncertainty, not something we get at the end. And we can only become great if we are listening to and looking within ourselves as we continue on the journey. I can see you because I am you and I’ve been you and I’ll be you in ten years. I can see you because I’m just as scared as you are and it’s easy to spot the other deer when the headlights are shining bright. I’ve been lost and conflicted and tried all the things to try to find my purpose in all of this, but I finally realized that I was looking in the wrong places all along – trying to find my inspiration, my vision, my voice by looking at everything around me instead of looking at everything within me. The answers are all right there, I just needed to dig them out.
And I can help you dig, too, if you want. Because we’re all in this together.