It is difficult living in San Francisco. Sure, it's an amazing city where you can take weekend trips to the world famous Napa Valley or take a day trip to ski in Lake Tahoe. Travel just north of the Golden Gate and you're hiking in the dense Muir Woods made dramatic by the fog. Choose to stay in the city and you have your pick of amazing restaurants featuring cuisines ranging from Afghani to Peruvian; walk a couple blocks and you can enjoy coffee from Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Philz or Four Barrel. Name it and it's yours.
But take all of those away and what do you get? Like any metropolitan city, this city is filled with young professionals trying to make a name for themselves. There's a new startup sprouting up on a Soma street corner more often than the number of days you've taken off to go snowboarding in Tahoe. There is unique energy in this city, maybe it's an energy in any large city. If we feel like we haven't been doing something amazing for one day out of the week, we feel like we've been left behind. If we're not getting a promotion at our current job, we're looking at the next company that can give us what we want to get ahead of others. There's a feeling that has elevated itself into a sort of pop-culture phenomenon; FOMO. This fear of missing out on what your friends are doing isn't just about how you want to be the one experiencing these events, but there is a small voice in your heart wanting to shout out to the rest of world that your life is one worth desiring. You want to be the one telling everyone how amazing you are at your work or the one taking all these amazing trips. You fear missing out on opportunities in life because you crave for others to desire your life.
Building a brand in photography, I am not immune to such thoughts and desires. There are times when you begin to look at other photographers and you see how talented they are. You look at their work and try to imagine if you're capable of taking the same pictures. I might critique the way that this photographer has composed the photo, how the subject is lighted, and begin to think of how I might be able to do better. I look at how many photography jobs these photographers get, and I look at how many photography jobs I get. It's only natural as humans to begin comparing our talents with the talents of others, to gauge if we've done better or worse.
Teddy Roosevelt said that "Comparison is the thief of all Joy." This could not be more true. I ran into a post from an aspiring photographer a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me.
As a young photographer you're tasked with knowing how well you're doing. If I could tell other young photographers one thing, it's to stop looking over your shoulder at the person next to you. Stop psyching yourself out out of shooting because you think you aren't good enough. I spent years doing that, and it's as absurd as it is common. Try comparing your work to itself...look at how you progress from one year to the next, and use that technique to discover where you've improved, what areas you need to work on, and which subjects excite you. Learn to identify what blows up your skirt up in the back, and understand that it's a process, and a long one at that. You don't have to be the brightest shining start in your junior year of college. Tons of amazing photographers don't hit their stride until their 30s, 40s, sometimes 50s.
Comparison is easy and I've found myself comparing my work to other photographers in this city who make more money than I. Heck I've even compared my work with people I've never met on the other side of the globe. But rather than that, I must look to my own work. I think back to one of the first photos that I ever took in high school (below) which I am now selling for the first time. It is during high school where I first learned to develop film and develop on actual photo paper. Like a muscle I must exercise this muscle that looks at my own work to see how far I've come rather than compare myself to others around me.
It is difficult living in San Francisco. If critiquing others is all that you do, all that you're left with is your own critique. You haven't produced anything of value for anyone, least of all yourself.
*50% of proceeds donated to Because Justice Matters