Honest Talk from Photographers about Self-Doubt and Perseverance

Posted by on Tuesday October 18, 2016 | Business

Photo © Pamela Hanson

Photo © Pamela Hanson

In our issue on Longevity, the editors at PDN asked photographers to consider what it takes to sustain long, productive and creative careers. The photographers we interviewed talk honestly about the lessons they have learned through experience—including their encounters with adversity. Anyone who has managed to survive in the fast-changing photo industry, and watched visual trends come and go, has faced some career setbacks or creative blocks. But it’s not something photographers like to talk about with their peers (and competitors), so it was refreshing and inspiring to learn from photographers who have come through difficult times and continued to make work they’re proud of.

When Doug Menuez and Pamela Hanson reflected on their years in the business, they both mentioned that being photography’s flavor of the month is fun and exciting, but it’s not sustainable. When a fad changes or attention fades, photographers need to plan ahead. Menuez said that after an early setback, he learned to write a business plan and to set long-term goals for his art and for his business. The plan helped him weather business ups and downs, and also allowed him to save money he invested in personal projects that have stimulated his passion and creativity. Menuez says he reassesses his business plan every five or six years in order to clarify the goals he wants to achieve. Balancing art with commerce is difficult, he noted. Sometimes in the pursuit of commercial success, he risked his creative success.

Many readers like our article on how photographers handle self-doubt—maybe because self-doubt is familiar to everyone. We’ve now posted Part I of the article on PDNOnline. Over the next two weeks, you can read how Jamel Shabazz, Terry Evans, Art Streiber, David Alan Harvey, Ami Vitale and other photographers have coped with criticism or their own fear of failure. To some, doubt has been a powerful motivator. But they had to decide how they define success. Is it pleasing critics or clients, telling stories they’re eager to share, finding personal satisfaction or landing assignments that will pay for a family vacation?

Photographers who have found themselves in a creative or professional rut said their business stalled because they had spent too much time thinking about the next job or the next phone call, and not thinking about the shape of their careers. When a particular technique or subject earns a photographer some critical or commercial success, the impulse is to keep making the same work over and over again. Then one day, they get bored with the work they’re making—or their clients do. The way out of this trap was to get back to shooting what they love to shoot. As we were working on the Longevity issue, I reread an essay about writing by George Orwell. Orwell wrote, “You can only create if you can care.” Shooting the work you care about doesn’t guarantee great reviews or big jobs, but as Menuez says, “If you don’t try, you’ll never hit it out of the park.”

Related articles

How Mark Peterson Stays Inspired and How He’s Fueled His Long Career

Amanda Marsalis on Overcoming Her Mid-Career Challenges

How Photographers Conquer Self-Doubt, Part I

Getting Your Career Back on Track: Augustus Butera’s Strategic Intervention


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