Photographer Duane Michals has had a long, successful career as both a fine artist and commercial shooter. When we asked him for a 2016 PDN story about how successful photographers overcome their self-doubt, he shared this empathetic advice for building confidence in yourself, and your work.
“Self-doubt? I don’t understand it myself. Creativity always has to be risky. If you’re in your comfort zone, you’re not really being creative.
“How can you be self-confident when you’re 20 years old? What have you done? You have nothing to build confidence on. I didn’t become a photographer until I was 28. By then I had built up a certain amount of self-confidence doing other things. When I was 15, I read in the McKeesport Daily News that if you go to Texas, and follow the wheat harvest north to Canada, you can make a lot of money. My parents let me go! It was a grand adventure, and it was terrifying. At 17, [I] went to school in Colorado, then at 21, I was in the Army in Germany, during the Korean War. And believe me, if you could survive the Army, you could survive anything.
“Most young people need reinforcement. It’s tough to get out there. You’re so deluged with competition, it’s overwhelming. Everyone comes to town not knowing where to go, what to do, how to start. You have to be your own alpha and omega, your own judge. When I found photography, I knew I found my thing. That was a revelation, and so liberating. Once you find that thing, whatever it is, nothing can stop you. Don’t depend on other people [for affirmation]. I trusted my intuition. That’s what I learned very early: to trust my intuition. I shoot first and ask questions later. I also didn’t need anybody’s approval. I had nobody applauding me when I did my first shows.”
How Top Photographers Conquer Self-Doubt, Part 1
How Mark Peterson Stays Inspired and How He’s Fueled His Long Career
What I Didn’t Learn in Art School: Life Lessons from Photographers
Advice from Editorial and Fine Art Photographers about Succeeding in Advertising
Amanda Marsalis on Overcoming Her Midcareer Challenges
Advice from The Trenches for Graduating Photography Students
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