Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few thoughts on social media and rejections

In the world we live in today, social media has become a valid tool for us photographers. No, let me broaden it. To us people in general. And the sooner you agree with this, the more information you will be able to gather quickly.

Take for instance, superstorm Sandy. The social media attention this thing got was and is unprecedented. From millions of tweets and live updates by diverse distaster teams and weather forecast centers, to people uploading their millions of pics to Instagram (now we have a whole collection of blurry, yellowish and square images of the storm's effect to drape the pages in our future history books, yeaaah! uuuh).

As many of you know I am on Google Plus. And over there, I curate a nice little 'niche' theme that I 'invented' (invented is a big word but I started it). The #minimalmonday theme. It is all about minimalistic landscape photography. Something that I enjoy doing myself.

Yesterday a fellow photographer approached me with a personal message. It went something like this:

"This week I contributed a picture – for a second time – for your minimalmonday. I commented a couple of times on your posts too. I wonder if there´s any particular reason that you didn´t spend the time to even notice. If my pictures are not good enough to be mentioned in your wrap up (note, that's what I do the day after the theme is active. I curated all the shots that I liked and call it a 'wrap up') ... is one thing... but not even take the time to +1 or thank people spending time to comment on your posts (not only me) annoys me massively. Maybe you could take 5 seconds of your time to think about it."

When I first read that, I was NOT very happy. But the message got me thinking. This is what I concluded.

Social media does go a long way. And it goes both ways. Tooting your own horn all the time is something that is frowned upon. But then again, if you want to play the social media game correctly, it will absorb a lot of you and consume a lot of your time. Be prepared and anticipate this. It is easy to keep track of 5 people. It's another thing to sift trough 50,000 posts. But sometimes, when we lack the time to do it right, it boils down to just putting our own content online. And that's ok too... Social media is a tool that everyone uses in their own personal way.

Social media can (and eventually will) become a catch 22. My life is NOT based on an online presence  nor am I glued to a computer 24/7. Ultimately I'd like to be out more, enjoying life, do photography every single day. And that's where the catch 22 comes in. Do I want to promote myself and other artists on social media (playing it out to the max so to speak) or do I want to be out there and photograph (doing the bare minimum) ...
In the end that is something for you to decide. Don't jump into social media without a battle plan. I see it all the time in my business. Companies open a Twitter and Facebook account hoping this will put their product out there. Social media is not a shop window. Social media is interactive. You need to approach it differently than your website (that's the shop window). Have a plan. And execute it. 

When somebody tells you 'you are doing it wrong', listen. It shows you your battle plan can be tweaked. Apparently this person thought 'I was doing it wrong'. I respectfully disagreed. I comment, +1 and share as much as I personally can with my circles. But I was unaware of that person's work, which happens. You don't expect me to know every photographer's work now do you? I share, without ignoring my main goal. Which is, I am there to promote myself. My own work. That sounds selfish but it is the truth. But with the theme I am trying to do something else. To change the landscape a bit. With the theme I am trying to promote other people's work. Photographers that I really like. A lot of photographers who I have struck a friendship with too by the way.
Telling me 'I don't take the time to look at all the submissions', is wrong (because I do). But it is very naive of that artist to tell me I should ad his/her work to the wrap up. That's just NOT how it works.

The other thing that I started thinking about was the underlying message this person was trying to tell me. The person though I did not see the photograph in question, I did. But there's an interesting lesson that photographer needs to learn. That lesson is called:


Rejection will happen. And it will happen a lot. If you send your work out to galleries, magazines etc you need to be prepared to get rejected. It is NOT something that has to be taken personally.
Every gallery or magazine or whatever has their own vision of what they want to show in the end. If a curator is asked to prepare an exposition they will try and tell a story. Or have a common theme or genre in the exposition. They are not 'just gonna hang Joe Schmo on the walls because it's the second time he has sent something in'. Joe Schmo his work could be very good. But maybe it is not compatible with any other work or the vision the curator had for this expo. Knowing this, rejection does NOT mean your work is bad. That's why you should not take it personal.

Sometimes (if you are lucky) they will sent you a rejection letter. Most of the time, they do not.
When you get rejected, take a minute to think about WHY you submitted any of your work to this magazine or gallery in the first place. What was your reason? Do you want people to – in this case +1 – everything you produce? And if they don't, you feel like a bad photographer? Or was it something else...

It's funny right? When I look at my own work, I don't give anything about 'other people's opinions'. Those opinions should not dictate the way you feel about your own work. Nor should YOU force your opinions onto someone else's art. Here's the thing though. I enjoy when people like my work, but I don't NEED the compliments to feel good about what I do. My work comes from a more personal level (read the previous blog post about 'why I photograph').

Also rejection can learn you something else far more valuable. When you are entering your work into competitions or for magazines and art shows, keep the following in mind.

Curators love artists with a unique vision. 

It sounds logical right? But it is not. And when I go back to the theme, I see it every single week. There's maybe 3-5 artists that have their own vision. I will recognize their work from a far. Other – less experienced – artists will copy particular looks and feels. There's nothing wrong with that of course because that is a natural step in someones career, right? But think about it when you enter your work into competitions. Is your work that unique? Do you have your own vision. Step back and be honest about that...

Also keep in mind that curators do like 'emotion and feeling' far better than 'technical excellence'. They look at the big picture of an exposition for example. If your 'crappy' image is a better fit in the overal picture than that 'technically perfect' picture by one of your peers, then you'll get a show. Curators don't care about how you photographed a scene using an 8x10 camera and film or a little point and shoot. The thing about being an artist is that you have to be able to tell a story with your work. Not produce lifeless work without a soul after lifeless work without a soul. The faster you see this, the better your work will become.

I can go on and on and give you reason after reason to why work is selected or not but that would make it a really really long post but I won't. The only thing I can say is – and I've said it before – believe in what you do, continue to work hard, try to improve and fine tune your vision, your skills and persevere.  That's what I've been doing year after year. Everyone gets rejected. But the ones that keep going at it and look at 'rejection' as not something personal, will eventually make it.

Rejection is part of what we do. Just embrace it. There is so much you can learn from it.