feelings, feedback and followers
Recently, a thread on a photography website where I post images caught my attention. It described a photographer’s feelings when, after a long series of rejections, one of his images was selected for the 1X gallery, bringing his grand total to three “successful” images in three years. As today’s blog is more about the thoughts his post triggered in my own mind rather than his work, I shall refer to this photographer as “T” rather than giving his full name.
In his post, T compared the 1X approach (where curators select gallery images) to Fotoblur, where every image posted by members appears in the general Community Gallery and feedback on individual images is given as and when members feel moved to do so. He found the positive feedback from the Fotoblur community “intoxicating and addictive” even though he felt he had been rewarded for commenting on other people’s images rather than the quality of his work. On the other hand, whilst the stream of 1X rejections hurt, in his view it was a price worth paying for publication and helped him learn to be a better photographer. In his words, “Rejection, if we can handle it, is the engine that drives greater effort, more work, and deeper introspection.”
As someone who has long posted images on Fotoblur and more recently on 1X, this post made me reflect on my response to selection, rejection and feedback. In terms of selection, without doubt having an image published in the 1X gallery is a great thrill and honour. Likewise having work selected for Fotoblur’s ”featured” gallery and published in the magazine, both of which are curated. As T says, such joyous events sustain us through the lean times when few, if any, images catch the curator’s eye for reasons that we will never know, since no feedback is given as part of the curation process.
When it comes to rejection, after the initial feelings of disappointment and frustration on seeing the message “Not selected for the 1X gallery at this time”, my response is to grit my teeth and become even more determined to develop and grow as a photographer. In that respect, I suppose you could view rejection as a spur for improvement – a stick rather than a carrot.
However, “rejection” is not a word which springs to my mind when posting images on Fotoblur, even though images which are not “featured” or published could be considered as rejects, by default. I think this is because of two features on Fotoblur – feedback from members about images posted in the general community gallery and the facility to “follow” a photographer whose work you enjoy and admire. I think of these features as being a supportive “carrot” when it comes to learning to be a better photographer, and something which balance out the implied rejection if an image is not featured or published.
Whilst they may not be the curators, the feedback from Fotoblur community members provides huge support and encouragement, and I value it highly. It does wonders for the self-confidence, which in its turn makes me more ready to experiment and explore different ways of working – or take a chance, if you like. Even if it isn’t “featured”, having an image on the “Community Favourites” pages means you have triggered a reaction in many viewers and reached a diverse range of people. On reflection, I realize that sort of response is important to me.
Of course, there will always be those who promote your work in the hope that you will promote their work in return. This type of horse-trading approach does not appeal to me any more than it appeals to T. Personally, I comment on images that catch my attention and “speak to me” regardless of the author. I do not read comments on my images posted earlier until AFTER I have commented on images submitted by others. In this way, I try not to be influenced by kind words or flattery, but just focus on the merits of the photograph in front of me. I hope that others do the same when looking at my photographs.
I was delighted recently to see that my image “Sky Geometry” not only made it to the front page of Fotoblur’s Favourites, but for a brief but wonderful period occupied the Number 1 slot!
The “followers” network on Fotoblur is different again. This may sound silly, but when people started following my work I began to look at it more critically with my own eyes, thinking about how it might appear to others and not just my own feelings about a particular image. Suddenly I wasn’t showing photos to family and friends any more. Strangers on the other side of the world were looking at my images and forming a view on my work. I would agonize over which image to post and which to hold back; if the image wasn’t up to scratch, I wouldn’t post it.
It’s only natural that self-imposed standards change over time. There are pictures in my photo stream which I would not post today, but I leave them there as a reminder of how much I have learnt over the last few years. And of course, not all my decisions about which images to share are sound. There are some photos which pleased me at the time, but now have little impact and I begin to wonder what I first saw in them. But I guess I’m not the only one with that experience.
720+ people currently follow my work, which is amazing. “Glass Ceiling” was the image in the Community gallery when the number of followers passed the 700 mark, which I still can’t quite believe.
Having followers doesn’t make it any easier to decide what to post in the gallery – if anything, I am more self-critical than ever. The bar goes up each time I’m notified about a new follower – for me that’s a real incentive to create better images. I would like to thank each and every one of you for keeping me on my photographic toes!
I’m not suggesting that the “carrot” approach supported by one photographic website is better or worse than the “stick” approach of the other. The right approach is whatever works for you at that particular time. There are quite a few photographers (including one of the curators) who, like me, post images on both sites. Perhaps we need a mixture of stick and carrot to help our photography along. And sometimes we need a bit more of one than the other in order to move forward. Perhaps the trick is knowing which one to use, when!
Which brings me back to the original forum post by T which set this stream of thought in progress. His post seems to suggest that the strategy to run with rejection paid off eventually, with two images being published on the 1X gallery within a week of each other some five months ago, around July 2011. Out of curiosity, I also took a look at T’s photo stream on Fotoblur. The exact same images were posted there in 2010, one in September the other in November last year, some 7- 9 months before they appeared in the 1X gallery. With this in mind, I can’t help but question whether rejection helps people learn to be a better photographer, or just better at deciding which images to submit in the hope they will be published……