I always say the Universes' No. 1 hiding place for the most awesome shit is right behind fear. Isn't that a little unfair? Why does the Universe not place it right before fear so everyone can enjoy pure bliss? Although there are a million laws in the Universe, you only need to know one for your photography right now: it expands. Always. But what does that have to do with fear, being dumb and your photos?
If the Universe always expands, you have to comply or otherwise you'll struggle. If all your friends try out new things and you don't, you won't fit in anymore. Imagine the company you work for expands big time. You either grow with it and embrace the change or you'll get fired. As long as you have a relationship with something or someone, you relate to each other. Once you relate to each other, you are connected. If your friend tows your car, you better not hit the breaks.
It's the same with the Universe, your life and your photography. Since the Universe expands, you as a person and a photographer have to do the same. Otherwise you fight against the biggest force in existence. Yeah, let's better not mess with that one. I tried it multiple times and almost died that way with severe suicidal depression due to my ADHD. You can take vacations, you can take creative breaks, but as soon as you stagnate (creative) depression hits you. Maybe it won’t hit you as severe as it did for me, but every one of us can become depressed. But why do you have to be dumb to become better at photography and life?
Although the definition of smart and dumb depends on where you are from, let's try something here. Always decide for yourself whether you would consider the following person smart or dumb: Is it dumb to quit your well-paying job while in debt to become an artist with no savings and not one sale in sight? Would you consider it clever to go against the advice of hundreds of well-educated people to do so? How smart is it really to be homeless over and over again to just take photos all day that no one really needs? As someone that studied statistics and goes by reason and logic, I got to tell you it sounds dumb as fuck. So why the hell would you want to be the dumb photographer?
Well, it already makes you unique by default. If you always go where no one goes, you'll end up where no one ends up. If you always do what no one does, you'll get what no one gets. Whether it eventually leads to your own photography paradise depends on how well you learn and improve from your mistakes, of course. But the insights, knowledge and skills you gain are very rare and precious. It's the road less taken and that's what makes all the difference. For you, for your photography and all photographers you care about!
So how can you be the "dumbest" photographer in the world? It's actually pretty easy. Although it may seem counter-intuitive and a lot of people will judge you, this is the one rule you have to follow:
Always go where no one goes!
There is a reason why it has served as perfect fuel for the motor of change in history. As soon as you feel that you are part of the masses, leave. Turn around, walk away and forge your own path. It may feel lonely and you have to trust your instincts more than ever before, but it's the right way. How could you ever experience your journey as unique if millions of others have walked it before? How could you grow as a human and photographer if you just follow the steps of others? So should you blindly walk where no one walks?
No. Listen well what most photographers advise you. Evaluate how successful they are with their philosophy. As long as they are not where you want to be, why would you follow their advice? It doesn't lead to your personal goals. They will have the best arguments in the world to defend their path and it's their right to do so. But you also have the right to learn from it and go elsewhere.
Why is this article not called "10 Crystal Clear Ways To Become More Successful"? Because abstract guidance if done right leaves you much more room to create your own thoughts, actions and steps. Any rule or advice you read that dictates steps and a path rather than helps you define and create your very own, is bad. It's turning your unique creative soul into a bad remix of what's already been done or someone else does at the moment.
Your Eye, Heart & Soul is one in 7.5 billion. Embrace it!
So what does it mean to become the dumbest photographer in the world? I personally believe that you can only teach what you've personally proven with your own success. If you want to start your own business, from whom would you rather learn? A college professor that knows all economic theories in the world or an entrepreneur that already achieved your goal and runs multiple successful businesses? If you want to check how "smart" a photographer is, just tell him this:
"Pics or it didn't happen!"
If a theory isn't proven by a successful photographic experiment, it's merely a hypothesis. Hence, the photographic scientist claims wisdom, but doesn't put it to the test himself.
In science you always base your studies on the proven facts of other studies. Reason and logic are the driving forces behind it. But that doesn't apply to photography or art. Photography is emotional. Period. As soon as you try to calculate it, it loses heart and soul. Although business is insanely emotional to me, it's just as logical if not more. It's rather a puzzle than a painting. There are proven ways to run a profitable business, but where will proven strategies in photography get you?
Besides some basic technical knowledge and some basic composition rules, it's as far as it goes. Photography is 10% logical and 90% emotional. Hence 90% you have to figure out yourself and 10% you can learn from others. Just compare photography to poetry or novels. The 10% is the ABC and grammar, 90% is having a great (visual) story to tell from within. If it truly was the other way around, we would all take the same photos, wouldn't we? Do 90% of the photos you see online offer you a rather unique perspective of the world? No, because having the honesty to look within yourself for inspiration is way harder than looking left and right.
To be honest, I'd rather not even give you any proven examples of mine. I would love to keep your creative soul free and independent. Picasso claimed: "Good artists copy, great artists steal". I know what he means, but I politely disagree. Good artists copy, great artists steal people's hearts by pouring their own into their artworks. The answer is always within you, not around you. It's not in the past nor in the future, it's in the now. That's where you are and that's where your photography and art has the most fertile soil! Connect the dots from the past, but focus on creating in the now.
Don't get me wrong, enjoy the art of your fellow photographers from the bottom of your heart, but that's it. Don't fall in love with them, love yourself and let them fall in love with you! That's the true meaning of giving. Please feel free to steal the mindset behind the following examples, but create a unique journey and photography that can't be copied. That way you become touchable and untouchable in the best way possible!
Just consider the following examples that were captured due to "dumbness", not lessons to be replicated. In 2013 when I discovered street photography, I tried to educate myself on the subject to improve. No matter where I looked or whom I asked, the "golden rules" were pretty clear. But what happens if you're dumb, don't listen and do the exact opposite?
1) True emotions come from strong facial expressions:
2) Don't capture people's backs, it's unemotional:
3) People walking past buildings are boring:
4) Black and white highlights structures and patterns best:
5) Black and white brings out more “soul”:
6) Zoom lenses are a big no-go:
7) Eye contact attracts viewers the most:
8) The quieter and smaller the camera, the better:
9) Capture unique characters that stand out:
10) The closer you get to the subject, the better:
I hope this article inspires you to become a bit more hungry and foolish like Steve Jobs used to say. Be dumb, take risks, trust your instincts and create your own path, because that's the only path there is. It may be more challenging at first, but it's much more rewarding in the long-term. Even though we both walk the road less travelled, doesn't mean that we are lone wanderers without travel companions. We can always share our unique insights with each other. Whether it's through social media, emails or meeting up every once in a while in this insanely beautiful forest of Billions of creative souls.
If you have any questions or ideas on how we could become dumber together, please reach out to me. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this to re-evaluate my own. Let me try to finish this article with the dumbest last line I could come up with:
If you want to be dumb, follow my advice, but if you want to be the dumbest photographer in the world, please don't and share your insights with all of us!
All the best from Amsterdam,