If you're an Instagrammer, then this article is for you. Especially if you've ever suffered anxiety, been subject to some sort of bullying or you've been the bully. Read on..
Hello, Phil Thurston from @thurstonphoto here. I’ve been in the photography game for long enough now to notice some unhealthy trends circulating, more so as of late than ever. I’ve decided to speak up and address this increasingly distressing issue that has been affecting a lot of people, my friends and peers included. Please read through and understand my endeavour to amend these unfortunate ongoing conflicts on social media.
Having personally taught photography at my last few workshops, I’ve become aware that people aspire to be like others, that’s how a lot of people start out before they find their own creative niche. That’s very natural, and whether we all agree or not, none of us started out with a completely blank canvas, our predecessors set benchmarks and pioneered many of the concepts and principles that we as photographers now take advantage of and use today.
Hard work, consistency and creative vision will see us as individuals, successfully break into our own level of influence, which I know from personal experience; takes A LOT of hard work. However, a quick look back through the history books is all it takes to see that there are a lot of repetitive concepts, concepts that people take and improve on, which has created the evolving industry of photography that we have today. What some may refer to as ‘Original work’, is simply a combination of how we see and our interpretation of the work of whom we’ve been influenced by, that’s a fact. If you’ve ever flicked through Instagram, even once, or walked down any city street, or basically opened your eyes these days, you too have been subject to influential imagery. Accusing people of copying, imitating or plagiarising ones work, is an attitude that our predecessors would be absolutely ashamed of. Photography is a fulfilling lifestyle that should be enjoyed by whoever wishes to pursue it! For the sake of our future generations, the influencers among us must not develop attitudes of ownership over a style or particular type of photo, because if we do, it will shunt the creative capacity of our future generations. I’ve seen this first hand - Young kids ‘worried’ about what people may think, so much so, that it’s stopping them from picking up a camera altogether! To think in the future, our kids will have to tip toe around each other with a fearful mentality, “can’t shoot this, can’t shoot that”, “so and so claims to have shot that first, so that’s off limits”, “can’t shoot black and white of this subject or this person will be upset..” and so on. It’s flat-out ridiculous. It’s not a matter of where you get an idea from, it’s where you can take that idea to and no-one is an exception to that. You may think your idea is a first but that idea you’ve conceived and put out there was built around the concepts of those that have had the most influence in your life, and I can guarantee, someone will take your 'original idea' and better it. That’s how things work. It’s called development, or evolution might sit better for some, it’s a constant, inevitable, technology-assisted progression.
Photographers all over the world have the right to photograph what they want, process the image how they want, and share it, WITHOUT fear of people judging them. Simple as that.
Professionals should thrive on challenge, not shun it, if someone challenges my work, it makes me better, it’s a necessary discomfort that pushes the best in us to become better. If you’re an influencer on Instagram or Facebook (which you probably are to some degree if you’re reading this), consider that role a privilege to use for the good of others, not a title to defend, an influencer that develops any sense of entitlement, will not stay in that role for long.
“Favour upon me, MUST benefit the people under me, or it is mis-used.” Quote Bill Johnson. The thing about favour, is that it won’t rest very long on a person with selfish ambitions. It’s so important, for the sake of our future generations, to not use any power we have gained or been given for our own selfish gain, or to build ones own name, because regardless of how hard we have worked or what we’ve been through, whatever we have in life can so quickly be taken away if our attitude doesn’t line up with our achievements. Just think, if everyone started developing this “You copied me” attitude and this false sense of “I did it first” rubbish, photography would become the biggest s**t fight ever! (For lack of a better phrase) Who wants that to happen!?
I’ve recently been accused of this exact thing and have seen a lot of others experience it as well and even been temporarily defeated by it, it's literally a form of bullying. But there is an opportunity in every problem if we see it from a healthy perspective. So I reached out and communicated with the individuals that opposed me, to trade some context and thought spaces and settle the matter. Not everyone approaches it this way though and often people may unintentionally resort to social media channels like Instagram or Facebook to express their thoughts or opinions. The thing is though, with the nature of social media, such actions can quickly fester into conflict and division. This isn’t new information, it should be broadly understood that social media is generally not the place for emotional outlet. It takes a bit more of a mature approach to open a direct line of contact with someone that opposes you and settle your differences offline, an approach that I highly recommend people at least try!
Naturally when conflict arises, people start to side with one or the other. Thing is though, there shouldn’t be any sides or any division in a healthy environment. I’ve now seen enough bickering to feel the need to address it, and this kind of thing will only stop with re-educating our own mindsets. If you’re someone that feels like you need to defend your style, or photographic concepts, and don’t want people to be influenced by your photos, then don’t post them. Simple as that. By putting your work out there, trust me, people with less skill and experience will try to copy, but that’s ok. If anything it’s a complimentary thing. No one can exactly replicate another’s work, and if they can, it can’t have been that unique in the first place. Some of us are no doubt gifted in areas, but gifts aren’t given to us just so we can sell prints, build a big following and have exhibitions with our name on it.. no, they are to help other people find their own purpose and passion in life. If EVER, what we do is damaging or takes away from another’s purpose or passion, then that’s the worst possible outcome we can produce with the gifts we’ve been entrusted with.
Iron sharpens iron, creating a peer is far better than creating an enemy. Having run the @ocean feature account for many years on Instagram, I’ve publicly commended and encouraged all my peers and ‘competition’ to hundreds of thousands of people, promoting people that are in my same market! And trust me I don’t sell as many prints as some may think! So on that basis alone, you can trust I’ve spoken all this out of a place of understanding and stability. I consider my role as a responsibility to see the next generation of photographers create and explore their passion unhindered and not suppressed by the insecurities and attitudes of an unsettled minority. And listen, I’m not against anyone here, people go through seasons of justifiable attitudes and change is a process, it’s important that the process is supported by people of good intention though. I admire the people that push the creative capacity of the whole industry, but for the sake of our upcoming future photographers, I won’t tolerate people, especially my friends being hurt and restricted by immature attitude issues. No one has the right to suppress the creative capacity of people that are simply having a go, in an effort to protect something that is not even theirs.
Get out there, create, and ENJOY the process, photography is such a great lifestyle! Don’t let your identity be determined by the size of your following or status. Let it be determined by your heart and passion. Don't compare yourself to others, because by doing so, you will begin to rejoice in others misfortunes and get depressed when others prosper; don't be that person. Someone else's gain is not your loss, and another's loss, is not your gain. A healthy soul is not vulnerable to what others think or say about them. You were not born to be subject to anxiety and depression at the mercy of another persons opinion about you, instead, be empowered to be your own creative self!
Thanks for reading, hope you feel better!
The man next to me in this image INVENTED THE JETSKI. That's right, he invented the very first Jetski, craziest story ever! He sold his design to Yamaha I'm pretty sure, or Honda, and I think his name was John and his lovely wife took this photo of us in Byron at none other than the legendary Craig Parry Gallery! (Which is epic!) I've literally stood on this mans inventions for a significant amount of the photos I've taken, and I was absolutely honoured to have the opportunity to thank him. I thanked him for his life's work, that has empowered me to stand out in the ocean and photograph waves that would never have been possible without his creative passion and energy. Like I said, It would be a dishonour to take full ownership of my images when there are people out there like John, who's shoulders I'm standing on to capture a lot of my work, metaphorically, but almost literally. Let's NEVER forget those who came before us and just as importantly let us not forget about those that will come after us!