Freedom for Photographers

Freedom for Photographers

May 16, 2017 7 Comments

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!

Regards, PT.

The man that invented the Jetski!

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!

7 Responses

Steen Barnes
Steen Barnes

May 19, 2017

Great work Phil

ted grambeau
ted grambeau

May 18, 2017

Hi Phil.
Great subject and one that indeed needs more clarity. It is misunderstood by a great number of aspiring photo enthusiasts and some professionals.
I must say that I will totally disagree on some aspects of opinions put forward and agree on others.
I think it is healthy that young photographers should be encouraged to peruse unhindered their photography.
But it is also necessary for them to understand that with every creative art is a moral to respect other people work. This is a learning process that is absent in regards to social media
Firstly social media platforms should not tolerate any bullying or intimidation full stop.
Social media is a sharing platform and hence a great source of inspiration and influence.
Duplicating or copying some ones work in realm of professional photography is not just Not cool is literally not tolerated, actually as written in the Code of Professional Practice. (refer to AIPP ). This applies not just to photography it applies to all creative art forms.
The difficult area for people to comprehend is when is inspiration or influence deemed to be copying or duplicating. Sometimes it’s pretty blatant other times it’s a grey area.
For me it can define when there is an absence of a creative process.
The Creative process is a journey not a destination.
We are all influenced by everything we see, every day. Instagram and beyond.
The next step is what separates copying from creating, the commencement of a journey involving conceptualizing,refining techniques, learn about , lens, different mediums,testing, experimenting, repeating over and over again include all our influences of our lives to create a unique piece of Art or image.
The journey will usually result far from where you started and most likely not resemble the earlier inspiration in any way as it was just a minute part of the process. It will be yours and have Integrity.
Long as the influence or inspiration are merely starting points you will be fine
This is a process that is essential for any professional photographer.
The problem is that social media platform is shared by professional and non-professionals.
Most users are really only concerned about likes, which particularly for professionals is a form of currency for getting work. Some professional even pay to increase their followers thus creating more work. Agencies no longer want to see your folio rather how many followers you have.
So in name of likes or followers a confusing sea absent of ethics, most likes wins.
This has created a culture of short cuts, devoid of moral, ethical standards that professional photographic industry tries to uphold.
One last point when photographing the same subject, model wave whatever the subject it is inevitable that there will be similar images appear, this is going to happen from time to time. That’s no big deal.
My advice to young aspiring photographers, take the journey not the short cut.
Be influenced, be inspired. then go on your journey.
It is the only way you will discover style or signature as a photographer.
Great subject.
Enjoy ted

Laura Glantz
Laura Glantz

May 18, 2017

Thank you for this great article! As a budding ocean photographer I am avid follower of your work along with many other successful photographers, I have been truly inspired to find my own version of ocean art. Without each of you showing your own talents and artistic viewpoints I would not be so inspired. Every photographer/artist has a gift and a vision to share with each of their potential students. Thank you for sharing yours and I look forward to seeing more of your works!

Chas Spain
Chas Spain

May 18, 2017

A great piece. Photography is not just art it’s about expressing your understanding and interpreting the visualised world. I love seeing the work photographers around the world are creating and marvel at how their excellence shines out even on a small phone screen. I also love seeing my kids really getting into photography in quite a disciplined way – they really look and think about what they are photographing and what they post. It’s all because of other photographers. I don’t like not being sure whose the picture is – ie if there is not a clear attribution to the creator of the photograph but I love it when there is a bit of a story by the photographer with the photo. These are the best.


May 18, 2017

Thank you very much for your comments. I agree.
I can read and understand almost everything in English, but it is difficult por me to write it. So, I will continue in Spanish. I hope you can understand it.

Gracias por tu comentario. Es una gran verdad. Todos aprendemos cada día viendo fotografías de tantos buenos fotógrafos. Y todos copiamos lo que nos gusta, o intentamos imitarlo. Y eso nos enriquece a todos. Pero, aunque copiemos, es imposible hacer dos fotos iguales. Siempre habrá algún detalle para diferenciar dos imágenes aparentemente iguales. Como periodista y editor durante muchos años, he tratado con muchos profesionales, y en cada uno de ellos he visto siempre algo que los diferenciaba de los otros, por mucho que su estilo, el material que utilizaran o lo que pretendieran transmitir con sus imágenes tuvieran puntos comunes. Incluso aunque la escena fotografiada fuera la misma. El objetivo utilizado, el encuadre, la luz, permiten establecer enormes diferencias entre dos imágenes captadas a la misma hora y en el mismo sitio por dos fotógrafos distintos. Hay siempre una intencionalidad a la hora de disparar. Y eso es algo personal e intransferible.
La fotografía es una forma de expresarse que va más allá de una imagen individual. Puedes copiar una foto, pero no una obra completa.
Como fotógrafo aficionado, he aprendido mucho viendo las galerías de gente como tú, en Instagram y en otras redes sociales. Yo no tengo un ‘corpus’ fotográfico, una obra, lo mío es hacer fotos de los lugares y las situaciones que me gustan. Y si al disparar estoy copiando la foto de alguien, creo que no hago mal a nadie. Y lo mismo si veo que alguien ha ‘copiado’ una foto mía.
En fin, que estoy totalmente de acuerdo con tu comentario.
Juanjo García del Moral.

Kevin Caldwell
Kevin Caldwell

May 17, 2017

Very good commentary on our times Phil. There really isn’t much new under the sun, and most are just re-packaging older ideas and inspiration. Nothing wrong with that, and as you say it’s just about someone putting their own twist on what inspires them. I built my business long before the days of social media, and I’ve seen the negative effects it’s had on a few young photographer and artists here in California. My advice has always been to filter out the negative, learn from the constructive, and keep shooting what you love. Passion will always prevail.

Erik Dombroski
Erik Dombroski

May 17, 2017

Thanks for your insight and thoughts. May those who are hot blooded cool down and those creative be guided by your wise words.

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