Photo Celebrity Origin Stories. Or, why can't we admire people who do stuff right?

Jimmy Moore as "Black Stash" in Zach Theatre's, "Peter and the Star Catcher." 

I find it comforting and natural that in most professions people admire those who worked hard, worked smart, paid their dues and didn't let their own demons and crappy (selfish?) lifestyle choices derail their ascendence to top positions in their fields. It's rare to find someone in the field of investing that doesn't admire Warren Buffett. Mr. Buffett became one of the richest people in the world the old fashioned way; he studied and read (and still reads) everything he could get his hands on. He mastered the details of investing which include research and analysis. He does his homework. He has succeeded not just in business but by all accounts also in his family life, his role as a parent and as a valuable member of his community. He lives modestly and without drama. He seems to be living a very happy life.

Great movie directors like Steven Spielberg can point to the same sort of trajectory; through deep learning, mastery, imagination and a keen eye toward figuring out how to best finance the work he wants to do. He was not side-tracked by the drama of going into situations in which he was in well over his head. No big personal dramas which affected his clear path toward getting done what it was he wanted to get done: Direct big (and small) wonderful movies. 

I look to people in my own life who have become successful in their fields (including photography) and see people who may stumble from time to time but who mostly hew to a course they want to follow, learn more every day, and follow the time proven advice of experts. They save for a rainy day, they understand that compound interest can be their best friend or their worst enemy. They have insurance against unexpected pitfalls. They are responsible. They don't blindly spend money they don't have in a reckless fashion, which would endanger their family's financial health and limit their own opportunities. 
And mostly they work with their family and friends as an interconnected social team.

Why is it so different in the popular quasi-fiction of our current web-celebrity photographers? Why are examples of people who've repeatedly made horrible life decisions, amazingly poor business decisions, and who have tossed themselves and their families into painful (and unnecessary) debt, held up to us as exemplars of our industry. People to emulate? Why do we find Icarus Resurrected to be a fable that we want attached to our pursuits as artists, or just as business people who do imaging? 

Do we believe that their self-inflicted suffering imbues them with some special understanding of life and the process of art? If that were true would they not be practicing their art full tilt with this new understanding, gained while having their wings melt apart, and while screaming in terror as they plunged back down to the firmament? But no, most who fail because of their lack of discipline, or preparation, or planning are just making arrangements for their latest trip down another rabbit hole:  "teaching" (as in workshops).  Do we really want to believe so strongly in redemption stories?

Wanna gauge whether or not you should be taking business and shooting advice from one of these repeatingly failing wunderkind? Demand a look behind the curtain. Who benefits from their "teaching?" Beside the fees they take in does the student really benefit or is the whole enterprise a charade underwritten by a sponsor who, in the end, is the real winner? Is the "teacher" still teetering on the edge of a financial abyss? Have they really learned anything other than the magic incantation or promise of hidden knowledge readymade for pulling in workshop attendees in order to supplement the new "teacher's" income. Is the incessant sharing of their foibles meant to foster some sort of preferred underdog status in our industry? 

Maybe a better series of workshops (and something that would really help our industry) would be structured  around how to actually do the business successfully. How to set up a retirement account. How to save money for a rainy day. How to grow your business in a smart way. How to bill. How to market. How to sell. How to stay married (a proven way to become wealthier, by the way...). How to balance a career with your family. How to make your kids proud of you... And maybe the courses could be taught by solid professionals instead. 

The real secret to a happy and fulfilling life in photography, as far as I can see, is to do well every day. Being happy doing good work. Sustainability. Freedom from anxiety over money. Because wherever you go in this world you still have you to work with....

Just a thought after reading my 50th back from bankruptcy redemption fable from photographers on the web.

Easy lesson? Don't buy stuff you can't afford. 


atmtx said...

Yup. And, I'm also sick of reading about life suggestions from youngsters, who have redeemed themselves once after a harsh lesson, but really have no track record in life. Maybe, I'm officially turning into a grumpy old man.

Mitch said...

Everybody loves a redemption story. Or a "success" story. So these hucksters figure out how to get paid to tell people about what they did to wreck their lives and or businesses. Or how they now earn seven figures from their "business" veiling the fact that it comes from telling you about running a business and not actually doing so. Bonus points if your workshop collateral materials have misty photos of you holding your cute mini dog or sitting anywhere outdoors in flannel holding a hot beverage with two hands.

Oh and the special one click Lightroom actions are discounted with every seminar registration. The Wedding-Industrial complex is loaded with such hucksters selling the dream of six figure spare time businesses (to everyone else in your town too) that allow you to have a "lifestyle" while spinning in merry circles and snapping away every once in awhile.

Lou Lesko of BlinkBid has a few videos up on You Tube that I've been sending to newer photographers in some Facebook groups. He does a bit of what you suggest.

Yeah, eyes on the goal. Work hard. Take chances but not risks. Occasionally buy used. Learn the gear you have. Shoot lots.

Beats working for a living.

Anonymous said...

"I'd just abandoned my wife and children at a bus station and was settling into my life as a crack addict when a stranger came up and put a Canon digital Rebel in my hands and it changed my life forever. A year later I was shooting "A" listers like Beyonce. Come take my class and learn how you too can go from loser to ultra-pro in one weekend." Heard it and read it too many times before.