Ira Glass (This American Life) shares some timeless advice for overcoming self-doubt in any creative process. According to his theory, self doubt happens when there is a gap between the quality of work an individual puts out and their potential. While many street photographers have the taste to know what good photographs look like, they may lack the experience to achieve that level of quality. The solution? Just keep shooting! Hit the jump for the video.
Ira Glass Creative Advice
I see a lot of street photography that inspires and challenges me. Whether I’m checking out the seemingly impossible feats of photographic wizardry in my favorite Flickr group or browsing the Magnum archives, it’s easy to feel helpless to the fact that my own work rarely lives up to my own high standards.
Ira Glass points out that this is common for every creative process. And it’s all a matter of taste:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I really wish somebody had told this to me… Is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap that for the first couple of years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, it’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, that thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. You know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase, a lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like to say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew that it fell short. It didn’t have this special thing that we wanted it to have. And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase, you gotta know that’s totally normal and the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s actually going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
In my case, like I took longer to figure out how to do this than anybody I ever met. It takes a while, it’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while and you just have to fight your way through that. Okay?
Everyone knows the way to get to Radio City Music Hall is to practice, practice, practice! But the reality is that the very reason you have chosen the creative path is that you aspire to your own standards. And knowing your expectations of yourself won’t always match your ability to create is a relief. It makes the task of endless practice not only bearable but a cohesive part of a larger picture. Every discarded image becomes a single step towards the next excellent image – making each failure a valuable unseen component in your body of work. In other words – the creative process!
The trick here is to make sure you have good taste in street photography before trying to determine the value of your own work. It doesn’t do you any good to keep repeating terrible images over and over without a sense of what makes a good photograph.
Look at a lot of photographs. Really good photographs. Ask yourself why each image stands out to you and appreciate it on a molecular basis. Then go and shoot. Do your images make you feel the same way? Why not? Keep shooting but don’t just shoot the smae thing over and over. Consciously be aware that your taste is evolving and your vision is following close behind. If your images still don’t live up to your expectations then keep shooting!
Don’t try and make images that look like anything else. It’s not about copying or recreating anyone else’s style. But keep prying until you discover what it is about yoru own work that makes it unique. Then keep shooting until your work matches your expectations of yourself. Many street photographers are happy with 100 stand-out images after 20 years of shooting so it’s clear our expectations are high. That’s what makes this worth doing!
What’s your take on Ira Glass creative advice? Obvious or inspirational? Post your ideas in the comments below and keep the conversation going!