There is a teacher of photography that few speak of in today’s industry. She is shunned by many and with good reason.
Nobody seems to like her.
She has taught photography and business for as far back as anyone can remember, but bring up her name today and it will be met with the rolling of eyes and snickers. And not the candy bar kind.
She used to headline most events, back in the day, but now, she’s rarely asked to speak. Too old fashioned and antiquated, I suppose. She used to be heralded as the greatest teacher in the universe, one whose lessons are priceless and not to be ignored. But today, not so much. In fact, many photographers don’t even recognize a need for what she teaches and those that do learn quickly that she pulls no punches. She is relentless, unyielding, uncompromising and determined.
Quite frankly, she’s a b**ch.
Her name: Experience.
Experience delights in teaching photographers lessons. She kind of gets off on it. Her methods have been around since the beginning of time. She charges nothing to teach you, but that doesn’t mean she’s free. Oh, no. In fact, just the opposite. She’s rather expensive, and most of the time you don’t learn what she has to teach until you’ve spent money and time and tears and sprouted gray hairs. Time is actually part of her lesson plan which is why most no longer want her around.
She happily teaches anyone who asks her; she isn’t selective or picky. She doesn’t care where you’ve come from or how much money you have in the bank or your level of ability. A willingness to learn is her only requirement. And time…always time.
Sometimes her lessons are easy and her reminders gentle; other times, they hit you like a ton of bricks, flattening you out and leaving you wondering what happened. But, if you stay the course and open yourself up to her years of teaching, the wisdom and insight you achieve will astound you.
The irony is that many photographers want the benefits of Experience but they don’t want to endure the time she takes to teach them, because, let’s face it, as anyone who has attended her class can tell you, it takes many, many years to benefit from what she has to offer. She will do whatever it takes to teach you what you should do, but more importantly, what not to do.
For most, she only has to teach a certain lesson once for it to be understood; for others, it takes several lessons on the same subject before it sinks it, and having taught it once, you will recognize the lesson when you see it again, or she will remind you, again and again. Yes, Experience can not impart her wisdom unless we devote years to her teachings.
And to a photographer just starting out, those years ahead are daunting, filled with uncertainty. Nobody wants to wait. They want to be successful NOW.
So, instead of allowing Experience to teach, the industry has gone another route: they have replaced Experience and her years of wisdom with Mr. Fast Track. You’ve heard of him, I’m sure. He’s kind of the cool kid in town, and photographers line up to hear him speak. Oh, he’s smooth, real smooth, and hip and trendy. He’s like the photography equivalent of Weight Loss Pills-guaranteed to work overnight. He’s got answers for everything AND a workbook, forum, DVD and/or downloadable e-book.
Mr. Fast Track knows that Experience isn’t fun and he counts on the fact that many of today’s photographers don’t want to take a slow and steady climb on the back of Experience. Heck no. They would rather sink into Mr. Fast Track’s cool leather seats and be whisked around the track a few times to give them the feeling they are going somewhere, and then dropped off, excited and breathless and only ten feet from where they started out.
He speaks not of time and commitment and hard work. Are you kidding? He’s no buzzkill. No, he speaks of things like “Path to Photography Riches,” and “Six-Figure Income in 30 Days” and “Secrets to Success.” And he does well in his endeavors, very well, for he seems to always have people ready to hop onboard.
But, Experience has a little secret. Even while Mr. Fast Track is teaching his tips and tricks for getting ahead in as little time as possible, she’s still there…watching. We don’t see her, because we’re focused on the “secrets” and the “shortcuts” but she is there, in the background watching…and waiting, patiently taking it all in and developing a plan. And although we won’t find it out until later, she is still teaching.
And after the sparkle has worn off the fast track and the shortcuts fizzle to nothingness, she steps out from the shadows, raises a knowing eyebrow and reminds us that even when we succumb to nonsense, there are still things to be learned, for with every lackluster promise we buy, every disappointment we encounter, she is teaching us what not to do next time. Every offer of instant success we snatch up, every coupon we click promising wealth without work, Experience is there, applying her wisdom to our folly.
Experience demands we learn and will find ways to make sure we take her wisdom to heart. Sometimes she’ll hit us in our bank account; sometimes it’s one-on-one with a client; other times it’s that pit in your stomach as you download your images and remember that thing you forgot to do.
And not just in the beginning of our careers…oh no. Experience is the teacher you have with you all your life, for as we encounter new challenges in photography and in our businesses, she rises up and begins to teach once again. Even those photographers for whom she has spent a lifetime training and coaching can forget the early lessons she taught. And trust me, her kick in the pants hurts even worse when it’s a reminder of something you should already know.
So don’t try to run from Experience or buy into the idea you don’t need what she has to teach. Because you do. We all do.
About the author: Missy Mwac is a photography satirist, a lover of bacon, a drinker of vodka, a lover of sparkle, and a guide through the murky waters of professional photography. You can connect with her on Tumblr and Facebook.