I remember being a senior in college and visiting the career placement office in the hopes of finding my destiny-a professional job. While there I and other classmates were told that job offers came in for students at a ratio of 1 job offer per 20 applications submitted. What is interesting about ratios is that the ratio simply holds over time; upon acceptance of a job, the student will have submitted 20 applications for each offer. That meant we might have to submit 40 applications before receiving 2 offers, or 60 applications before receiving 3. The placement officer encouraged us to not take rejection letters personally and instead to collect them thereby marking our steps toward our job.
I took the advice to heart and collected my rejection letters. If the ratio held true, as he promised, I would eventually receive a job-I just needed to submit enough applications. So I collected each rejection as a badge of honor and used them to wallpaper my room, each one getting me one step closer to my goal.
The same can be said of cliched photographs. I once heard somewhere that we all have 10,000 cliched images in us that we need to get out before we really begin to find our voice with the camera. We all shoot our feet at some point; we all take self portraits in the mirror; we all take pictures of our coffee cups; and the flowers we bought and put in a vase; and the empty road in the middle of nowhere; and the moon; and the sunset. It’s not that they’re bad images, per se. They’re not. You like them. You took them. Heck, we all took them at some point. So enjoy them. The only problem is that nearly everyone takes those images, so they’ve become cliche. And to break out of cliche images as a photographer is challenging, takes hard work and discipline, and endurance! We have to get those shots out of our system. Our soul, so to speak, has to get used to speaking through our photographic medium and perhaps those cliched images are the vocabulary lessons. Eventually the soul will catch on and amazing stuff will come out.
So don’t despair if you continue to shoot cliches, so-called snapshots. We all do! It just means we are one step closer to breaking through to using that camera in really creative ways and speaking in a really unique and personal voice. Instead, join me in wallpapering your room with them (well, you wallpaper your room and I’ll wallpaper mine…), showing them off like badges of honor; one step closer. And unlike my college dorm room, it will be pretty cool to look at.