Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 - Nicholas Calcott

Alec Soth, from his new project ‘The Last Days of W’

Alec Soth (whose latest project, ‘The Last Days of W,’ is, I think, his strongest by far; coverage here and here) is continuing with his mission to revive the Magnum blog and make it a more regularly updated space, and one of his latest posts deals with advice for young photographers:

Instead of giving just my two cents, I thought it would be cool if I could also offer some advice from my fellow photographers at Magnum. I emailed my colleagues and received 35 different responses.

The advice ranges from “Wear good shoes,” to “Read more,” to “Look at art more,” to “Look at art and read less.” It is, typical of this genre of advice, completely contradictory, ultimately leading the reader to conclude that there really isn’t any good, solid advice for young photographers.

Others agreed about the lack of good advice, and additionally objected to the lack of any specific advice. From We Can’t Paint, a post which provoked a heated discussion (as far as these things go):

I hope by now most of us realize that; A) the global financial situation is going to get much worse before it gets any better and; B) this basically means worse times for emerging artists who already had it pretty bad to begin with. Galleries are closing, shows are being cancelled, and collectors are holding back (not really a change for emerging photographers). All in all, the times suck! But that is my point: Where is the acknowledgment that, as [Malcolm] Gladwell points out in his article, “talent [or career success] is actually a complicated combination of ability, opportunity and utterly arbitrary advantage.” How do these factors come into play when giving advice to photographers? Why are they not weighted against our current situation? I would be more interested in hearing what these photographers think an emerging artist should do in our current global climate (without advising us to enter competitions; sorry, an $80 entry fee is not appealing).

Clearly, though, the advice of the Magnum photographers is meant for those starting out or just dabbling in photography, not those who I would define as ’emerging’ photographers: Myself, Noel of We Can’t Paint, Liz, Ian, Dalton (whose latest work I’m really liking), Harlan, everyone else who responded in the comments, and those who read and write photography blogs on a regular basis are all way too invested (and probably too jaded) to simply believe that ‘just go out and take pictures’ amounts to any kind of real advice. But the crux of the matter is that what elevates someone from ’emerging’ photographer to successful artist is essentially mysterious, as Malcolm Gladwel points out in the article.

Still though, hearing that “It’s essentially out of your hands” is not the most encouraging thing. I guess the best advice would be some form of “Keep going,” with a nod to the difficulty involved and the sheer chance that that won’t be enough.

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