Tell me if this has ever happened to you: let’s say you tell a story about someone you came across in your travels. It’s funny, totally random, and if you weren’t there when it happened, you’re not altogether sure you’d believe it yourself. And at the end of the story, the person to whom you’re telling it tells you you’re “lucky,” or that things like that would “only happen to you.”
Well, no… Things like that happen every day, and could happen probably to everybody. It isn’t like it takes all that much. It’s being present to the experience; taking the time to listen to someone, or see something, that someone else would just pass up. It’s that one extra detail you took a few seconds to zoom in on, or the person you chose to hear out when someone else would’ve walked away or just passed judgment.
Here’s the thing, though. Some people have an experience or two like that and they get to thinking they’re somehow special. If you’re one of those people, let me clue you in on something that’s likely to be disappointing: the universe didn’t conspire to give you that shot or that experience. Your wishing about it didn’t make it so; your doing it did. Odds are better than even that all that stuff would’ve been there whether you’d been or not. The point is, you got your ass up off the sofa, went out, met it, and got its photo. Cause and effect is a matter, much of the time, of being there. Whether we’re creating the circumstances or just happening across them, the point is the preparedness and the action.
I bring this up because a few days ago while working on an unrelated thing, I came across a truly miraculous system that’s just guaranteed to make you thousands of dollars on your photography, with practically no effort. </sarcasm> All you have to do, with this and other, similar, “systems” is plunk down an untold (well, it’s probably told, but I was too cynical to click through) sum of money, sit back in your pajamas, and watch the money roll in. The same faulty reasoning, in short, that underpins everything from The Secret to the Prosperity Gospel.
I’m calling bullshit.
There is no system, no secret. You want a foolproof system? Learn hard, then work hard, then when you think you’re done, work and learn some more. Luck? You make your own. Karma? Neither good nor bad. It’s simple cause and effect. Things happen — you get, or miss, the shot, have an awesome conversation, run into someone you haven’t seen in a decade or two — because your actions set in motion the things that made them possible. Act, and things happen based on those actions. Take no action, get no results. It’s that simple.
Nobody’s going to tell you everything they know. On one hand, it’s impossible. Unless it’s something that’s really simple (how to do one very small thing with a discrete number of steps), the process itself doesn’t lend itself to teaching every last little thing. You’re always forgetting things, leaving things out. And there’s that pesky habit most of us have, if we’re any good, of always learning, always pusing back at the boundries of our ignorance; we know we don’t know everything, but we’re damned if we’re not going to know just a bit more today than we did yesterday. It’s the difference between teaching someone how to make rice pudding and teaching them how to be a chef; those cookbooks and culinary classes leave out a hell of a lot more than they include.
On the other hand, some people wouldn’t tell you all they knew even if they could; to them, knowledge is not only power but also profit. if they told you everything you needed to know all at once, what would they possibly sell you later? (never mind that if they were really that good, they wouldn’t worry, ’cause they’d know that in a year’s time they’d have added enough to their knowledge and skill set that they’d have new shit to sell anyway).
But both of those things end up obscuring a larger point: not for nothing is it said that experience is the best teacher. Anything that anyone can tell you, whether it’s Joe McNally, or Thom Hogan, or even little ol’ me, is just so many words. They’re starting points, signposts along the way. They’re pointing a way forward, but they’re the map, not even a vehicle and certainly not the destination. Our practice is the vehicle, and the destination’s always changing; we don’t always know it, and it’s not always what we think it is, either. Honor that process, and the work that goes with it. It may take longer than you expected, but if anyone asks, you’re taking the scenic route, and you’ll have some awesome photos to show from along the way.
But that’s just my $.02 worth. What’s yours?