re:your comments on “talent and hard work”

first of all, i have to say that i love my audience here ….there were such thoughtful comments from all of you who wrote….so good in fact, that put together, they pretty much mirror what i was going to say anyway!!! great quotes from picasso and harry callahan and terrific personal experiences…thank you….

since all of you basically wrote my piece for me, i will just add a couple of thoughts…i was so pleased that none of you put networking in first place!! i honestly thought some of you might….sometimes i do meet emerging photographers who do want to put “the cart before the horse”….they want to meet the “right person” before they even have anything to show that “right person”…for sure, if you have something to show , it will be seen….

where the word “networking” really kicks in is when a photographer shows his or her work to an established photographer or an editor or a gallerist, the “word” quickly spreads in our little world….whenever i see inspirational work, i quickly tell all of my friends in the business to be on the lookout for whoever is the author….most of us do this….why?? because any elevation of our craft is good for all of us…nobody wants to work in a vacuum…..great work begets great work…when i see an important body of work, i just want to “high five” the photographer….your best “agent” is the “word of mouth” from your colleagues….forget the design of your business card…

some of you gave “percentages” of the talent/hard work quotient…..and luck came in there too….or maybe fate?? i have always bristled a bit when people tell me how “lucky” i am…..actually, i too feel really lucky….but, i also feel that i have worked really hard to be “lucky”….knowing when to be lucky…or “recognizing luck” when i saw it….

and maybe the most important factor of all….getting back up off of the ground after you hit hard…..dusting yourself off….climbing back up on the horse when you are in no mood to ride…in my case, this single factor has kept me going forward more than anything….whatever combo of hard work/talent i may possess, would be no good whatsoever without this sheer perseverence…..and this you need to keep forever, no matter how many books you publish or commissions you may have….

when was in undergrad school i was surrounded by a lot of “super talented” fellow students…mostly in the painting classes….but some actors, musicians and sculptors….i felt totally overwhelmed and inferior to these talented artists….for one thing, i could not even draw….i still can’t draw…i could see clearly that there was no way i could do what they did….i knew these colleagues would “make it”…it was obvious….they were so so creative….

graduation time…..everybody split…..we were all suddenly “out there” in “no man’s land”…no more late night discussions, over 10 beers, of how great everyone was going to be!!…soon all of us went in different directions…..i went off to grad school, out of circumstance, more than as a result of any “deep thought” or careful research….pure luck i guess….i tried to keep track of some of my friends…i lost some forever and kept in touch with a few……

but what happened?? i heard that the most talented actor in our school was now selling life insurance….he was totally brilliant…..as good as any actor i had ever seen…..and my favorite painter in school and the “most likely to succeed” student in the whole art school was teaching art classes in a grade school somewhere….where in the world had this youthful idealism gone??? i was so so disappointed….now mind you , there is nothing wrong with selling life insurance and teaching young children art is a nobel cause, but i just thought these two in particular had a different fate….

in the roller coaster ride of my life both past and present, what i see are artists with talent who also never let go, never give up, work like total maniacs and are very very very careful with the work they do and put “out there”….i think you must take whatever you have and by whatever means you have it and make sure that the work is at some point displayed, printed, published in a way that reflects whatever talent you may have…10 copies of a hand-made book perfectly done to your satisfaction, are better for you in the long run than a poorly published photo in an international magazine….

everyone has poorly published pictures sometimes…but, here is where the percentages for me come in….you must be “80% artistically selfish”….if you have clients to satisfy, to put food on the table for your family, then that is just fine….but, you must also always have a personal project of some kind going or be “lucky” enough to have your “talents” recognized by someone who will pay you to do “your own thing”….but ulimately,you are the only one who will ever give yourself the really perfect “assignment”….

please understand that i have totally earned my living as a professional commercial photographer….i am not at all arrogant with someone who is paying me to do work…..whatever income i have is from someone buying either my time or my archive….but, since my first job out of grad school at a newspaper to professional commissions i do now, it has always been and will always be a struggle….no less now as a so called “established” photographer…how can this be?? well, if you are going for that 80% percent i mention, you will suffer…it will always be a balancing act between keeping editors pleased and knowing you have to do what you have to do…as a “client pleaser” i work all the time…..i do not let up…..i make sure that i “deliver”….but, i also always have a larger view…..a long range book to dream about…..individual little slices of which i am proud….remember no large “funder” of your time and your work has your overall career in mind…why should they? they have another and important and worthwhile agenda….if you understand their agenda, you will not have to abandon yours….

one of the “super-talents” in my school was also my roommate….masaaki okada was from hamamatsu , japan….masaaki could draw and paint like none i had ever seen……and he “introduced” me to art history for which i will ever be grateful……masaaki did the layout on my little self published book “tell it like it is” (see archived story under “work in progress”)….but i learned more about another thing from masaaki than art appreciation….he taught me the concept of not making anyone “lose face”….in the west, we tend to think “i win, you lose”….in the orient rests the original “win win” concept by which you totally immerse yourself in what someone else wants and/or needs….not what you want….you must still “know” what you want, but you get it by understanding what the other person wants first….this concept has allowed me to be “professional” and still get my 80% “artistic selfishness”…well, ok, 75%!!!

i have another whole piece or pieces to write about professionalism and . personal work.. and another whole discussion is out there on documentary and the art world….i will save that for later…i have already rambled too long and i did not intend to stray from our topic, but thought some of this would relate….

ok, one last thought…..in general, you do have to take a hard look in the mirror…..you must be very honest with yourself and decide if you have at least some “natural ability” and something to “say’ with your work…you should have dreams that are way way way out there, but also figure out realistic ways to make them come true…..you must be the “can do” type……take care of your loved ones first, and then work like hell….your “success” should only be measured by you….only you know your potential, only you are the judge….

remember those 10 hand-made books i mentioned earlier??…..i am working on them!!!!

27 Responses to “re:your comments on “talent and hard work””


  • Great post David,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I hope you’ll 100% satisfied of your hand-made books and not 75% ;-)

    Recently there was a scientist who repported that ‘talent’ in fact, doesn’t excist… it’s all work. Talent comes out of ones’ interest and the work or practise he/she did to become better in a discipline.

    I was raised up with the idea or concept of ‘talent’, but with this latest scientific rapport it put things in a different perception.

    So, let’s work to become talented!!! :-)

    cheers

  • christophe….i am working on it!!!! nice to hear from you…cheers, david

  • David,

    I have been following your blog for sometime but this is only my second or third post. I agree wholeheartedly with your post. A professional is a professional. You are delivering a product/service to a client in return for a fee. You have to, at the very least meet expectations, if not surpass them. Including the assignments you don’t particularly enjoy. Maybe your super talented friends realized that being a professional in their fields was not as attractive as being a student. Same as someone who goes from being a hobbyist to a professional photographer.

    Maybe the dream will always taste sweeter than cream.

    Keep it up. Yourself and other “established ” photographer both inspire and educate.

    Best regards,

    Sherman

  • thanks sherman…it is for you that i do this blog….david

  • Thank you for your wonderful blog. I read it carefully. Yesterday I was at the Edward Munch museum here in Oslo. He is probably the most famous painter comming from Norway. And he was also know to be the hardest working artist when he was alive. And I think that list is endless when it come to the masters. They was hard working and they always will?

    best regards Gunnar

  • gunnar…..

    yes, Munch was very prolific and very good….i would love to visit your city someday particularly to see the summer light and see firsthand the source of so many truly good spirited Norwegians i meet in my travels…..i have not yet had the good fortune….

    thank you for your comment….david

  • you make me feel litle bit better :)

    Thank you a lot for this post David…

    I haven’t earn anything since 4 months (i am freelance from January)… only thought “i know what i want” make me feel not to bad…

    I have this luck i am living with my parents (otherwise i will be homeless, in fact i am jobless – i work hard, but dont earn at all)… i try to concentrate that i am doing portfolio and my hard work is not for “nothing”

    last days i was feeling that nobody cares for my pictures because nobody buy it (also the problem is i dont have good contacts to magazines and newspapers.. i hope i will make this contacts soon, i am still learning how to be good busineswoman ;))..but you are right “my succes should be measured only by myself”.. if i do progress i should be happy and it should motivate me to do more :) (this way of thinking is much better)…

    at the morning i saw a a picture from VII seminars in London, and i saw on this picture the screen with caption – “Images dont have any value if they can not be seen”…which made me feel not good at all

    but now i feel better and have energy to shoot again :)

  • aga..

    now is the time for you and others to really re-invent the whole process…it will be your generation to do this….for sure, i think there will be more opportunities than ever, but you will have to be part of the evolution and revolution to make it happen….if i have given you one little spark of energy, then i am doing my role…all best wishes for what you do….

    david

  • Hi David,

    The wonders of the internet enable people all over the world to connect like never before. To be able to read your blog is something special and I believe that what you have said here regarding the pursuit of professional photography as a career applies to all different pursuits. This is a blog entry for anyone who wants to understand what it takes to be successful…

  • hello mike…

    yes, you are absolutely right…the net has become the most amazing thing and is the most important cultural revolution of our time….i had no idea of this until just recently by doing this blog…and even though i had barely used the internet before doing this, all i did to “join” was to do what i was doing anyway…i just took all the “stuff” that was in my head anyway and the things that i talked to my emerging photographer friends about anyway, and just put it to the keyboard…..

    many thanks for your comment…..makes my day….

    cheers, david

  • Its great to have you weigh in on the discussion David, it sure was a popular one.

    I was one of the people saying talent is most important but its not an either or deal. You can have the most talentd people without the drive to get through all the difficulties (tough beginning, rejection, criticism, etc). You can also have the most driven people whose work is simply not there. neither individual will make it. But for me, I think if you have 2 very hard working individuals, I tink the one with the talent will probably “win out” in the end. What does it take to get into Magnum? Its not just hard work, is it? I mean to get there you have to have that something. Some vision, the “eye”, the ability to put together great compos and compelling stories. Yes, this can be achieved through hard work, but I guess its easier for the talented ones.

  • Re: networking

    I think it plays a part in making it. I mean it has to. How can you make it without showing your work to those who can open doors for you? But yeah, you must have something to show first, or you will get nowhere. This networking aspect is difficult for me as I have nobody to network with. Im in Seoul, in Korea, totally out of any loop:) The internet is great but also has its limitations. The biggest one being that its so saturated with images. Flickr, PBase, TrekEarth where you joined recently)…theres just so much work out there it can be nearly impossible to get your head out of the crowd. This makes me sort of wish I was back in Europe or in North America, where I could network better. But on the other hand, Seoul is sort of my little playground here. How many photographers cover Seoul? Aside from the Koreans? Tokyo seems to attract everybody. Its good to have your little playground. But in Korea I can tell you that its tough breaking into the “community” especialy as Im ashamed to say my Korean is really bad.

  • David you are always welcome to Norway, maybe you can do some Salsa dancing to. In Siracusa last year you gave an advice. -If you dont have a “good” creative day. Go out and start shooting, and sooner or later it will be back. Thats was a very good advice!!! Thanks.

  • Another enlightening post, David. I find that networking is widening your chance of luck. I have done the home works on setting goals and executing action plans. All of those factors of success, networking is my severe weakness, still in the process of overcoming this fear.

    A few nights ago, I was awarded for my works on Sydney Mardi Gras and met one of the most influential Art Buyers in Sydney. He loves them. The door of opportunity seems to open now but it is not easy for me to step out. While I am writing this comment, the voice in the the back of my head says “Just take a plunge!”. I might do so.

    Thank you for writing and listening.

    ‘Pong

  • Another enlightening post, David. I find that networking is widening your chance of luck. I have done the home works on setting goals and executing action plans. All of those factors of success, networking is my severe weakness, still in the process of overcoming this fear.

    A few nights ago, I was awarded for my works on Sydney Mardi Gras and met one of the most influential Art Buyers in Sydney. He loves them. The door of opportunity seems to open now but it is not easy for me to step out. While I am writing this comment, the voice in the the back of my head says “Just take a plunge!”. I might do so.

    Thank you for writing and listening.

    ‘Pong

  • rafal…

    i am kind of rushing at the moment and you put out so many interesting thoughts that i just do not have time to respond to right this minute…but i will….

    for sure, if two people are working equally hard, then talent will push one over the line….for sure also, talent and authorship is necessary for magnum…raw talent is harder to identify than authorship…a photographer who has new real ideas, concepts and a real ability to get this work set “in stone” will be the one who crosses the line….but, also all of my magnum colleagues are workaholics….all of them….the pictures come from the talent, but getting them into exhibitions and books is just good old fashioned work….as far as networking is concerned, you just need two or three people who believe in you….no matter how “good” you are , not everyone will love you enough to give you a grant or a commission….but there is no doubt in my mind that if you have a great body of work…i mean really special….those key people will come to you….as i said, the “word will go out”….at natgeo and at magnum we are always looking for the next brilliant talent……

    more later…..david

  • pong…

    my experience is this….if something in the back of your head is telling you to take the “plunge”, you probably should take it….at least , this has worked for me…..you know when you are in unfamiliar territory or almost in a desperate situation you are like a wild animal…you see better….you smell better….you are smarter….you move quickly……too comfortable and none of these things are true….one little break like the one you just had might be enough……i left a safe job at a newspaper because i got a very small grant from an art museum…there was no comparison in the actual money…i also left the national geographic staff at great financial loss to join magnum…both times it was worth it……the freedom and sense of independence was worth more than the money…at least, to me!!!! when you feel free nobody can touch you…nobody can “mess with you”…you collaborate with people because you want to, not because you have to…..that feels good good good!!!!!

    david

  • Great Advice

    A kind words from David Alan Harvey about Talent and Hard Work encourages me to step out of the comfort zone.  What a great advise from a legend.

  • It would be a good moment to remember a famous interview to Frank Lloyd Wright, already very advanced in his age.

    int “what’s your favourite work?”

    FLR “the next one.”

  • Aga

    I just want to say that I understand you exactly. I’m in the same position. but i’m artist and sculptor too, and i have to doing a lot of strange things to earn money, and for time to making photos for portfolio.

    We have harder reality here in Poland.

    Be strong.

    Pozdrowienia

    Martin

  • Hello Martin…

    Yes, true.. Poland is not easy country to live, especialy for artist (no matter how kind of art)

    Aga

    ps. masz podobne nazwisko do mnie :) Łuczakowska pozdrawia :)

  • hi david,

    i’m going to tell you a little of my story. i’m 32 years old and i started with photography at the age 28. i worked 10 years in the business of construction building. when i made 31 years i quit my job to start a new life with photography as my best and demanding friend. i quit my job because, photography has become taking my entire time, and i felt that i needed more time to embrace deeper my little storys. in summer 2005 instead getting sun burn in the beach i spent my vacation (15 days in my previous job) shooting the wild-fires in portugal. at the end of my vacation i returned to the company office. i passed my personal test. i went to the unknown alone, made my questions and answers whith photos without quiting. four months later, without a safety net, i quit my job. i leave behind a safe life with a nice incoming every month. in that time i didn’t have any connections with newspapers and other publications. “but that’s ok” i thought, i just have to keep working like i did, and find a way to show my work to editors and so. i edited my wild-fires photos and I submitted the work to a jury whose work is for me recognized here in portugal. i won the first prize Fnac New Talent Photographer. with the award my work had a lot of popularization. my website at the time provide the chance to the interested people to know the other ones my works. slowly things started to happen, but not the beginning. the beginning is always the moment in that you lift the ass of the sofa to do any thing. before the wild-fires work i hat much more works (well not to many, but a few ones). a few months later (march/2007) i get awarded (photojournalism Visão/BES 2007) with another different work that i made in fev/2006. ok, now my work was truly published by the press. until here i was by my own, and i am still, but in another level of recognition. now the first’s assignments start to come, not because the award’s, but because of my work exposition and what i have done until today. to survive until here i made weedings, and other stuff. in between all this i didn’t stop shooting for me. my close friends tell me that i’m talented. i’m not. i only try to work and never give up when things get’s hard. and of course i never go to a work thinking in awards. the awards is just awards they come as they go. our work always remains. i’m still in the beginning, always in the beginning.

    keep the nice working David,

    nelson

  • hi david,

    i’m going to tell you a little of my story. i’m 32 years old and i started with photography at the age 28. i worked 10 years in the business of construction building. when i made 31 years i quit my job to start a new life with photography as my best and demanding friend. i quit my job because, photography has become taking my entire time, and i felt that i needed more time to embrace deeper my little storys. in summer 2005 instead getting sun burn in the beach i spent my vacation (15 days in my previous job) shooting the wild-fires in portugal. at the end of my vacation i returned to the company office. i passed my personal test. i went to the unknown alone, made my questions and answers whith photos without quiting. four months later, without a safety net, i quit my job. i leave behind a safe life with a nice incoming every month. in that time i didn’t have any connections with newspapers and other publications. “but that’s ok” i thought, i just have to keep working like i did, and find a way to show my work to editors and so. i edited my wild-fires photos and I submitted the work to a jury whose work is for me recognized here in portugal. i won the first prize Fnac New Talent Photographer. with the award my work had a lot of popularization. my website at the time provide the chance to the interested people to know the other ones my works. slowly things started to happen, but not the beginning. the beginning is always the moment in that you lift the ass of the sofa to do any thing. before the wild-fires work i hat much more works (well not to many, but a few ones). a few months later (march/2007) i get awarded (photojournalism Visão/BES 2007) with another different work that i made in fev/2006. ok, now my work was truly published by the press. until here i was by my own, and i am still, but in another level of recognition. now the first’s assignments start to come, not because the award’s, but because of my work exposition and what i have done until today. to survive until here i made weedings, and other stuff. in between all this i didn’t stop shooting for me. my close friends tell me that i’m talented. i’m not. i only try to work and never give up when things get’s hard. and of course i never go to a work thinking in awards. the awards is just awards they come as they go. our work always remains. i’m still in the beginning, always in the beginning.

    keep the nice working David,

    nelson

  • Thank you, David…

    Perseverance… “climbing back on the horse when you are in no mood to ride”… Sometimes it feels like an endless rodeo, bucked off every 8 seconds… but I keep trying, because I love it and can’t think of anything else to do. Those moments where I don’t get thrown by the horse are the purest, most magical times. Thank you for sharing real knowledge.

    -patrick

  • Man, all these posts just make it harder every day to ignore the little voice telling me to lose that day job and take the plunge in the unknown!!! Especially knowing that all it takes is a little bit of talent and lots of hard work!!!

    To continue on the topic of talent/hard work, how do you think these relate to developing a “signature style”? It seems that most established photographers have developed over the years a signature style. You can quickly tell that an image is a Martin Parr or an Henri Cartier-Bresson. Was it their talent telling them to pursue a certain style? Or was it hard work and constant experimentation with photographic techniques that lead them to that style? What about you David, do you think you have a signature style and was it a conscious decision on your part to pursue it?

  • David… your words remind me of the saying I keep repeating so very often…

    “Let the Heart be your Master and the Mind be the slave. Let the Master decide and the Slave execute it with logic”

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