I began my journey in photography nearly 20 years ago as a thought experiment that…
Hudson River, Beacon, NY / Canon 1ds Mk III, f/8 @ 1/500 sec, ISO 200, 45mm, no filters
I’ve been thinking about self-validation a lot lately and how it affects my approach to photography. Validation by others is certainly something I care deeply about. This may seem like a contradiction, but I think both internal and external validation play a critical role for the development of any artist. Without a healthy awareness of how my work is perceived and affects others, I would find it very difficult to put in the time and dedication that makes photography so worthwhile for me.
Yet I think too many photographers seek external validation without understanding its implications. Painter Robert Genn says, “I’m an advocate of self-validation. It’s an acquired skill. Encouragement, yes. Constructive criticism, yes. But artists should be aware that petty stroking could be the source of arrested productivity. An artist’s job includes the avoidance of premature closure by the begged or gratuitous approval of others.”
That is a profound if not controversial statement. There are those that might let this approach lead them to over-confidence, hubris, or conceit. But I think that misses the real point of how self-validation can potentially be a way to real growth. Only you can decide if you’ve fully developed an idea, or explored a subject to your innermost satisfaction. Maybe you need to visit a location fifty times before you understand how to capture why you feel drawn to it. When do you decide to move on; when others validate your work or when you decide you’re satisfied with your results?
The most important point in Genn’s stamement is that self-validation is an acquired skill, which is another way of saying it needs to be earned. If you’re not sure of your work, you need to seek opinions, feedback, and encouragement from those you can trust.
But gaining the confidence to say, “I’m not happy with this image” even though others say they love it is not so easy. The opposite is equally difficult, especially in today’s popularity driven world. But to do either, to know that your work validates something inside, takes time and a clear sense of why you photograph.
Be less critical, and more curious. Have fun while you photography. Smile at the sun. Let your emotions pour out for an awe inspiring moment that will never come again. That should provide all the validation you need to make a photograph that matters.