“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” –e.e. Cummings
Each week we share a piece of us on our photographic journey. We have titled this series, “Courage to Grow”. We hope that our own soul searching will inspire similar introspection in our readers and that together we can make our best art and live our best lives.
A few weeks ago I had someone report a photo of mine and then allude to me being a bad mother. That was horrible, made me feel crummy and that is NOT what I'm talking about today. Still, that event got me thinking about something else.
It's a very simple thing. As my work has gotten better, I have lost a lot of followers. Friends who used to always comment no longer do and I've had some tell me things like, "I just wish there were more like you used to do, you know? Like of your kids' faces and more smiles". Whenever I post a photo on Facebook featuring one of my cute kids where they are smiley and more typical, I KNOW I will triple my reach and get a million more likes than I generally do. I also know I'll get lots of comments like, "Super cute!". This is all great and I absolutely appreciate the support, but in these cases, it's support of the fact that my kids are cute, rather than my reaching someone through my photographs.
For a while, trying to just keep up my reach and "fan" base, I would post photos I knew would be popular and then sneak in ones that were more representative of where I want to go with my work. No matter how often I tried, typical work got lots of likes and my favorite work was met with crickets. This got old pretty quickly and I just stopped caring about what others thought. I started posting only photos that I really loved and photos that best represent my style and voice, trusting that I would keep my real people and find new ones, and even if I didn't, I would at least know I wasn't wasting time trying to make others happy, but only focusing on what would make me and my work better.
With this change, something kind of crazy happened. First off, as expected, WAY less people were liking my work on a regular basis. No biggie. I had decided not to care and it actually worked. After a little bit of time I noticed something else. My work was getting much better much more quickly than before. I stopped trying to please anyone but myself (unless it was client work, of course) and just kept moving forward. It was so amazing to see improvements and that motivated me to keep moving in the same direction, minus all the drain of wondering whether people would like me.
After some period of time, following this method, the really crazy thing started to happen. My people started to find me. People I had admired for a while started finding me. People who I had tried to submit to, but had been rejected, were contacting me. It was incredible and it was all because I let people not like me and let that be okay.
So to those who don't like my photography (even though I'm pretty sure those who do hate my work won't be reading this) Thank you for hating my work! Thank you for, in some strange way, helping me realize that the critique of people outside of the realm I am trying to be a part of and outside the circle of those I trust, doesn't matter at all. Thank you for showing me early on that following my voice would mean fewer people would like it. Thank you for all the lessons I have learned because of you and your dislike of my current direction.
So, while I still don't like haters, I have found that if you know you're getting better and mentors and voices you trust know you're getting better, but you're finding more and more people not loving where you're going...You're moving in the right direction and just keep moving forward. You are GOLDEN because you are becoming the best artist that you can be.
Amanda Voelker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer, focusing on capturing the fleeting moments of childhood. She is currently located in the Seattle, Washington area. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday and is constantly amazed by all the wonder in her life. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of herself. Amanda is also the co-founder of 30 Minutes in the Life. Aside from photography and family, Amanda is passionate about the ocean, seeing the world, diet coke, reading, and chocolate. You can find more of her work on her website and facebook