What I’m about to share comes from a brief correspondence I had with a tremendously respected photographer who works out of New York City. His name is Nikola Tamindzic. Just like me, he got his start with photography covering nightlife events. However, unlike me, he has since moved on to do fashion photography and commissioned portraits for some very important clients. He still covers the occasional event for Vogue magazine though.
I recently stumbled upon Nikola’s nightlife event portfolio as I was searching for some inspiration for my own work. I’ve seen a lot of event photos before. I’ve got a lot of event photos myself and I consider myself quite adept at taking those types of shots. But Nikola’s work is quite a step above my own. His work is alive, full of emotion, and has a quality of seeming to be significant in some way. Seeing his work was a stark reminder of how far I had yet to go to achieve a comparable body of work.
I’ve always felt seeing work that’s truly better than your own is one of the best motivators to get you to do great work as well. It’s humbling and it shows you new perspectives. Therefore, I take every opportunity to find humility in my own work if it means that it will propel me to do better work myself.
I decided to send him an email telling him of my admiration for his work and I asked if there were any words of wisdom he could bestow upon me. He was kind enough to respond.
What separates you from the herd?
I’ve been feeling, for quite some time now, that I need to do something different with my work as a photographer. I’d look at my collection of photographs from the last 2 years that I’ve been shooting and I would always come to the conclusion that while my technical skills have improved, there’s nothing that really sets my work apart from the work of other professional photographers with the same skillset.
I asked my fellow photographer to look at my work and to offer any critiques.
This is what he said:
“Build your name first, by doing work that has a strong point of view. This is most important — I see from your work that you’re technically proficient, but I still don’t see that strong point of view necessary to separate you from the herd. Any strong point of view is good.”
This is not the first time someone has said that about my work. And while it’s never pleasant to hear these things, I ultimately have to agree because I know that it’s true.
It doesn’t matter what I see in my own work because lying to yourself and believing your own hype is the easiest thing to do. It’s easy to stroke your own ego. It’s easy to speak for your work. However, it’s much harder to create something that speaks for itself. At the end of the day, all that matters is what other people see in your work; what they perceive. That’s much more honest. If your work is good, then it’s good. If it’s not good, then you’ll know that too.
I think with most creative professions, there comes a point where you’ll be as technically proficient as you can be (or at least where you will be happy with the results you get). Sure, there will be new techniques that you will need to learn, but that’s just the nature of any creative career: you have to always be learning. Therefore, having a unique voice – a strong point of view – is the thing that you’ll really need to work on. That’s the thing that won’t really change and that’s what 30-year creative careers are made of.
You can learn all there is to learn about your craft from a technical standpoint whether you’re an illustrator, graphic designer, web designer, photographer, etc. But any self-respecting creative professional will learn those same skills as well. Therefore, if you want to separate from the “herd,” you’ll need to find something much more unique about your work.
Tell a story
One of the last sentences in his email was this gorgeous tidbit:
“Focus on finding your own story, pursue it with a passion.”
I love that.
When you pursue a creative profession, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there’s a story behind the work you choose to do. However, as most of you will probably agree, you get bogged down with other people’s expectations, demands from clients, pressure from your competition and what have you.
Suddenly, your focus shifts from doing the work you want to do (telling your own story) to doing the work that other people expect from you. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as the client is happy, but then again, why shouldn’t you be happy with your work as well?
There’s a reason you wanted to pursue a creative career. You might have started when you were young, designing graphic t-shirts for your friend’s band, or tagging walls with graffiti, or maybe you became a web designer as a bored teenager in your room.
Whatever your story is, remember that at one point, you were passionate enough about it to take a risk with it. It was exciting. I think that’s what people respond to the most. Your story is personal and earnest and therefore, honest.
Personally, I stumbled upon photography because I suddenly found myself in London 4 years ago. I was in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world and I had no means to share my adventures with anyone. I would walk tirelessly through the streets of London wishing I could capture it in some way; to document it in some way. I had this great story and no way to tell it.
A couple of days later, I spent what little money I had on an old, used camera from the 80’s that I found in a hole-in-the-wall camera repair shop. I loved those first few months learning about photography. Sure, I wasted a lot of film but I was also taking more risks and was learning passionately about what interested me as a photographer. Those first few months taught me about what made me tick. It was exciting. It taught me about what stories I could tell and what stories I wasn’t going to tell with my photos.
I’ve worked endlessly as an event photographer for the last 2 and a half years. It has become a part of who I am. However, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m ready to do something different with it. I want to take another risk and find a new story to tell.
I’m sure a lot of you have felt the same about your own work at some point in your respective fields. Whether you’re a photographer, illustrator, designer, blogger, there comes a point when you’ll need to rediscover that old creative flame; the spark that started it all.
Sure, you will evolve with your work. Your skills will get better. But what I’ve come to realize is that it all comes from the same place: passion. That never really dies.
Check out more of Nikola’s work at www.homeofthevain.com
Tell us what you think in the comments section.
Photos courtesy of Nikola Tamindzic. All Rights Reserved.
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