It's About The Work, Not the Fame

It's About The Work, Not the Fame

Shourya Pratap Singh Chauhan used Photoshop to simulate himself living a life as a billionaire, which was all for show. His following started growing from 200 to over 20,000 and it's mainly due to this portrayal that people started following and sending him direct messages. This matters in a big way. Firstly, have we become so gullible to believe it, and secondly, what can we as photographers and video makers learn from this for our own businesses? 

His pictures on Instagram are typically what you can expect from entrepreneurs and life coaches marketing their skills. He's edited himself into photos posing with Miranda Kerr and Emily Ratajkowski and adding descriptions like "Be kind, stay humble." He doesn't do this anymore and only did it for a project and as an artist. For me, it's amazing how his following grew.

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When Pablo Picasso was an old man, he was sitting in a café in Spain, doodling on a used napkin. He was nonchalant about the whole thing, drawing whatever amused him in that moment—kind of the same way teenage boys draw penises on bathroom stalls—except this was Picasso, so his bathroom-stall penises were more like cubist/impressionist awesomeness laced on top of faint coffee stains. Anyway, some woman sitting near him was looking on in awe. After a few moments, Picasso finished his coffee and crumpled up the napkin to throw away as he left. The woman stopped him. “Wait,” she said. “Can I have that napkin you were just drawing on? I’ll pay you for it.” “Sure,” Picasso replied. “Twenty thousand dollars.” The woman’s head jolted back as if he had just flung a brick at her. “What? It took you like two minutes to draw that.” “No, ma’am,” Picasso said. “It took me over sixty years to draw this.” He stuffed the napkin in his pocket and walked out of the café. Picasso remained prolific his entire life. He lived into his nineties and continued to produce art up until his final years. Had his metric been “Become famous” or “Make a buttload of money in the art world” or “Paint one thousand pictures,” he would have stagnated at some point along the way. He would have been overcome by anxiety or self-doubt. He likely wouldn’t have improved and innovated his craft in the ways he did decade after decade. The reason for Picasso’s success is exactly the same reason why, as an old man, he was happy to scribble drawings on a napkin alone in a café. His underlying value was simple and humble. And it was endless. It was the value “honest expression.” And this is what made that napkin so valuable.

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It's not just the life coaches that do this. Photographers also portray their lifestyle in a dramatic way. There are photographers with social network followers of over a million users and we've fallen for the idea that this is what defines success. Sure, these guys get great work, and their bank accounts look better than most of ours, but jeez, fame is definitely not the reason I got into photography, and even though it's nice to get the likes on Instagram and be recognized by people as someone who takes great pictures, I think photography is about the work and not the photographer or life you portrait as a photographer. 

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Bukowski wanted to be a writer. But for decades his work was rejected by almost every magazine, newspaper, journal, agent, and publisher he submitted to. His work was horrible, they said. Crude. Disgusting. Depraved. And as the stacks of rejection slips piled up, the weight of his failures pushed him deep into an alcohol-fueled depression that would follow him for most of his life. Bukowski had a day job as a letter-filer at a post office. He got paid shit money and spent most of it on booze. He gambled away the rest at the racetrack. At night, he would drink alone and sometimes hammer out poetry on his beat-up old typewriter. Often, he’d wake up on the floor, having passed out the night before. Thirty years went by like this, most of it a meaningless blur of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and prostitutes. Then, when Bukowski was fifty, after a lifetime of failure and self-loathing, an editor at a small independent publishing house took a strange interest in him. The editor couldn’t offer Bukowski much money or much promise of sales. But he had a weird affection for the drunk loser, so he decided to take a chance on him. It was the first real shot Bukowski had ever gotten, and, he realized, probably the only one he would ever get. Bukowski wrote back to the editor: “I have one of two choices—stay in the post office and go crazy . . . or stay out here and play at writer and starve. I have decided to starve.” Upon signing the contract, Bukowski wrote his first novel in three weeks. It was called simply Post Office. In the dedication, he wrote, “Dedicated to nobody.” Bukowski would make it as a novelist and poet. He would go on and publish six novels and hundreds of poems, selling over two million copies of his books. His popularity defied everyone’s expectations, particularly his own. It is then strange that on Bukowski’s tombstone, the epitaph reads: “Don’t try.”

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Maintaining a social presence is important for us in the visual arts, but just like with video, having all the skills and the transitions down and being able to use them in Premiere Pro or After Effects doesn't mean anything if you can't capture the shots that evoke emotion or moves someone in some way or another. That's what we as photographers and video makers do. You need to do the work. Only then will you build a following anyway. 

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Be kind, stay humble❤

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So I see the social platforms as add-ons to my work as a photographer. It's fun and a good way to get inspiration. It's also a good way to keep on the pulse of the industry you are focusing on. But for me, firstly, it's about getting the shots I want, and making them into something that moves people. 

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Artists crave creation and the thrill of the creative process.
Narcissists crave fame above all else.
Fame is not evil in itself, but craving fame above all else may be... Those who are famous for being famous make me think of trying to stand on air and suggest that it is a mountain.
Wow... that's deep.
What was I talking about?

Daniel Lee's picture

That engagement though. 😂

Spy Black's picture

"Kirby Jenner" is far better at this, and sidesplits you with laughter while he's at it. I've yet to see anyone top Kirby.

Drew Pluta's picture

Once again illustrating why Instagram isn't even close to a professional platform for honest business. Supporting it as such is an erosion of best practices that hit us at every angle from client expectations to delivery of product. Nobody is really concerned with good photography anymore, it's all about getting famous. Quality, or even the ability to have an informed opinion, is no longer on the landscape.

stir photos's picture

"... Pablo Picasso never got called an asshole- not in New York..."