Respecting Your Elders

Can you guess where this photo was taken? by Jay Goodrich
Can you guess where this photo was taken? © Jay Goodrich

Man, I am starting to sound like my parents, but this concept is very important on many levels. It seems like the world is losing some of the basic instructional tools that were handed down from past generations. I am not sure if it is because those older generations are no longer alive or if it is because they have given up. Thrown up their arms in disgust because we (the younger generations) are messing everything up on such a catastrophic level.

I know for a fact, if I did not respect my elders as a kid, there was a spanking in my very near future, and not some sissy timeout where you get to reflect on singing some pot smoking version of Kumbayah. You were getting beat and you weren’t going to forget it. So in a way I blindly followed my parents advice here. Now, I follow that advice when it comes to my business as well.

As many of you know by now I am friends and work with Art Wolfe. He is my elder by 20 years. Actually he is most nature photographer’s elder--at least from an inspiration standpoint. I respect him more than I will ever let him know (don’t want to give him too big of an ego) on both a personal and professional level. He has taught me a lot. And continues to do so to this day. For all of these reasons I give him the respect he has earned and deserves. I shoot with him almost weekly and when we are out there shooting side by side, I maintain that respect.

Since I have photographed with Art for over 5 years now, I can almost identify his compositions before he sets them up. I know at this point, that they are his and only his. If for some reason we stumble upon a subject at the same time we both can agree to take the similar shot (usually after a bit of money exchange), but never without first agreeing. And this is where I am beginning to see a lack of respect amongst photographers. Does it really benefit you to copy another photographers work? I know the copyright laws can’t be enforced by a location, but does having the same composition as a master benefit you? Does it make you cool? Are you growing as a creative by being a mimic? Or filling a void in your soul? The answer is no to all of the above. So why even bother?

Discovering the world on a photographic level should be yours and yours alone. Go to these amazing natural places, even the most popular “icon” locations not to copy, but to further your creative vision. Grow your mind, body, and soul. Yes the iconic image is the reason for most of our preserved lands, but those places hold so much more. Utilize those places, take advantage of them, but respect the elders’ images. Leave the Adams’, the Wolfe’s, and the Neill’s, compositions. They have been done. Over. And over. And over again. Try something new. Your work will benefit from it, I promise. And to leave you with another thought from my parents,"Do anything, even if it is wrong.” This will inevitably lead to something better, stronger, and more powerful than even Darth Vader could have imagined.

Oh, before I forget, can you guess where the image in this post was taken? It is a very popular spot in the seventh most popular park in the United States. And the winner gets...respect.


    Great post, Jay. I completely agree. Sometimes when I go shooting with people I admire and respect though, I get frustrated.. perhaps because when we have similar styles we independently come to the same compositions! Do you ever get frustrated in that way when shooting with Art?

    Thank you Floris and great comment/question. Art and I definitely come to the same conclusions a lot. Then it boils down to who really wants the shot more. Inevitably, one of us wants the composition more, and the other finds something new. Sometimes we both sit there scratching our heads (usually scratching something else) wondering what the hell we will do, and other times one of us sees something that the other does not. It becomes a matter of really searching your inner self and deciding what you see.

    I know that you have spent hours working on a single leaf in plant oils composition while others of us pass it right on by saying,”screw that”, so there is your inner motivator. You are different even if you don’t realize it. I always say to myself, “What do I see here.” And then work from there. I try to ignore Art unless I am having trouble. He does the same. The amount of energy that the two of us generate around each other is usually humorous, but we both get super creative from it, and those who are watching get a great laugh.

    I might go as far to say that we inspire each other. And that feeds the creative monster ten fold.

    Jay, I had to read your post twice. The first time it smacked me across the face. I honestly do mimic other people’s photographs. Going out and copying those photographs by the great ones is part of how I learned about photography. I think about my grandmother’s experiences at art school where she had to copy the paintings of the great masters to learn their techniques. I myself had to analyze the chorales of Bach and do Schenkerian analysis of Beethoven’s symphonies in my music theory classes. But then my teachers would tell me to throw out all those rules and write my own music, in my own style. I never had a formal photography class until I switched to digital a few years ago. For twenty years my process was I’d see beautiful image, I’d go to that spot, and hopefully experience what the other photographers had gone through. This morning I read your post again, and I get a different vibe from it now; inspiration. Get the iconic shot; it’s probably what caused you to travel to that location in the first place, but then find the photograph that is all your own.That’s what the true artist would do. I hope that’s what kind of photographer I am now.

    Great comment Vicky. I am not against anyone who copies the masters to learn photography. I am against the pros who never left that aspect. Those who shoot the same locations, the same styles, the same viewpoints that have been done time and time again. My feeling is that if you hanging the word PRO on your door, you better branch out a little. Learn technology, learn how to express what you feel inside. That personal expression is what makes any form of creative discipline successful. It pushes the boundaries. Raises the bar. Allows your viewer, critique, listener, taster, etc. to get to know you. Evoke an emotional response. It is definitely a hard product to produce, but once you hit the mark, it sells.

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