If you want to be a better photographer, be a better person.

I had the pleasure of presenting the opening seminar for Skip’s Summer School earlier this year. Skip Cohen and his wife Sheila put on a great show and it was wonderful to connect with some old friends and make countless new ones. I received the following heartwarming feedback from an attendee which moved me and I thought I would share it with you:“Wouldn’t you agree?” is the question Jerry Ghionis rhetorically asks the audience upon declaring some universal psychological truism that he relates in a very clever way to the craft of photography.

“Wouldn’t you agree that in order to love someone else you must love yourself?” Yes, I do. The audience nods. We all seem transfixed on the insights he casually bestows upon us. His accompanying images on the screen behind him, which are nothing short of art, don’t hurt in making you take this man seriously.

I’m not a photographer. I work for a company in the photography industry and as a byproduct see many presentations. Rarely, if ever, do I feel compelled to improve who I am as a human being from these presentations. They’re interesting and I get a lot of insight on the industry, but rarely do I feel an uproarious desire to improve who I am due to these talks.

According to Jerry, the key to being a better photographer is being a better person. I found even my unrelenting desire to be skeptical and cynical muted while he ended his talk with this fact.

He hit home this idea many times while relating it to photography. He showed how he used mundane environments and stiff personalities to create extraordinary images. He made it damn hard for me to view his body of work as a byproduct of having exotic locations and overly charismatic clients. His craft is an extension of how he approaches life. His body of work is a byproduct of his humanity.

It’s the easy way to say someone else is successful because they have what you don’t. It’s the easy way to find fault in others when really it’s your own insecurities projecting themselves onto others. “If you think your clients are boring and your location is uninspired, then maybe you’re boring and uninspired.” Ouch.

I’m not even a photographer but I instantly felt a pang of self-acknowledgement within my own self. After countless conversations in which I’d judge others and after countless lines of thought deeming certain parties, events, hang-outs and phone calls awful due to the inherently inadequate people with whom I was surrounded, it became abundantly clear that I was inherently inadequate for not being happy enough and positive enough to find joy and love within others.

If life feels mundane – whether you’re a photographer or not – then maybe you’re mundane. Taking responsibility for the life you live and the pictures you take is one step toward not living an ordinary life. It’s one step toward turning something ordinary into something extraordinary. Can’t the transcendent feeling we all seek out when consuming or creating art best be defined as elevating the ordinary into something extraordinary? If so, how can you do that more often?

How can my life be better than ordinary? I’m sure if I were a photographer, the answer to that last question would be the same answer when asking “how I can improve as an artist as well?”

Living artfully means living with love. Seeing Jerry speak about viewing and photographing clients the way a loved one views them spoke to me. Reducing someone’s humanity to that of “an arrogant prick” or “a cold bitch” (words I’ve used to describe people before) nullifies the fact that countless people love that person. What if I took my quite pedestrian negativity and turn it into something extraordinary – such as the capacity to have empathy and love for someone despite character flaws? So many of us carry self-loathing around with us, why contribute to someone else’s?

I once read that “art and love are the same thing: it’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” I’m not sure if I care much about being a better photographer, but I invite art and love into my life nonetheless purely so that my life won’t be ordinary. If I end-up taking better pictures on my camera because of it – all the better.

– Rebecca Brooks

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