May 22nd

2014

For Jennifer, Whomever You Are.

Jennifer is a composite of all the students who’ve asked me to look at their work online and offer some advice. My advice has changed over the years.

Dear David,
I’m a second-year photography student. Would you look at my work and offer me any advice?

Dear Jennifer,
Thank you for the invitation to spend some time with your work. I know you meant for me to look at your work and give you advice based on that, but I only know how to struggle with the making of my own art, not yours. I could make suggestions about colour or composition but they’d only bring you closer to making your work look like mine, and no one needs that. Only you can discover what your art will look like. So here’s what I’ve got. It’s what I wish I’d heard sooner:

You’re young. I still think I am too, but it’s relative. You’re at the very beginning of this process and much as you think you are beginning to know who you are now, well, Life has a way of changing that person, and with it her art. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

So since you’re at the beginning, spend more time working on the artist than the art. Be patient with her. Allow her to express her wants and desires and chase hard after them. They’re likely to change along the way. Chase them wherever they lead. Learn to listen to, and trust, that voice.

Take risks. Take more risks.

Be heartbreakingly vulnerable with the world and your art.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Be curious.

Call bullshit on safety and face your fears daily. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Discovery only happens in the unknown.

Do your work. Always do your work. Even when it’s shit. Keep doing it. Because making lots of bad art is the only way to get to a place where you’ll one day make great art. Failure is a much more faithful teacher than immediate success (which usually isn’t what it seems).

Look at, and study, the work of the masters. Form strong opinions about that work, and be willing to change them.

Look at the world with all your senses; seeing is about perception and that’s a whole-being kind of thing. Experience life, don’t just shoot it. You can’t photograph well what you haven’t experienced.

Colour outside the lines and ignore the so-called rules. Look for principles instead; they last longer and serve us better.

Lastly, through all that, learn your craft, and be so good at it that no one can ignore you. But never confuse craft for art. One is a means, the other an end.

Your work is beautiful. It’s a great start. But right now, the harder, more interesting task ahead of you, is to tend the garden from which the better fruit will one day come: you. Obsess about the work, we all do, but remember that in 5 years you’ll look back and see this work – as it is for all of us – as only a starting point. Don’t get too hung up on it. Your best work will always be ahead of you. It’s true now, and it’ll be true in 25 years. We never “arrive.” There is only the winding, beautiful journey as we chase our changing vision and the muse that’s always a few steps ahead, just disappearing around unexpected corners.

Comments (38)
  1. May 22, 2014 at 8:09 am

    I enjoy the part about “making your work like mine”. We all have our own path and style to carve out in photographic journeys. I know when I’ve captured something that I like but it may be meaningless to everyone else around me and that is OK. My biggest challenge in the last year has been following other photographers work and trying to adapt certain aspects to build on my own style and education. The latest ‘shit’ picture was more due to falling while wading through mud last night trying to get some shots of old pilings along the Fraser river on river road. Adventures!

  2. Jerry Syder

    May 22, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Great article mate!

  3. Ivor L

    May 22, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Such excellent advice for photographers and, in fact, anyone wishing to explore personal growth. Thank you, David.

  4. msn

    May 22, 2014 at 8:18 am

    Man, you do have a way and getting straight to the heart and soul of a reader. Well, this reader, anyway. And isn’t that great teaching? The ability to push past the less-than-helpful response in order to instead share a better answer to a question we don’t know how to ask.
    I am grateful for your perspective, David. Thank you.

  5. May 22, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Words of wisdom for sure! Thank you so much for sharing. A true teacher you are!

  6. May 22, 2014 at 8:35 am

    Well articulated, David … and so true.

    When looking back at my art and photography from 5, 10, even 25 years ago, I realize how even the “shit” has played an important role in my development as an artist and photographer.

    I hope that I can see that this path of learning, practicing and sharing can become even stronger when, 25 years from now, I look back to my current work.

  7. Sarah Harrigan

    May 22, 2014 at 8:49 am

    Such great advice! Wish I’d heard this at year 2. . . but I’m hearing it- and learning to apply it now- especially listening to the creative voice inside my own soul & following that instead of what I thought every photographer was “supposed to do”. Most of that, I have to credit to growth after reading your writings. Thanks for great advice, David!!!

  8. May 22, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Great advice, David.

    Wish more people I respected had given it when I was younger.

    I did it “my way” anyway, but often wondered if I was the “stubborn blockhead” that more than one accused me of being, but I always felt if “everyone else” was doing it “that way” was one more person really needed in the fray?

    So, “Do your work. Always do your work.”
    I don’t think you could possibly give any better advice…

  9. May 22, 2014 at 9:34 am

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom.

    A wonderfully inspirational post.

  10. Pankaj Saya

    May 22, 2014 at 9:44 am

    Hi David,

    I think its time that they should start calling you the “ALCHEMIST”

    You seem to know how to convert things to gold, be it words or images.

    Continue to do so till likes of me and Jennifer find the ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ and start speaking the language of our soul!!!

    Keep Inspiring…

  11. May 22, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    well, i’m not the second-year photography student… but i guess you can call me Jenn now :) anybody else?:)

  12. May 23, 2014 at 2:57 am

    Superb post David. Very inspirational. “Your best work will always be ahead of you”. So true.

  13. Maria Sacadura

    May 23, 2014 at 4:08 am

    I loved your article. It’s so true…«the best is yet to come»!!!

  14. May 23, 2014 at 5:55 am

    Amen. And as a 26 year old I’m going to take that advice like it’s written to me. Thank you

  15. Kelly Chiodi

    May 23, 2014 at 6:33 am

    Reminds me of “Letters to a Young Poet,” by Rilke, one of my favorite books ever. Beautifully written, Mr. duChemin.

  16. May 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

    I’m 72. I’m still Jennifer, and I thank you for these reminders. I think we never get too old or too good at what we do to ignore your beautifully-put advice.

  17. May 23, 2014 at 10:15 am

    With your permission…I will print your Post, frame it nicely and hang it in my studio as a daily reminder. This is the most honest and genuine “advice” I think I’ve ever read. Thank you, David. Your words are as inspirational as your art.

    • David

      May 23, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Thanks Don. No permission needed. Unless you put it on T-Shirts. Then I want a piece of the action :-)

  18. May 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    Wonderful advice, and as usual your post seems to arrive in my inbox just when I need to hear what you have to say. Thanks for always pushing us to look to ourselves before we look to anyone else.

  19. Asta

    May 23, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    “…never confuse craft for art; one is a means, the other an end.” Just brilliant!! All artists should have this permanently imbedded in their skulls!

  20. Bob

    May 24, 2014 at 11:07 am

    David,

    We are all Jennifer, even when we teach others. Great advice, taken to heart. Thank you, Bob

  21. May 24, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    I read ‘Photographically Speaking’ and this was just was beautifully written. Thank you!!

  22. May 25, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Hi David,
    Well said, very true!! finding your own style should be fun & the best part of your photographic career!! if i had any words of wisdom to the up & coming photographers, is be patient & one day you realize OMG i have a style!!!

    Cheers
    Ken Dyball

  23. Jess

    May 26, 2014 at 8:52 am

    Tempted to print this out / forward to struggling programmers.. It applies to a lot more than just photography. Great post!

  24. May 27, 2014 at 5:24 pm

    I’d like to add: “When faced with a potential subject, draw on the negative space around the subject for context and perspective.”

  25. Navaneethan

    May 28, 2014 at 8:53 am

    David, you are very honest. Thanks for writing this.

  26. May 30, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Oh my, what a wonderful letter. I am that new student who watches what others shoot, god forbid I go to Africa for my first time in Sept and not do it “right”. Great coaching. PS. had time with Andy Biggs today, so saw this on his blog just now. Thanks.

  27. June 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

    […] David duChemin: For Jennifer, Whomever You Are “Advice to young […]

  28. June 2, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    […] About the author: David duChemin is a world & humanitarian assignment photographer, best-selling author, international workshop leader, and accidental founder of Craft & Vision. When not chasing adventure and looking for beauty, David is based in Vancouver, Canada. You can find out more about him and see more of his work on his website or by following him on Twitter and Facebook. This article was republished with permission, and originally appeared here. […]

  29. June 2, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Wow! I needed a push to keep going right now and I just got it.
    As always your words inspire me! Thanks!

  30. June 3, 2014 at 3:47 am

    I so love this one!! To me this piece of advice goes beyond the horizon of creatives. It’s a vibrant ode to all layers of creativity and life in general, most excellent David.
    I think I need to re-visit this post every now and then, like taking out a wee treasure from a wee box and marvel at it every now and then…
    Thanks for the inspiration and all the best! Cheers, Oliver

  31. June 3, 2014 at 7:27 am

    […] About the author: David duChemin is a world & humanitarian assignment photographer, best-selling author, international workshop leader, and accidental founder of Craft & Vision. When not chasing adventure and looking for beauty, David is based in Vancouver, Canada. You can find out more about him and see more of his work on his website or by following him on Twitter and Facebook. This article was republished with permission, and originally appeared here. […]

  32. June 7, 2014 at 4:37 am

    […] David duChemin: For Jennifer, Whomever You Are “Advice to young […]

  33. June 10, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    David,

    Thank you. This really resonated and I am going to follow many of those above by printing this, hanging it where I will read it daily and calling myself on my own bullshit ;-)

    Great read and thank you for the beautiful work you send out to the universe

    Emily