You hate my work – thank you?

Critics will always exist, that is a hard truth that most people don’t like accepting but when does criticism cross the line from being constructive to rudeness and how should you handle it? You cannot be in this industry and have a thin skin because everyone will critique you. Don’t believe me? Just wait until you shoot a model with body dysmorphia. I caught you smiling because you know I’m right. I had an amazing mentor, Jim Johnson. We came together 8 years ago and I was insanely green with an ego the size of my 700-400 lens that I didn’t know how to use. Over those early years, Jim was consistently kind and offered suggestions for improvement. It was never harsh, it never made me feel bad, I always felt encouraged to try different things and to improve my knowledge. Eight years later and I am gratefully still a student of my craft and will continue to be. I was involved in a shoot in August of 2018 in Phoenix Arizona. I hired the model and designer, I went over the theme, I approved everything and I supervised an amateur on his first big shoot. I encouraged him, I applauded him, I offered tiny suggestions for framing then I stepped back and let him learn and grow from that experience. Since it was a Kate Doster Media sanctioned shoot, the original photographer released the photos back to us and they have belonged to me since. Jim and I worked on the edit together because it was pretty complicated. It was one model playing two different characters, multiple empty chairs and several looks that had to be digitally combined to create one photo. That’s right, one photo, only one and in my eyes, it is perfect. It absolutely encompasses what I set forth in the theme, the lighting was perfect, the facial expressions were perfect and the stars aligned the night that it was officially completed. I don’t title all my work but I did on this one, The Oppression of Woman. I know what it means to me, I know what it meant the weeks I themed it out and I know how I feel when I look at it, but that doesn’t mean that everyone shares my vision AND THAT’S OKAY. I got my first harsh criticism on The Oppression of Woman the other day. Someone called it junk, they laughed at it and left a vomit emoji. I responded politely, looking for some depth and asked if he could share why he felt that way about it. It went from there to ultimately calling me a no talent hack or wannabe photographer or something like that and then told me to “hop along pudgy”. I think that is where I had to tell myself, “this has crossed the line from criticism to name calling and rude” and I had to really stop and check myself and see how much of this I was willing to carry. I can appreciate someone not liking a photo, I can appreciate that I may not be your particular vibe, but my body size has nothing to do with your critique of art. I’ve been reading a fascinating book by my friend JS Park called The Voices We Carry. It has a very poignant paragraph where he says “you have to know that self-awareness is only and fully found in the awareness of others. It can’t happen with only flattery and yes-men. You need brave people to step in and point out the things you’ve avoided. Without the people who are willing to confront you with the surgical truth, you will never be liberated from the lies you believe.” In that awkward silence where I felt personally called out, I realized that’s why I’m okay with a complete stranger criticizing work that I inflated in my mind. It wasn’t his cup of tea and that is absolutely fine. It does me absolutely no good to have anyone stroke my ego and tell me what I want to hear, I can look in the mirror for that. Kate Doster Media will never censor any critique on their work. We accept your truth, even if we struggle with hearing it. One thing I am seeing through my friends book is challenging whose voice is playing in my head. That guy calling me pudgy, am I upset about that or is it some deeply wounded part of me that is taking that comment and spinning it into how worthless I felt growing up? Be grateful for those that love you enough to surgically extrapolate your ego from yourself but be discerning about criticisms that don’t really offer anything constructive.