Joey Phoenix Media
Photographer • Videographer


Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

Don't Be Ashamed of Where You've Been

"Your First 10,000 photos are your worst." - Henri Cartier-Bresson Last night I had the peculiar experience of seeing a glimpse into my own personal history. An article that I had written a couple of years ago popped up on my Facebook newsfeed, and for nostalgia sake I clicked through to read it. After scanning the first few lines and looking at the images (complete with Zapfino-font "watermark"), I physically recoiled.

What had I been thinking?

I'm sure most artists reach a point in their development where they become aware of how far they've come. This doesn't necessarily mean that they are pleased with their work, but it does mean that they become ashamed of the work they've done in the past. It's important to note that the space of 2 years, or in some cases, even a few months can mean vast differences in skill and ability.

Looking through this article I was gripped with a unusual terror. I thought, "What if ten years down the road someone finds and reads this article and their view of my creative self takes a nose dive?" "Will the existence of images like these in the collective memory of the internet have some damaging consequences for my future?"

Then I stopped myself. How absurd it was for me to think this way.

Salem Portrait Photography
Salem Portrait Photography

No humans are born walking and talking or writing evocative pamphlets on relevant philosophical underpinnings, we don't come into this world proficient in music or science or romantic literature. Babies eat, cry, and sleep and otherwise have no genuine contribution to the world, except for one thing.

They have potential.

So like babies, artists must rise and develop their skills. You may be a talented artist from the outset, but time and experience is what will make you a skilled artist. There's no way around that. Even if you are fast learner, it will still take time and effort to improve.

So, like a child, when I entered this industry in late 2011 I was fairly clueless. I understood the basics, knew how to operate a camera, and took decent photos. I've always been a writer, and so I took a leap of faith (or foolishness, depending on your perspective) and combined the two in the hopes that my skills in photography would catch up. Sometimes you have to take chances if you want to be an artist and still have enough money for rent.

And eventually, my skills did catch up. I honestly have more confidence now in my ability to hold a camera than I do with a writing assignment. I can hold my own with people more experienced than me, and generally people tend to like my work. This doesn't mean that some photography gigs don't terrify me or that I often wonder if I've made a huge mistake in choosing this for a career path. Because in fact, I usually swing along a pendulum which at one end lies crippling self-doubt and the other the passion which keeps me going. Most days, the best of days, I fall somewhere in the middle, and I find that's enough.

I'm also motivated by my incredible stubbornness, because a life without photography, for me, would be a less exciting one. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning, and what often keeps me up at night. I ask myself, what if even now I'm still not good enough? If the answer is yes, then I have more work to do. The answer is usually yes.

The reason I'm telling you all this is that you have to start somewhere, and so many of us want to give up before we get very far because we're convinced that we'll never get any better, we'll never be as good as the photographers we follow. True, we may never be "as good" or "as successful" as someone else, but if you stick to something, you will improve. Plus, as Kurt Vonnegut expressed, by doing an art, you're making your soul grow.

So if you want to cross the bridge from talented to skilled and talented, you absolutely have to experiment and make hundreds of mistakes because that is the only way you can get anywhere. If you don't like your photos, take more photos. Take 10,000 photos. And then take another 10,000. Read and watch everything you can, acquire some knowledge and then get out of your house and practice. And over time, little by little, you'll watch your work transform, and you'll sometimes stare at your monitor at a processed image and think:

Is that really mine?

And the answer will be yes.

So don't be ashamed of where you've been, it's where you've been that's made it possible to be where you are. I can look back on my early photos and think, wow, a lot's changed, and be proud of what I've done. I still have a long way to go, a lifetime of learning awaits me...and some of the photos I take this year will someday make me cringe, most likely, but they won't be the cause of shame.

There's no need for that.

© 2014 Joey Phoenix Photography


"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”- Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country