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Showcasing and Sharing Your Work: Don’t Be a Vivian Maier

Are you locked in your own attic, sweet Vivian?PIN

Are you locked in your own attic, sweet Vivian?

Every so often, I see a steady number of posts among boudoir photographers throughout the Facebook forums that say things like:

“You all have such great work in here, I am intimidated to post…”

“I want you to know I creep all your pages and am inspired by so much of your work. I haven’t posted yet but hope to soon.”

“I just wanted to say hi and thanks for letting me in this group. I hope one day soon I will be ready to post.”

Now, if you are reading this, and this was you, please don’t feel a pit in your stomach. Because I am about to tell you you’re braver than I was.

Yes, that’s right. I said it. You’re braver than I was.

Two years ago, you probably never heard of me or seen a single one of my images. Why? Because I never shared my work on Facebook. Had no interest in networking in the forums, or to be part of a “club”. I did my own thing, knew no one else’s name, and no one knew mine. I had a tidy little business, shot my work peacefully without drama. And, I also had a heck of a lot less business, knowledge, inspiration and guts.

So what’s this all about, you may ask?
No, I was not a social media recluse. I was simply afraid to make some noise inside the hallway.

You see, I’ve always thought of Facebook as being a little like high school. You have:

  • the jocks (aka photography rock stars)
  • the honor students (aka industry gurus)
  • the standoffish rebels (“I’m too good for social media”)
  • the bullies (visit any almost forum to find at least one, if not 100!)
  • the cheerleaders (standing on the sidelines cheering everyone else on)
  • the new kid (maybe that’s even you).

At some point in time, I fell into all of those roles in high school. Sometimes, we grow out of some of them and sometimes, we don’t. For the record, I went to an all-girls private school, which explains an awful lot about my boudoir career, LOL. (cue Britney Spears video please).

There’s another girl, typically not even noticeable enough to categorize in a clique. She’s the girl in the corner you may not always see. She’s not the prettiest, flashiest, best dressed girl in the “room” on Facebook. She’s a sleeper. She’s the Vivian Maier.

Vivian who?

If you’re not familiar with Vivian Maier, it’s an amazing story. It’s one that, in my opinion, every photographer should know about.

She was a quiet, intensely private, bookish young Nanny in the 1950’s Midwest. She was quiet, educated, liberal, free spirited, proud opinionated, and insanely talented as a photographer.

But, she was also afraid

Between 1956 to the 1990s, she amassed nearly 100,000 negatives of what’s being called some of the greatest photography of our time. Photography was her passion and her dream. However, she was afraid to share this passion with the world. She sat, for almost half a century on some of the greatest culturally relevant documentary in photographic history. She had no idea that she was good. Even worse, she had no idea that she was GREAT.

When she died, her work was developed into a worldwide exhibit of epic proportions. She is now considered one of the greatest American Photographers. Ever.

Can you imagine if she just said, “Hey, Ansel Adams, what do you think of this shot?”

Ansel, sipping his coffee from a tin mug on his camping chair would have fallen over. (un-BOOM. The sound that was never heard).

Hoarding your work out of fear or critique keeps you in a “proverbial attic.” We are blessed to have social media, as a means of getting our work out there, seen, reacted to and activated through the form of REAL customers. Can you imagine how hard it was to be a photographer before there was social media? (Or perhaps easier, since there were so many less out there! But that’s a whole other post.)

I will admit it here and now:  I hate getting critiqued. I loathe it, in fact, because I get so emotionally connected to my work and subjects. I pour my heart into each image I do. BUT…I also recognize that critiques are often necessary to see things you cannot see (like the damn distracting water pipe in the image below).

One of my favorite images, from 2010 that once received a pretty constructive. PIN

One of my favorite images, from 2010 that once received a pretty constructive critique that broke my heart (for just a minute).

Not all critiques are good ones, so it’s helpful to use a grain of salt where it’s coming from. You have to look at the “high school hallway” of each forum you belong to, and identify:

  • Who do you respect? (Who are your high-performing Jocks and Honor Students)
  • Who seems like a supportive person, perhaps one with good taste that can give you some honest encouragement? (Cheerleaders )
  • Who are the commentators who frequently cut others’ progress down or are frequently negative? (Bullies)

Another safe place for critique, although it requires some investment on your part are image competitions such as PPA, WPPI and other organizations which may give you some feedback, perhaps less publicly and anonymously on your images. Not all competitions provide extensive feedback, so look into that first.

But, this is yet again one of the reasons a private Facebook forums are to be taken advantage of. There’s feedback, peer recognition and networking. And, it is all free.

If you’re like me a few years ago, sitting in a social media “corner” and watching the industry move by, you are being a Vivian Maier.

I am here to talk you out of that dusty attic.

Knowing the social media forum landscape makes the thought of critiques a lot less daunting. Pay attention, but also thicken your skin. Your work will get better, you’ll make new friends to help you along, you’ll have a better time learning your craft.

And best of all, sweet Vivian, you can step out of that corner and show the world what you’ve got. 

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