Amateur Hour; Where The Thrill Has Gone

I’ve been hanging out with the wrong people.

They’re people like me—professional photographers, and I see them at shows and workshops, drop in on their conversations on web forums, and exchange e-mail with them. Problem is, what they talk about, for the most part, is the business. And while the business is a real concern, it’s not what I want to talk about. Because of the privileged access I’ve gotten to amateur photographers through this column, plus my contact with amateurs at shows and workshops, the conclusion was inescapable: I have more in common with amateurs than with pros.

All Photos © 2008, Jack Hollingsworth, All Rights Reserved

I’m inspired by amateurs, their attitudes and the work they’re doing. They live and breathe photography—the craft, the ideas, the techniques, the gear. They’re passionate about taking, making, and sharing photographs, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

There’s one other factor in this realization: Flickr, the photographic social networking site. I love looking at the photos that amateurs from around the world post to the site. I read that there are 8.5 million registered users of Flickr who upload three to five million photos a day. Of course, a lot of those photos are terrible, but a lot of them aren’t. Some of them are amazing. And inspiring.

Amateurs have vision. They break the rules and take chances. Photography is fun for them, an adventure. It’s a giant experiment in creative expression. And yet they’re serious, they work hard at it, they have discipline, and they’re intent on learning. I’m sure it’s more fun for them, and they enjoy more freedom, because they aren’t under the same pressure to perform as pros; they have day jobs. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t motivated to do better work, to learn more, to express themselves.

You know what? I’m just like them. Thirty years into my career, I’m still in love with photography.

I realized that hanging out with the pros wasn’t making me a better shooter. I believe I stand a better chance of being a better photographer, better businessman, maybe even a better person by hanging out, literally and figuratively, with people who have energy, enthusiasm, ideas, and dedication. They want to learn—they’re like sponges. Me, too. I’m inspired and motivated by their photos. It’s energizing to be around them, and nine out of 10 times I’d rather sit down to lunch with a group of amateurs than pros, and I bet I’ll be a better photographer for the experience, the exchange, and the dialog.

The photos you see here are ones I picked from my early work, the photography I did when I was fueled by not much more than an amateur’s spirit and enthusiasm, before the models and the heavy travel schedule and the elaborate stock shot setups. At that time I had about the same resources as a photo enthusiast, and this is the work I did. My photography now is more specialized within lifestyle images, but I think I still have a lot of the passion and the spirit of the early days.

The one part of the enthusiasts’ photo community I’m still not into is the praise and comments. You know, the “Wow, cool shot, dude!” stuff. But I understand it’s part of the sharing process and the feedback that keeps some shooters striving to do better work. What I get from Flickr is that jolt of energy and inspiration that comes when I see great results, ideas, chances taken, and passion brought to the process.

The proof’s in the pictures, dude.