I’ve been doing photography as an “art form” for almost two years now, and while the financial rewards have been minimal, becoming part of a community of talented Midwest photographers has been infinitely more fulfilling. In any creative endeavor I’ve been involved with, I’ve always enjoyed meeting like-minded folks and talking shop.
As I’ve built my portfolio of work, I’ve aspired to broaden my horizons by seeking out new places to visit and take pictures. I’ve had many conversations with fellow photogs about where to go, including quite lengthy collaborative comment threads where dozens of good folks have kicked in ideas. Networking is a great way to discover new, gorgeous nooks and crannies of the Midwest worth photographing. I’ve even worked on a project dedicated to giving back to the ever-growing community of photographers in this area who, like me, love discovering new photo spots.
So I was a little taken aback this weekend while visiting ArtiGras, a phenomenal community event here in Green Bay packed with outstanding Midwestern painters, sculptors, potters, photographers and weavers (just to name a few). I always marvel at the gorgeous work these amazing people turn out, and I always leave this yearly event creatively recharged and inspired to go out every day and improve my own work.
I stepped up to one particular photographer’s booth and browsed this person’s fantastic array of gorgeous photos. Big, bright, colorful stuff that shows off the lesser-appreciated dilapidated gems of this part of the Midwest I call home. The artist took notice of one particular piece I was fixated on, and was eager to show me a bigger, beautiful matted print of the same piece.
So, as I often do, I asked where this particular shot was taken. In all the time I’ve been involved in photography, or even visited art shows before taking up photography seriously myself, I’ve never had an artist refuse to tell me where a piece was shot. She simply and emphatically replied, “Northeast Wisconsin.” Really? I let it slide. I continued browsing, and another person perusing her wares asked a similar question. “Northeast Wisconsin,” yet again.
This really burrowed its way into my head and has been crawling around in my brain ever since. Why would you possibly be so standoff-ish about such a simple query as “where is this?” It’s not really a trade secret. I’m sure this person wasn’t the first to shoot there. They probably don’t even own the building in question that was featured in the photograph. Why so bristly? This person priced their work handsomely — very deservingly, may I add — so it’s not like tossing out a simple city name at an expo would be financially detrimental.
I believe in community, especially when it comes to art. I have always, on virtually every piece I’ve ever published unless I’ve been asked not to, published exactly where each of my art pieces was taken. I’ve written it into my website descriptions. I’ve tagged them on maps on Flickr and Pinterest. I’ve created two websites where I help others find new photography opportunities. Does it ever hurt me? Perhaps occasionally. If I happen to bring more people to already crowded photo locations like the Door County winding road, I’d be okay with it if it boosts the community of aspiring artists.
I’ve gained more — personally and professionally — by being open and giving than I ever have being walled-off or protective. It’s like that song says, “you don’t get much without giving.” That’s why I believe so much in content marketing. Providing value and being part of a positive community experience is so rewarding.
Good will goes a long way.