As artists and photographers, we talk about creative endeavors a lot—but we don’t often talk about the people involved in those creative endeavors. And yet, these people are perhaps one of the most important parts of the process. I think it’s vitally important that, no matter what type of creative work you do, you find your people.
Now, one might interpret that statement as getting on social media to promote your work, and to build a community of followers and admirers surrounding that work. I suppose this is helpful if you’re selling your work, but truthfully, for the most part, these types of communities are not what I’m referring to when I say to “find your people.” Social media followings devoted to promotion are mainly echo chambers. It’s in their nature to be echo chambers because when you are promoting yourself, the last thing you want is negativity or things that might take away from sales. Thus, the community must focus on the positives.
When I say that it is important to find your people, what I mean is this: Go out into the world and actually find people who are like you, and who are doing things similar to what you are doing. Even if you’re a rather introverted person who prefers to keep socializing to an absolute minimum, or even if your activities are relatively solitary, it is still worthwhile—essential—to make friends centered around your art.
Why is this so important? There are so many reasons. For starters, this is what real community building looks like. A group of like-minded people working toward similar goals is an actual community, not just a group of admirers. Admirers are good for the ego (and maybe marketing, too) but within a community, you can actually build something. You can create together.
When you’re among your people, you’re among people who can share in your struggles and successes. It’s one thing to vent about a bad photography day to a spouse who is happy to listen, but perhaps doesn’t necessarily understand the depth of the problem because they are not themselves photographers. It’s quite another to share these details with people who have been in your exact same position. People who can nod and truly sympathize on an intimate level.
These are people who know exactly that feeling when you press the shutter button, and you just know without checking the live view that you’ve created something important. They’re the ones who understand how it feels to make that first print sale, the hundredth print sale, and the thousandth—and when you mention impostor syndrome, they’ll smile, nod, and assure you that just like you, it took them years before they finally felt worthy of the title “photographer.”
When you find your people, you will find a place where you can learn and grow, which really isn’t something that can be said of a group of admirers. Admirers affirm that you have done well. A community will help you to see what you could do better—and there are always things that can be done better. Among like minded people, you’ll be able to have your work critiqued and you can critique the work of others. You can learn the skills that they know, and teach the skills that you bring to the table. It’s a place where knowledge and ideas flow freely, and everyone gains from it.
Finding your people also means you’ll be building a network of sorts. Networking always comes with lots of potential and lots of opportunities. Perhaps someone you meet knows of someone who would be willing to model for you so that you can build up your portrait portfolio. Others may know great locations to take landscape photographs. Perhaps you know of a gallery that is looking for abstract art—and one of your friends creates something that would fit perfectly. Finding your people broadens your horizons by providing a network, be it small or large, that can put you in touch with others that may be helpful in some way.
At the end of the day, it’s all about community, kinship, shared experiences, learning, and growing. That’s what it means to find your people. It’s something that can benefit each of us, and it’s something that will enrich our photographic lives—possibly in ways we might not even be able to imagine until we experience it for ourselves.
Now go and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation through your lens.