[A]s stated before, I don't think you should direct your attention on other's work, but on yours. But where to direct that gut level longing to compare? Well on yourself of course. What I am telling you in a sense is to become your own rival.
As I am writing this, the new issue of Inspired Eye is almost under wraps, but the thing that struck me is when I looked at it I tought “I've outdone myself”. Who did I outdo? Not all of the magazine designers out there out there, but myself. I've outdone myself, and by doing so I've grown.
There's just something about rivaling the self that just works. It's the guiding principle of Tetris and more recently Angry Birds. I've watched a nonchalant lazy person apply themselves diligently at Angry birds to beat the game. If you think about it players of games like Tetris are not really playing a game on a console, they are playing a game against themselves. Only you know yourself, how far you can jump…..but at every inch higher you reach, you always ask if you can outdo yourself.
Tetris is the most addicting game there is. The newcomers like Angry birds and Temple run only repeat the basic premise of Tetris: Pit the player against the player. Take temple run: you can spend hours watching a character run endlessly in an Inca temple but what really keeps you going is not the goal of the game (Get the lost Idol) but it's the score. At first, you are happy if you can get a score of 3000, but you keep coming back and back after each try, until you get the score of a million. If you've played any of these games, you set your limits low, but then gradually go up and up until you are an expert. This is what I am telling you to do for your photography, set your own bar high and every time you reach it, challenge and outdo yourself.
Looking at other's work and comparing yourself is the surest way to being depressed and feeling sorry for yourself. But nothing equals beating yourself at something. Only you know what you had to endure, what you had to do, making the results ever more satisfying. I like the quote “My Best Picture Is The One I Will Take Tomorrow” by Imogen Cunningham. It embodies the Tetris philosophy: Rival yourself, oudo yourself and grow. The worst thing you can do as a photographer is thinking you've arrived, you've got nothing to learn…. Wait for heaven, this side of the fence it's always time to improve.
To me the image above is reflective of her quote. Physically she's old, but inside of her mind she is like the young woman on the left. Old age is always assimilated with wisdom (Don's the exception to this rule) and youth assimilated with leaning, the path to wisdom. The young woman leans towards Cunningham, she's looking up to her, but Cunningham herself is stable, looking at the young woman. The image gives you the impression that the young woman seeks to go towards the older woman, to be done in a sense, while Cunningham seems to be both at the same time herself, but also the young woman, always learning. The day you say “I've got nothing to learn” is the day you might as well hang up the camera. Complacency is your worst enemy, and to combat it, you can only rival yourself. It's thrilling to beat yourself in some way and very fulfilling and you focus on your work, not others.
If you've done an ok photograph for today, challenge yourself for a greater on tomorrow. The only requirement to rival yourself is always to put the bar higher every time you reach it. Since it's only focused on the next small step, you will never realize how much you have grown until you take a step back.
Every single one of my skills that I have learned (Deign, web, photography) has been learned this way. It's like markers around a road at night, you might not see the road but you know you are hitting the markers. I outgrow myself everyday because I always seek to outdo myself, I'm my own rival. I'm not special, if it worked for me, it can work for you.