I am safe to assume everyone knows about Coke and Pepsi and more importantly their rivalry. In a bid to overtake Coke, Pepsi did something in 1975 that would result in the biggest blunder in Marketing history…..and I believe there's a golden nugget of wisdom there too for photographers.
You know Apple right? iMac, iphone, iWhatever, it's CEO John Sculley (before Steve Jobs's return) previously worked for Pepsi, and he is mainly credited for the “Pepsi challenge”. You probably heard of it, Pepsi and Coke were presented to tasters with their label and surprisingly, people chose Pepsi over Coke a majority of the time. The campaign was a runaway success, but to respond to the campaign Coke made what is considered the biggest marketing blunder in history: it introduced the New Coke.
Everyone HATED it. They changed the recipe so that it could beat Pepsi in blind taste test and indeed it did, but in actuality what it also did was alienate their core people: Coke drinkers.
Photography and Polarization
So, what does that mean for photographers? Simple: Embrace polarisation and don't try to be like Coke. According to the dictionary, the definition is to “cause people in a group to have opposing opinions”. I like to think that it's a bit like magnets, they are fun aren't they? If you drop a magnet in the middle of pieces of metal, depending on the polarity of the magnet some pieces will be attracted to the it and other pieces will be repelled by it. There's nothing you can do about this, it's a law of physics.
No, don't worry this is not physics class! it has to do with photography. Photographically speaking, if you show your work to multiple people it will attract some and repel some. And just like polar magnetism is a law of physics, I believe that polarization is also a law of photography.
Every shot you make is polarizing, some people will like it, some won't and there's nothing you can possibly do about it. Well… Actually…there is…you could try pleasing those who didn't like your work by changing your work, but just like Coke did, you will only end up repelling those you attracted in the first place. Likewise, keeping the magnet analogy in mind, if your turn the magnet around, it will attract the pieces of metal it repelled and repel those it attracted in the first place.
It's all about focusing on your crowd as a photographer and keeping them in mind. If you shoot for your family, if they like it it's all that matters. If you shoot for clients, them being happy with their shots is all that matters. I think a lot of time, we try to secretly please other photographers rather than our intended group. Sometimes I forget about that and I am surprised when a client just drools over my shots….I have to remind myself that I was shooting for them, who cares if the shots are not the pentacle of photography?
If you ever uploaded one image, just one online, you already polarized everyone: some like it, some don't. The thing to do is to simply aggreagate and cater to all that love your work. You probably already do so without thinking about it that way, they are the ones who give you a “Like” or a “+1”. These are the people who like your work, if they didn't they wouldn't have clicked on your page.
These are the ones who will throw you a bone when you have a book out or are most likely to buy a print from you. I really don't like HDR, what's an HDR photographer to do? Either continue doing what he or she likes and a bunch of others like….or give up the HDR style to please me and others who don't like HDR. The answer is pretty straightforward, continue focusing on those who like HDR!
I think photography is about getting better than you were yesterday, but also realizing that since photography deals in the world of taste, it is by nature polarizing. I personally like the color Green, the not-technically-a-color Black, I also like Onions, Peppers, Jeans, Boots, etc. For each of my tastes you probably have a different taste and that's ok. Some photography like Nature photography is nice but sure ain't my cup of tea, and that's ok too.
Just to clarify, I'm not saying that if your images are not that great forget about the people who don't like it, there's always room for improvement, but more in the sense that whatever conscious path your chose in your photography from what gendre you want to focus on to developing your style, it will be polarizing.
So go out there and show your work, it's a bit like throwing a net and see what sticks, those people who like it are the one who will end up buying a piece or two from you, not the ones who don't really care about your work. There's nothing to do besides realizing that polarization is a law, some people just won't like your work, and while it is tempting to cater to those folks, thinking of the New Coke pretty can hopefully safeguard you from that blunder. Let me know what you think of this idea in the comments below! Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.