Do you have something unique to offer the world?

by Debra Wallace

A typical conversation I have with people goes something like this:

"So, do you work?"
"I'm a portrait photographer."
"There are SO MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS, especially in Rochester!"

And there really are.  I have no idea how many photographers there are in Rochester, but it is definitely a lot. There are also a lot of restaurants, gas stations, hair stylists, dentists, doctors, mechanics, plumbers, massage therapists, gyms, coffee shops and grocery stores. I suppose that's what happens in cities.

What's most interesting to me about this response is that I doubt my pediatrician ever gets this response.

"So, do you work?"
"Yes, I'm a pediatrician."
"Wow, there are SO MANY PEDIATRICIANS in Rochester!  Especially with Strong Hospital!"

What is it about photography that causes this response?  It can't be ease of entry - my two year old can make a sculpture.  It can't be that art is superfluous since cave painting is one of the first signs of human existence.  I'm truly baffled by this.  If you have any hypotheses I'd love to hear them!

In any case, it does create a sort of punch in the gut response for me.  I'm confronted with this question - do I believe that I have something unique to offer the world?

I would imagine that this could get existential very quickly.  Could my children survive without me?  What would my husband do without me? I suppose the world would keep turning.

At the same time, a wise "creative" named Chase Jarvis once said, "Go and take a picture only you can take."  He does crazy stuff like hikes into mountains and takes video footage off remote controlled helicopters, but I think this can be applied to relationships as well.  Are there relationships I can have with people that give an intimacy to the images I make that no one else could create?

My dad gave me a book called Women by Annie Leibovitz.  Some of the photography was amazing, some was mediocre, and many of the women should have had more clothes on.  But what was powerful was her obvious relationship with her subjects.  I want to be like her.

I don't have a great response to this comment in my back pocket, but some day I will.  And I can't say with great confidence that yes, I proudly have something to offer than no one else can, though I hope that it's true.  What I know is that I'm passionate about things like lighting, the power of an image, forming meaningful relationships and providing exceptional service.  For now, I guess that's enough.

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