Who Are Our Peers?

I recently shared a podcast on social media in which the author discusses validation and challenges the listener to determine which form of validation is meaningful to them. For me it’s a very simple question to answer. I want my work to connect with people. I want them to be moved by it, to see it as something inspirational and special. But, it goes beyond that. I ultimately want the respect of my peers. The question that raises, however, is who exactly are my peers?

Like most artists I am prone to feelings of insecurity. Far from suffering delusions of grandeur, it could be argued I go too far in the other direction, believing myself not worthy to be considered a peer of those photographers that inspire me. They have a much greater following and have accomplished far more than I have, certainly I can’t consider myself an equal. It caused me to look up the formal definition of the word peer, and it’s this: one that is of equal standing with another. It means being the equal of someone, being on par with them. Having the same abilities as other people in a group.

I will never have the same abilities as a William Neill or a Guy Tal. My body of work will never be considered as meaningful or influential as John Sexton’s. They are simply working at another level that I don’t believe I will ever reach. That is not false modesty or self-doubt, just a healthy realization of my limits. They are that smart, that talented. How can my name even be whispered in the same breath? I most certainly do not have the same abilities that they do, how can I consider myself their peer?

A fellow photographer and friend ever so gently chided me for my way of thinking, saying that is exactly how I need to think of them: as peers and not superior beings to be put on a pedestal. It’s not a question of who is “better”. Another friend echoed that sentiment. While I agree that they should not be idolized, I still have a hard time seeing myself as their peer. It could be argued I’m placing too much emphasis on achievement. But, it’s what that achievement reflects: a body of work that stands above the rest.

The mistake in my way of thinking is in choosing to compare myself to the few photographers that have reached a level of which most of us can only dream. The vast majority are like me, talented individuals working to produce a body of work that is authentic and resonates with people. Some connect with more people than others, but that matters little. Whether or not we make a living at it is also irrelevant, money is not a factor. Most of us will never be a household name, even within the nature/landscape photography community. We toil anonymously, working hard at pushing the boundaries of our limitations, seeing just how good we can be and exploring our potential. No, I can’t consider myself a peer of Charles Cramer or Bruce Barnbaum. But, I do consider myself the peer of many other photographers whom I hold in high regard. Their respect is all the validation I need.

But an attaboy from Guy sure would be nice.