If You Shoot It, Will They Come?
It’s more important to build your work instead of focusing on the imagined results.
One of my favorite movies is Field of Dreams.
You may think it is corny… (see what I did there) or whatever. I don’t really care. To me it is a tone poem for belief in one’s self, the power of an idea, and on how focusing on the work, not the reward, will reap huge benefits.
You do not have to move to Iowa to make your art. Although if you want to only shoot corn, yeah, it may work out better than say… Alaska.
A brief recap: a newly minted Iowa corn farmer hears a voice that tells him that if he builds it, they will come. He faces all sorts of challenges to build a baseball field thinking that is what the voice wanted. And ‘they’ did come, but which ‘they’ were the saving grace? He got to have a catch of a lifetime, but he was also able to save the farm because of the unexpected ‘they’ who also came.
A surprise “audience” so to speak.
I don’t think I spoiled it with that recap, and if you haven’t seen it… well, dang it, ya’ll should.
When the calling came he dismissed it at first. Build what? Who’s asking’?
That’s the usual take. We ask if we are really wanting to do this silly thing in our head?
It’s kinda like picking up a camera and hearing the call of photography.
At first we just go along with the easiest path. We take photographs if this and that and that other thing way over yonder. And we pore over books and workshops and courses. We want to be better at photography. Like all the other photographers we see.
Like a farmer who simply wants to grow his corn, sell it, and do it again next year.
But the voice inside becomes stronger and stronger and you realize that you want to do more than simply make ordinary photographs. You want to make photographs that matter. Photographs that engage the viewers, and resonate with others.
And then it dawns on you that following everyone else is not a great recipe for building something someone wants to see. Nobody will drive 20 miles out of their way to see a corn field. Not in Iowa. Cornfields, like mediocre photography. are everywhere.
But they will drive 200 miles and more to see a cornfield with a baseball diamond in the middle of it.
Because it is unique. It is special. It engages them at a different level.
“They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway, not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.
“Of course, we won’t mind if you look around,” you’ll say. “It’s only twenty dollars per person.” They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it. For it is money they have and peace they lack.”
In a world of boring cornfields, you want to be the one where they sell popcorn, play “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, and play baseball.
Metaphorically speaking, that is.
In the end, Ray and his family do well, due to this amazingly special piece of dirt in the middle of a lot of plain ol’ corn fields. A LOT of cornfields.
Ray did not build the baseball diamond because he simply ‘wanted to’. Lots of people ‘want’ stuff. “Wanting to” is a big yawn.
Ray HAD to.
He and his family came very close to disaster while giving up the vital corn producing land in order to make a field without a team. Sacrifices were made. A price had to be paid.
The field was a total failure at first. Nobody came. Everyone thought he was nuts.
But then someone did come but they weren’t the people who would save Ray’s family farm from foreclosure. They simply came to play baseball in the field that was unique.
It was only after facing the final showdown over losing the farm, that his idea paid off. And it paid off by attracting thousands of people who he never courted or counted on.
Because of the nature of this incredible space, one which could hold their attention and make them feel something different inside, people from all over came to see the field and walk on the grass.
When you are building a career in photography, don’t try to play to the audience right away. If Ray had done that, he would have grown more corn. THAT is what the audience was demanding. The same ol’ same ol’.
They didn’t know they wanted a baseball field in the middle of nowhere until it was actually there.
If you concentrate on making your images the way you want to make them, and be as committed to that venture as much as Ray was committed to that baseball field, then maybe you can make some magic too.
Even without cutting down four acres of corn.
Create for you.
You are the master of your work.
Put away ideas of those who will want to like your work, or even buy your work.
As in Ray’s case, you may not even know who they are, and you have no power over their decision anyway.
Everything Ray did was focused on making that field. THAT he could do. That was ALL he could do.
He couldn’t summon players, he couldn’t make the townsfolk want to come. All he could do was scrape, plant, and chalk a baseball field in the middle of a corn field.
You have no control over whether or not someone is going to like your images. None whatsoever.
All you can do is make them. Again and again and again.
Make the photos you want from the heart.
And then show them to a lot of people. You may get a lot of naysayers (the people of Iowa City thought ol’ Ray had lost his shit, man), but they don’t matter. There may be some that love your work. They matter.
Building a creative life means we live to share our our ideas, our aesthetic, and our art to the world.
The world can decide to embrace it or reject it or even worse… ignore it. Nothing we can do can change or alter that truth.
But we can meet it on a battleground where only we exist. We make the art, and they do not matter.
Our challenge is to make so much art that they eventually they have to see us.
“Be so good they can’t ignore you…” — Steve Martin
If you make stuff, you will be challenged, belittled, attacked, critiqued harshly, and possibly be ignored as if you didn’t exist. But you may find a rare and special breed of people you will refer to as your tribe. They will support your efforts, love your work, and occasionally break your heart. It’s life.
But if you do not make it, you will indeed fend off the belittling attacks and harsh critics. And you will never have a tribe at all.
No one will drive 20 miles just to see a corn field in Iowa.
Or an artist that does not make art.
I am a photographer, designer, and photo editor. You can find me at my self-named website or at Project 52 Pro System where I teach commercial photography online. This is our tenth year of teaching, and it is the most unique online class you will find anywhere.
My newest book, “25 Challenges for Photographers in a Slump”, will be published in August, 2022.