Oh boy, do I hate that word. And I hate ‘passionate’ people.
But why, Gerry, I hear you ask, surely you are not that cynical? Nope, I’m not – but, hear me out. In 2002 Steven Pinker described “The euphemism treadmill”; a process whereby a word meant to replace an offensive word, has become offensive itself. As an example: “Cretin” was replaced by “feeble-minded”, which was replaced by “retarded” which was replaced by “intellectually challenged” which was replaced by “having developmental difficulties”. The underlying condition has not changed, it’s still the same thing, but the word for it has changed because it was seen as offensive
I want to make a case for the opposite of the euphemism treadmill, the “hyperbole treadmill”. Things get to be blown up out of all proportion. You wake up with a mild case of the snots and “I have the flu”. No, you don’t, ye git, if you had the flu, you’d be in hospital with tubes going into your lungs. A mild tension headache from staring at a computer screen too long: “I have a migraine”. No sir, if you had a migraine you’d be hugging the toilet bowl puking your face off while your own retching noise would send shards of glass through your brain making you puke more. But it’s not all bad, things can get overly good too. “Have you seen the new Avengers movie? Man, it’s life changing!” Life changing? 181 minutes of men in spandex is life changing? You must have a pretty low bar. “The last Bieber album was exquisite”. Exquisite? I assume you never listened to The Goldberg Variations then.
Point is: people seem to exaggerate things.
And this is the big problem with “passion.” Especially in “I have a passion for photography.”
Do you now? Passionate? Really? Do you know what the circles of confusion are? Or reciprocity failure? Can you apply Ansel Adams’ zone system? If you are passionate about photography, can you tell me how Mapplethorpe changed the way we look at conceptual photography, and how Jan Saudek gave brand new meaning to colour? If you are so passionate about photography, have you ever shot an entire shoot on a home-made body-cap pinhole lens? No?
Then it sounds to me you are not passionate at all. It sounds to me you really enjoy taking photos. And that is okay. If you really enjoy taking photos, friggin’ awesome!
But let’s get back to passion, and the big killer here. I see this one often on photography forums: “what do I need to become successful?” or “What do I need to become good?” or “what makes a professional photographer” and there are always shout-outs of the P-word from the peanut gallery.
If all you ever needed was “passion”, the world would be a better place. But nope, even if you truly have passion, you still have a smidgen of what is needed to be better. Why? Because passion kills. Passion brings complacency, passion brings a sense of undeserved wellbeing. I saw this so many times in photo club where bright-eyed and passionate newbies get torn apart on the first night never to return, their passion smashed, because “The judges just don’t get me”. Oh, the judges get you alright, you don’t get the judges. Your passion so blinded you to your mediocrity that you were unwilling to learn. (And if a bunch of photography club judges can destroy your alleged passion on one night of club, you did not really have much of that passion to begin with). And one pitfall I see all the time: people are not passionate about photography, they are passionate about their subject matter. This is especially true about kids. People love their kids (as they should) but take the most godawful photographs of their kids simply because they see the child in the photo instead of the photo.
So: stop being passionate about photography. As long as you are ‘passionate’, you will never learn, never grow. Immerse yourself instead. Become dispassionate about your photography, and look at things objectively. Study. Grow. Learn. Develop. Then maybe you will realise you did not need passion to get achieve excellence, but passion followed you there anyway.