Great photographers are fundamentally unhappy people. Not in the suburban housewife way of unhappy and waiting for something tremendously beautiful to happen and be swept  away, a la “Madame Bovary”. Not at all. They are unhappy with the world around them and how it functions. What bothers them is the way reality is commonly perceived : Normal, blend, boring and uninteresting.

What is compelling to a photographer is not the way reality is presented to them, but what is behind. Or on the sides. great photographers are those who  are not accepting things the way they are. They are trouble makers. Put them in a photo call situation with pre-assigned position and they will go out of there way not to stay there. Not because they like to create trouble but because they want more. Something different.  Something more revealing. Try to put the same photographer in a pool situation like it was done during the first Gulf war, and they will wave their middle finger at you, even if means they are putting their life in danger. If they can’t change position, they will change cameras, lenses, they will crouch, or jump, because somewhere else then where they are, is the right image, the perfect frame.

No wonder photography birthplace is Paris, France. Parisians, whether born there or adopted, are notorious trouble makers.  There is absolutely nothing that can male them satisfied, beside, perhaps, being dissatisfied. From David Lachapelle to Cartier Bresson, talented photographers have always thought to go beyond everyday visual convention. They always seek in showing us the world “the other way”. Their untold reason ? to trouble you, to displace you from your center of gravity into a zone of sudden imbalance. You need to readjust yourself to appreciate their images, rethink what you thought was normal. They force you to think, and to learn. They so ever slightly move you away from your comfort zone and force you to re-position your thinking.

It is no surprise that talented photographers are 99% pain in the ass to work with. They have strong opinions, are stubborn, reckless, and most of the time have an extremely bad character. But that is simply because they are constantly challenged by a reality that annoys them. Like being assaulted by mosquitoes, all the time. They don’t have an attitude problem, it’s the world that lacks one.

This is the exact reason why we love their work.  They disturbed the reality in which they are put in, they challenge it, always demanding more, to see what is behind. They do not want to photograph the yellow brick road, although that might be pretty, they want to photography the wizard behind the curtains.

This is true for all types of photographers; News, celebrity, portrait, commercial stock, landscape. Because, in photography, they are no rules.

So, next time you hire a photographer, make sure he/she is a trouble maker. Chances are, they will also be very talented.

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11 Thoughts on “The trouble makers

  1. Many of the photographers I know who are talented can be pain in the asses. They insist in pushing the limits, not accepting “no” for an answer and striving to be the best. Behind the attitude is a frustration with mediacracy. I have no problem with these shooters as long as they respect their subjects and are professional. I have no patience for someone full of themselves. The best pay it forward to new upcoming photograhpers. The best strive to do right by their subjects and the story. The best have passion. I’ll advocate till I’m blue in the face for these pain in the ass shooters any day.
    Taimy Alvarez, DOP Sun Sentinel,

  2. I really take issue with your opening statement.

    I’ve worked with many a “great photographer” and most I would not consider “trouble makers.” I was personally involved in a situation where James Nachtwey, one of the best known photographers out there, was told he didn’t have access to a particular place and was not allowed to shoot in that location (portrait assignment for Time), and he was easy, kind and understanding. There was no “Do you know who I am” complex, and I respect him for that.


  3. JI,
    I beleive you misunderstood my entry. It is about those who challenge reality, not prima donnas. They are trouble makers because they do not accept everything as is. In no way does it means they misbehave. There is intelligence in the process, not tantrums.
    hope that helps

  4. photomavin on April 20, 2009 at 10:35 am said:

    What bugs me are the ones that are trouble makers with no passion or talent. Listen up, you know who you are.

    I have willingly put up with a lot of demands from the very talented. I may not have liked it but it was worth it in the end.

  5. You called great photographers a “pain in the ass,” “stubborn,” “recklesss,” and have “extremely bad character.” Then you say (comment #3), “in no way does it mean they misbehave.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by this post. Of course good photographer want to be provocative, and not go with the status quo. But I wouldn’t call that having extremely bad character or being reckless. Would you mind providing specific examples of great photographers being a pain in the ass or reckless in a way that’s not misbehaving?

    – Jim

  6. sure,

    Eddie Adams, Eugene Smith, Cartier Bresson ( and most of Magnums founders, BTW), Annie Leibovitz, David Lachapelle, how many do I have to put in here to prove my point ?
    These photographers are or were also some of the most charming people to walk this earth. You misunderstood if you think I was talking about only one of their characteristics.

  7. Thanks for the reply. I agree those are great photographers, but when I asked for examples, I didn’t mean which photographers do you speak of, I meant: could you please give a specific example of a great photographer doing something reckless/being a pain in the ass/demonstrating extremely bad character/etc. in a way that is not misbehaving?

    I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, just trying to understand your post.

  8. Jim,

    I think you missed the point of this entry. It is not an analysis of behavior but a reflection on character. They create trouble because they challenge the reality that is given to them. They are a pain because they want to change things to present another perspective. They are reckless, because sometimes, they will go through unbelievable risks to get the right image. They can have an extremely bad character because they are very demanding with themselves and with their surroundings.
    Does that mean they spit on the floor ? no. Does that mean they curse and scream at everyone? no. Does that mean you want to stay away from them ? Never.

    hope that helps

  9. Hmm, I don’t know who would consider “changing things to a present another perspective” as being a pain in the ass; on the contrary, I would think most editors and art buyers would encourage if not expect this. Same with “challenging the reality that is given to them;” who considers that “creating trouble”? Does anyone in the world consider being “very demanding with themselves and with their surroundings” to be “extremely bad character”? I would think most people, especially in creative fields, to consider that to be “good” character.

    Maybe this is just a semantic issue, but I still don’t get where the trouble, recklessness, and extremely bad character comes in. All the examples that you mentioned would be considered good character/behavior by editors, in my experience.

  10. Jim,

    If you do not understand what I am saying then I am sorry, I cannot help you. I am too busy looking at great photography.

  11. I loved your comments – as I saw myself in them – not the great part, the desire for something more and not being satisfied with ‘standing there’.

    I get frustrated with myself when I don’t push enough for what I need in an assignment to allow the moments to happen.

    And I prefer to focus my lens on the upbeat and quirky moments of life which, in a world where the audience is mesmerized by the tragic, increases the challenge of capturing the image that asks the viewer to look again and again.

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