Great photographers are fundamentally unhappy people. Not suburban-housewife unhappy, waiting to be swept away, a la Madame Bovary. No, the best photographers are unhappy with the world around them and how it functions. What bothers them is the way reality is commonly perceived: normal, bland, boring, uninteresting.
What is compelling to a photographer is not reality as it is presented to them, but what is behind the surface. Or on the sides. Great photographers do not accept things the way they are. They are troublemakers.
Put them in a photo call with a pre-assigned position, and they will go out of their 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 them in a pool situation, as was done during the First Gulf War, and they will wave their middle finger at you, even if it means putting their life in danger. If they are not permitted to change position, they will change cameras or lenses, or they will crouch or jump — because somewhere else, other than where they are standing, is the right image, the perfect frame.
No wonder photography’s birthplace is Paris. Parisians, whether born there or adopted, are notorious troublemakers. Absolutely nothing can satisfy them, with the possible exception of being dissatisfied.
From David LaChapelle to Henri Cartier-Bresson, the most talented photographers have always thought to go beyond everyday visual convention. They seek to show us the world “the other way.”
Their 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 ever-so-slightly move you away from your comfort zone and force you to re-position your thinking.
Stubborn, Reckless — and Brilliant
It should come as no surprise, then, that talented photographers are 99 percent pain in the ass to work with. They have strong opinions. They are stubborn. They are reckless.
But that is simply because they are constantly challenged by a reality that annoys them. For gifted photographers, reality is like being assaulted by mosquitoes, all the time. They don’t have an attitude problem; it’s the world that lacks one.
And this is the exact reason we love their work. They disturb the reality in which they are placed. They challenge it, always demanding more, to see what is behind it.
They do not want to photograph the yellow brick road, no matter how pretty it might be. They want to photograph the wizard behind the curtains.
This is true for all types of photographers: news, celebrity, portrait, commercial stock, landscape. The rules — or lack thereof — are the same.
So the next time you hire a photographer, don’t worry too much if he or she is a troublemaker. For the best photographers, it’s a prerequisite of the job.