Image courtesy of Llinos Lanini
You may have heard of RedEye. It’s a not-for-profit organisation that was set up to support photographers and photography in a variety of different ways. They’re now intending to expand out into North Wales and last week they held an inaugural meeting in Mold, with a talk by a local photographer, Llinos Lanini (which has got to be one of the most wonderful names on the planet – I’ve been rolling it around in my mouth all day, like a very delicious sweet). At around the same time, an email by Seth Godin popped up in my inbox (Seth Godin, if you’re not familiar with him, is a well known internet marketer and writer). I’ll tell you what he said first, because it connects with the rest of it.
Seth’s point was that there are two opposing attitudes that people, businesses, or organisations tend to take: the first is a kind of take-it-or-leave-it, this-is-the-best-I-can-do approach, which can easily lead to sloppy, mediocre products and services. The second – and the one I’m interested in here – is feeling that our work just isn’t good enough, which usually leads to nothing happening at all. As he puts it: ‘countless projects go unlaunched, improvements hidden, thoughts unstated–because the person behind the idea is hiding behind the false understanding that their work isn’t good enough yet.’
Which brings me back to Llinos and her story. Llinos was a social worker, and then a relationship therapist for most of her working life, but in 2005 she bought a camera. If I remember rightly, she wanted to get a bit more exercise, decided against a dog, and bought a camera instead, thinking it would make her go out and shoot pictures. Less than six months later, she came across the sheep you see in the photo above, and took this wonderful shot. Shortly after that she saw a photo competition advertised in the Telegraph, and thinking she may as well have a go, she entered the sheep image. And she won!
Now Llinos claims that she got lucky, and it’s true there’s always a certain amount of luck involved in these things no matter how good you are. But it wasn’t just luck – she not only took a great photo, she took action. There have been many times when I’ve briefly thought about entering a competition and then done nothing about it because I assumed I wouldn’t stand a chance of being placed. I often give up before I even get started. And if Llinos had thought that way, she almost certainly wouldn’t be where she is today – which is earning her living by practising her art. Not only that, she’s doing it in the field of fine art photography, which is one of the most difficult to break into.
Winning the competition was the kind of break we all long for, but if Llinos had left things there then nothing much might have happened. But she didn’t – she knocked on gallery doors, she asked if she could exhibit, and she generally put herself out there and took every opportunity that presented itself, even if it wasn’t obvious how it would contribute to her photographic future. How many of us would have done the same? And it’s not because she has huge confidence and a high opinion of her own work – as she spoke, she seemed quite self-deprecating (see the comment above about just being lucky!), and emphasised that she had no training and didn’t really know what she was doing at the time. She just went ahead and did it anyway.
I think women are particularly bad when it comes to putting themselves forward. It was refreshing just to hear a female photographer speak, as every other photography speaker I’ve seen has been male. I’m generalising of course, but my own observations show me that many more male photographers – even, sometimes, not very good ones – are quick to enter competitions, put their work on display, give talks, and generally take any opportunity going. As women, we tend to hide ourselves and put our own work down. I see it in so many women I know, and also in myself. When I was exchanging emails with Llinos, and saying something to this effect, she replied: ‘I suppose that’s who my target audience is – women who don’t realise that they just need to believe in their own ‘eye’ and ability.’
While I think women are particularly prone to this, lots of us, both men and women, think ‘who are we to put ourselves forward for this?’. To paraphrase the oft-repeated quotation from Marianne Williamson: who are we not to? – our playing small doesn’t serve the world, and it doesn’t serve us. And, yes, it’s true we’re not all going to win competitions or be able to make a living in this profession, but some of us will and some of us can. And without exception, we’ll be the ones who gave it a go.
On that note, I’d like to leave you with a selection of Llinos’s photographs, and to thank her for her kindness in allowing me to use them here. (They are, of course, copyright and not to be used without written permission.) I’d also like to say I’m grateful to her for waking me up and making me realise I can’t allow myself to hang back any longer, unless I’m content to remain on the outside looking in – and I’ve been there long enough, I think.
Edit: A few minutes after publishing this I checked my gmail account, only to notice in the left sidebar it said: ‘You are invisible’ and underneath: ‘Go visible’. I’m smiling to myself.