Get personal

A news event caught my eye this morning: “Photojournalism Pioneer Eve Arnold Dies at 99.” I had never heard of her, so I don’t know why this grabbed my attention. Perhaps it was because the headline suggested a strong woman who made way for others in her field, but I decided to learn more about her.

I read the article that had initially caught my eye, looked up the Wikipedia entry for her, linked to a fairly informative profile, and finished by browsing through some of her work. Although I appreciated her photos, it is her words that still stick with me.

She wrote that “Themes recur again and again in my work. I have been poor and I wanted to document poverty; I had lost a child and I was obsessed with birth; I was interested in politics and I wanted to know how it affected our lives; I am a woman and I wanted to know about women.” (From her 1976 book, The Unretouched Woman) She summed this up perfectly when she said that  “a photographer must have a personal and passionate approach.”

I love that perspective, and I’m convinced that it applies to everyone, not just photographers. How much better will my work–and I’m not just talking about the stuff I get paid to do–be if I approach it personally and passionately? If I pour myself into it, I’ll have a deep connection to the outcome. A personal and passionate approach leaves no room for mediocrity, for halfway. Our work is a reflection of ourselves.

Of course, this approach only works if we love what we do. Even from the little I read about Eve Arnold, I’m certain that she understood that. That’s why her work was so closely tied to her interests. She found subjects that fascinated her, and then she poured herself into capturing their images.

Oddly, all of this reminds me of a dialog from the movie You’ve Got Mail. When Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan, “It’s not personal; it’s business,” she responds with “It’s personal to me.” Meg got it.

Look around at the people you know who are successful. Their work is their passion; it’s part of them.

Do what you love and love what you do. If you don’t, do something else.

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