Facing Rejection: Seeing the Light Through Darkness
Photos © Paul Cotter Photography
Like all artists, photographers know the sting of rejection and disappointment. Andre Kertesz, one of the world’s greatest photographers, fell into relative obscurity after he moved from Europe to the U.S. in 1936. For decades, he felt alienated and under-appreciated here.
Kertesz knew the brutal truth: creative work can be painful. Whenever we take the courageous step to express ourselves -- whether it's through photography, music, writing, painting, woodworking, etc. -- we're baring our creative souls and exposing our work to judgment. Our efforts can be met with praise, criticism, ridicule, misinterpretation or indifference.
As Kertesz himself experienced, darkness and bitterness can settle in whenever our work is rejected or ignored.
San Francisco, CA
I know the feeling. Last week, I received notice that my photographs would not be included in this year’s edition of a highly selective fine art publication – a book I was thrilled to be included in last year.
The rejection hurt because I’d poured my heart into this year’s submission. Determined to top what I did last year, I'd spent many rainy nights photographing on city streets, capturing abstract images that I felt were unique. And then I went beyond that, shooting another series with a different theme. And then another.
I felt total confidence when I submitted my entries, convinced that my work this year was better than last year’s. In my mind, I was already doing a victory lap.
And then the disappointment came. When I learned I wasn’t going to be published in this year’s book, I felt the darkness that Andre Kertesz and every artist faces at some point. I felt burned out. Deflated. I wanted to put my camera away for a good long while, because I felt my fire and purpose had been snuffed out.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
But then something beautiful happened. After about an hour of feeling sorry for myself, the darkness lifted and I saw the radiating glimmer of light and joy again.
The light appeared when I reminded myself why I photograph.
Oceano Dunes, CA
I take photographs for the same reason that dancers dance, painters paint, writers write and musicians make music. Yes, it’s nice to make money and it's nice to be recognized. But at the deepest, truest, most primal level, my photographic passion is not driven by awards, money or the quest for 10,000 "likes" on social media.
I photograph because I need to. For me, it’s like food, air and water. I’ve been taking pictures since I was in 7th grade and I can’t imagine myself NOT photographing.
Andre Kertesz felt the same way, which is why he kept shooting until the end of his 91 years. He kept photographing even through those dark years when he felt forgotten and marginalized and no one seemed interested in what he was shooting. He kept photographing even after his wife died and he felt lonely and heartbroken. When someone asked why he kept shooting at age 90, he replied, "I'm still hungry."
In the end, his lifetime achievements were fully appreciated for what they were -- brilliant and masterful.
Andre knew darkness and disappointment, but he never lost sight of the light that glowed inside him. I'm inspired by his tenacious spirit. This is why I pick up my camera with joyful expectation, looking forward to heading back into the city streets or into the rural backroads or into the mountains or off to the ocean or into the backyard where our granddaughter is playing with a pail of water and I can’t wait to click the shutter again.
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