We're told to study the masters – painters and photographers who have established their presence in history, artists whose work we can look back across and learn from. That's good advice to a point, but it's also like trying to learn about music history and musicianship by listening to a dozen diverse "Greatest Hits" albums. The classics and favourites are there, but there's none of the original context, and cohesion is lost.
Camera clubs, competitions, and sharing websites all emphasize the single image in isolation – even as they present dozens or thousands near-simultaneously. We flip through, change the channel, see our images flash past on the screen out of order and mingled with others, hoping that a greatest hit rises above the rest. Creating one really good image is a tremendous feat and the elusive glimpse of success is a potent motivator. So we go on walks in the city, take drives through the countryside, and keep looking for that greatest hit to present itself to us.
Our creative process has us behaving like gold prospectors swishing mud through a pan. Sometimes we find a few valuable nuggets, sometimes we strike it rich, and other times we just enjoy the process and the tantalizing promise. And then we do it all again the next time, hoping for better but bringing little new to the process, and building nothing.
But this isn't the only way to work.