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Review: "The Passionate Photographer: Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great"

By Ellis Vener

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“The Passionate Photographer, Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great”
By Steve Simon
Published by New Riders 

This book may change your life.

Newspaper photographers are by their nature storytellers who most often must collapse a complex narrative into a single frame. This is the training Steve Simon brought with him when he moved his career from being a newspaper shooter for the Canadian Edmonton Journal daily toward doing longer-term documentary projects for other editorial outlets as well as corporate and non-profit clients. Simon began that evolution back in the mid-1990s with a self-directed project about what life was like on the United States side of the border at a time when the Canadian press was full of stories about how Canada was becoming more like the USA. Since beginning his freelance career and moving to New York City, he has been acknowledged by groups like the Art Directors Club of New York, and he has won a National Press Photographers Picture of the Year. His clients include Nikon, Lexar, Apple, The New York Times Magazine, and Mother Jones. He also lectures at the prestigious School of Visual Arts in New York City, and teaches workshops and seminars. In short he’s not only successful but respected by clients and peers. Mr. Simon has also written and photographed four books of which “The Passionate Photographer” is the latest.

Mr. Simon’s evolution from daily news shooter to freelance documentary photographer frames the narrative of “The Passionate Photographer” in which he shares what he’s learned about creative and professional growth. These lessons are applicable to all professional photographers even if you have never had an interest in being a photojournalist. The book is written cleanly and concisely, and its path is not complicated: Discover or rediscover the kind of photography that inspires you to great depths of passion, which Step One defines as “an inch wide, a mile deep.” Once you have figured out that critical first step, the rest of the steps flow toward the natural goal: sharing your passion for the subject. Simon’s passion is photographing people in their cultures, and he’s turned that passion into a career that regularly takes him around the world.

“The Passionate Photographer” contains some very basic technical information scattered throughout, and Step Six (a useful conceit of the book is that chapters are called Steps) is a 16-page discussion about light and color, but this is not a book about technology or photographic technique. Instead it’s about psychological states that lead to creative breakthroughs. The meat, potatoes, and gravy here are the interrelated topics of how to get yourself out of your comfort zone because being passionate about what you do means being willing to take (sometimes calculated, sometimes not) risks, how to engage more creatively and more closely with your subjects, and how to keep failure from discouraging you (“Step Seven, The Art of the Edit: Choose Well and Be The Best You Can Be,” “Step Eight, Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses: Never Stop Learning And Growing,” “Step Nine, Action Plan: Setting Goals And Creating Strategies”).

Step Ten covers the crucial part: “Follow Through: Share Your Vision With the World.” Steve Simon’s final words in “The Passionate Photographer” summarize not only this last chapter but it seems his entire approach to his career: “Shoot, share, learn; and shoot some more. Repeat. Enjoy. Become the great and passionate photographer you dream of being.”