Joiners versus Lone Wolves

Lone Wolf_Ian-Poole

Lone Pedestrian in Nagoya; © Ian Poole, 2011.

To the dismay of my Mother, my Father was a committee-man.  Therefore I can’t help it, it is in my DNA!  What Mother saw as wasting valuable family time, Dad saw as an altruistic repayment of events from an earlier life.  He was a returned serviceman who had had a narrow escape in the Battle of the Coral Sea and devoted a lot of time to war widows and ex-servicemen’s associations; and of course our local Boy Scout Troop.  Mum had trouble talking to the neighbours – but was good at sewing Scout badges on the correct sleeve and getting four sons off to Sunday School on time, with clean faces.  I was exposed to the classic joiners versus lone wolves scenario at a very early age.

Me – I started work in a small two man office, then worked in a small marketing self-contained unit, until I started my own photography business with a partner.  I had never been part of a large business structure and was accustomed to making decisions without too much supervision.  With this background, and the aforementioned DNA, I was destined to be a joiner.  It also helped combat the somewhat lonely existence of the photographer working in a small environment by giving access to similarly minded people dealing with like problems. Within six months of forming my first photographic business I was a member of my local state council of the Australian professional body.

For a joiner like me it gave me the security of being able to mix with other photographers, to share ideas and thoughts, and on occasion to brainstorm problems with people suitably qualified, by dint of experience, to do so.  My membership of a professional body also gave me the opportunity to seek peer assessment via a structured process.  This also proved valuable in finding my place in the professional pecking order of the day. Today, I enjoy helping others entering the funnel of achievement to do exactly this, attempting to repay the kindnesses of those who helped me.

Conversely I can see an advantage in being a lone wolf. Running ahead of the pack and not looking over your shoulder must be liberating – if you have the courage of your convictions and the requisite skills to conduct a profitable business without access to moral support.  In a day and age when so many photographers have no formal photographic education (which causes me great heartache – but that is a rant for another day), I doubt that the lone wolf concept is useful within a personal development context.  The lone wolf can only assess their photographic value by means of customer support and satisfaction, and self-assessment against similar published images within his or her genre of operation.  In my experience, thelone wolf is often an entrepreneur or a workaholic who is unable to delegate, or has no one to delegate to. A lone wolf is often a business jack-of-all-trades who is unlikely to share business decisions or ideas.

Nagoya Photographers-Ian-Poole

Amongst Photographer Friends, Nagoya; 2012.

Whilst some lone wolves eschew the social aspects of joining an industry body, it is more the business aspects of belonging to such a body that are important to me. Such a membership assists in validating my involvement in the photography industry, it gives me an introduction to other practitioners in distant towns and even more distant countries.  One of the tangible benefits for joiners, is access to the managed on going education that is best orchestrated by an industry body, this often tailored to contemporary needs as opposed to the primary education which was required prior to entering the profession.

Whilst I occasionally cast envious glances at lone wolves, I have to admit that there is some comfort in having a secure place within an industry body – if that makes me a middle of the road type of photographer then I am proud to be a joiner.

My association with fellow joiners has provided comfort beyond measure in difficult times, more than a few very close friendships and camaraderie within a large group of people on the same journey, even if our destinations, accidental or intended, are manifestly different.


This article is reproduced with kind permission from f11 Magazine – issue 24.

2 thoughts on “Joiners versus Lone Wolves

  1. Lone wolves have a long tradition in the arts and photography is not exempt. I think of figures like Eugene Atget, Ralph Meatyard, Clarence Laughlin, and Frederick Sommer all of whom have walked their own path, attracted consistent acclaim, but engendered no followers.

    Outsider art, lone wolf-ism, or art brut as Jean Dubuffet calls it, tends to attract autodidacts who have escaped institutionalization. There are advantages in having little or no contact with the art world. Private fantasies can be pursued, unconventional ideas followed, visionary, obsessive, or eccentric philosophies explored. There is a luxury, tempered by the hazard of solipsism, in having the self as the key audience.

    Where inwardness combined with creativity leads is not certain. It may tread close to selfish insularity and smug elitism. Or pictures unique beyond the crowd mind may emerge. It’s a game worth chancing.


  2. I agree with everything you wrote Ian. Different strokes for different folks. I love the social aspect of hanging with a pack but I think all the pics I have taken that I am happiest with came from long periods of working by myself. I think photography almost needs to be a monastic experience. The other empowering thing I discovered the less I listen top other people the better pics I take. Go figure.
    But I do enjoy catching up, will be in Brissie in a couple of days.


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