One of Darwin’s most seminal remarks on evolution, quoted en masse throughout the internet and various text books, is a profound piece of advice to any photographer looking to build a lasting career in the industry. The only catch is, he didn’t actually say it.
The Troublesome Quote
In 1963, a business professor of Louisiana State University gave a speech to a convention, and one of his brief summations of Charles Darwin’s important work “On the Origin of Species” ended up sparking a bizarre misquotation that has been wildly circulating for over 50 years. An extract of the speech — which was written down and published in a journal around that time — can be seen below:
“Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the changes wrought by the passage of time affects individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself. Applying this theoretical concept to us as individuals, we can state that the civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral, and spiritual environment in which it finds itself.” — Leon C. Megginson, Southwestern Social Science Association Journal. (Via Quote Investigator)
The part of the extract in bold will be familiar to most. It has been wrongly attributed to Charles Darwin as a direct quote for near 6 decades now. It is a reasonably accurate summary of some of the core themes in “On the Origin of Species,” just not directly lifted from the man himself. However, the words are not only powerful for any photographer looking for a long and prosperous career, Megginson’s words surrounding it are applicable too.
Its Value to Photographers
I have bored people silly on the importance of having at least one niche. I maintain it is fundamental to getting going as a professional photographer, and without it, you are trying to cover too much ground to maintain a foothold anywhere. One unintended consequence of this advice, however, is that it can be read to promote tunnel vision in your career, which is almost always a terminal mistake.
Although I, like many professional photographers, have specialized in areas in which I frequent and do a lot of my work, I am fully open to exploring new avenues as and when they present themselves. Last month I wrote an article on 10 of my favorite business books useful to photographers and several of these raise the topic of adapting and adjusting your career path. It was only when I heard the above misattributed quote that I had a moment of clarity. It’s not the most talented photographers who thrive in their career; it’s not the hardest working that have the most success; but the photographers who survive are the ones that adapt and adjust to the changing landscape of photography. This is patently obvious in recent history with the jump from film to digital. Many of the veterans of the industry were uninterested in such a drastic change and even less so in computers and technology; they invariably suffered as a result.
The cases for you and I needn’t be as wholesale and dramatic. Simply because you’re having success in one niche of photography doesn’t entail that you’ve cracked the code and will forever reap the rewards in even the same quantities as you are now, let alone more so. As I mentioned in a recent article, many photographers have had their income affected by computer generated imagery and renders (product photographer for instance). These shifts in peripheral but important industries to professional photographers can have a severe knock-on effect. In many ways, it’s an extension of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” just adding that you ought to be on the lookout for new and better baskets. That metaphor has lost a lot of its appeal by drawing it out, but the point stands!
To give yourself the best possible chance of a long and successful career in photography, be ready and willing to change and adapt.
Lead image by Singkham from Pexels