March 22, 2018

Photographic Celibacy: My Thoughts Ten Years Later

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since I first started practicing Photographic Celibacy. It’s hard to believe because I never thought that I would do this for so long. I figured that it would last for 3-4 years and then be done with it.

So what is Photographic Celibacy, why did I start this practice, why am I still doing it and what are my thoughts some ten years later?

First, the story on how Photographic Celibacy came to be.

The Wake-Up Call

A few years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field. 

During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.”  I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life:

“Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better.  What can you create that shows your unique vision?”

Those words really stung, but the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that?

I desperately wanted to know if I had a Vision, but there was a huge problem: what exactly was Vision and how did I develop it?  

What is Vision?

I found little help when searching the internet: I found several definitions of Vision, but none of them made any sense to me. Was it something you were born with? Was it something you could learn? Was it a style or look? Was it a talent that you developed? Could you go to photography or art school and gain it?

The Plan

I desperately wanted to know if I had a Vision, but the possibility of finding out was scary. What if I found out that I didn’t have one…what did that mean for my photographic aspirations and future? Part of me didn’t want to find out (I figured it would be better to be mediocre and have hope rather than mediocre and have no hope). But after I got over the initial fear, I knew that I had to find the answer.

So I devised a plan to find my Vision. I created a list of ten things that made sense to me, including:

I separated my work into two piles: work that I really loved and everything else. And then I tried to understand what it was about those images that made me love them.

I then committed to never again create images like those in the second pile. That included images that others loved, images that sold well and images that had won contests. It also meant that I would continue to create images even if no one else liked them, they didn’t win contests and didn’t sell…as long as I loved them.

I stopped listening to other people’s advice about my images. I figured if I was going to find MY Vision, I needed to stop listening to others no matter who they were, how accomplished they were or how successful they were. Their advice came from their experiences and point of view and not mine. 

I needed to stop paying attention to what others thought about my work and so I stopped posting images on social media and entering contests. I was doing all of that for the validation, because I lacked confidence in my work. Each time I got a like or won a contest, I saw that as evidence that my work must be good.  

Photographic Celibacy

And I did one other thing, perhaps the most controversial and certainly the most significant: I stopped looking at the work of other photographers.


Because I felt that if I continued to immerse myself in the images of others, I would continue to create work that looked like theirs or was a derivative of theirs.

I wanted to create my own work, from my Vision. I wanted to see through my eyes and not through the eyes of those photographers whose work I spent hours and hours looking at. 

Did It Work?

Did it work…did I find my Vision?


As I stopped looking at other people’s images and focused on what I was creating and what I thought of my work, my Vision began to emerge. The work I am creating now is my work, not an imitation of someone else’s. Now that doesn’t guarantee that my work will be liked by others, will sell or win awards…but it does guarantee that I’ll love my work and have the satisfaction that comes from creating honest work.

Ten Years Later

Ten years later and I’m still practicing Photographic Celibacy because I find it a useful practice for two reasons: first I’m still inclined to copy other’s work  

An example: a couple of years ago I had an image featured in the book “Why Photographs Work” by George Barr. When I looked through the book to find mine, I saw this wonderful image entitled “Three Crosses” by Brian Kosoff (above). I fell in love with the image, contacted Brian to purchase a print and hung it in my office to look at while I worked.

But then something began to happen, for the next several weeks I found myself driving around, looking at telephone poles so that I could create such an image. But then I remembered:

Ansel’s already done Ansel and Brian’s already done Brian. 

And the other reason I still find Photographic Celibacy useful: it keep me focused on what I am doing and not what others are doing. When I look at the work of others I find myself comparing their images and successes to mine. Sometimes I get discouraged at the large number of great photographers out there and all of the great images being created. All of this is an unnecessary distraction that keeps me from my purpose: creating images from my Vision.

Staying focused is hard and even harder when you are looking and comparing yourself to others. As my mother used to say: what others are doing is none of your business!

Lessons Learned

Here is what have I learned in these ten years regarding Photographic Celibacy:

Photographic Celibacy may not be for everyone. When I first shared my views on Photographic Celibacy, they were not well received. About 75% of the people thought it was just a stupid idea (and many said so), about 20% understood but said it wasn’t for them and about 5% understood and pursued the practice. One thing I see more clearly now is that while this practice works for me, it may not be right for everyone. Perhaps others are not as influenced by other photographer’s work as I am, or perhaps they are but feel that Photographic Promiscuity is the best creative path for them.

Not everyone is seeking their Vision. I have come to recognize that not everyone wants to create from their Vision. For some, photography is simply a hobby that they enjoy, others are interested in documenting while others still are focused on the technical aspects of photography. If you’re not seeking your Vision, you should keep enjoying the work of others!

Celibacy may be appropriate at a certain point in a person’s creative development.  I am more open to the idea that Photographic Celibacy may be a practice that is best applied at a certain point in a photographer’s creative development.

For me, this point came during a creative crisis: I desperately wanted to do more than imitate…I wanted to create images that were mine! I wanted this so badly that any sacrifice was worth this prize, even not looking at other photographer’s images.

Photographic Celibacy still serves a purpose, even ten years later. I always thought that once I had answered the question: do I have a Vision? that I would be able to go back to looking at images. But I discovered that the same forces that kept me from my Vision are still at work ten years later. And so, I believe that practicing Photographic Celibacy is as important for me today, as it was ten years ago.



So here I am ten years later, more committed than ever to Photographic Celibacy. Why? Because it works for me. 

Will it work for you? Only you can answer that. 

It has been one of the key ingredients of my success, which I define as creating images that are honestly mine and that I love. 

Will I practice Photographic Celibacy forever? I don’t know, but I will for as long as it serves a useful purpose.



80 thoughts on “Photographic Celibacy: My Thoughts Ten Years Later

  1. As an 82 yr old film based photog,amateur ,enjoyed your comments and more importantly how you have stuck it out and flourished.Congrats.Especially where you went to friends and kind of asked them,Praise the lord,you didn’t listen. As long as you don’t get hooked into believing that any one thing is THE thing,you will continue to grow and flourish..Again,congratulations……..

  2. I believe your concept is one of the most radical artistic
    ideas that is crucial to developing personal vision. We
    compare ourselves to others too often and it becomes
    a seesaw of ups and downs. Thank you again Cole for bringing this wonderful concept to light, also for your
    beautiful evocative imagery.

    Cheers Peter

  3. Very nice. I’m struggling with what/who I am as a photographer. My challenge seems to be also that my interests are so broad. This idea may just help me. Thank you, Tom

    1. Tom, for years I was told that my images covered too many subjects and genres, and that I should pick one and become known for that. I didn’t like that advice then and I like it even less now.

      My eye goes where my Vision and Passion take it. It’s where I create my best work.

      I’ve never liked “common wisdom” because it’s often not right for me.

  4. Hi Cole,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. Thank you for sharing your path and photographic journey. I am grateful that you sustain your passion for photography and continue to create work that speaks to us and moves us. I am grateful for the kind and inspiring ways you share your wisdom and your artistry in capturing wonderous moments.

  5. Hi Cole, interesting premise. But I enjoy your work. Very much. To refrain from looking at, and enjoying other’s work robs me of inspiration. Not to copy someone else’s vision but to formulate ideas of how I see the world around me. I have many ideas for images I want to create, and have created, which are wholly mine yet use parts from the many tens of thousands of images I have gazed upon through the years. Many would be hard pressed in this visual era to really, truly create work which is not somewhat or somehow derivative of others work through the past 150 years. And then painting before that. I applaud your desire to be creative unto yourself and still produce very good work. I look at your work all of the time. Not to copy your vision or style but to glean techniques, use of light, places, ideas, that might enhance my own work. My own creativity. I don’t live or work or experience in a vacuum and I understand your point of view. Keep up the good work and keep enlightening me about your work. Please keep showing me what you see and create. I will continue to look at it. And learn. And use what I can to create my own work. I look forward to meeting you somewhere. Sometime.

  6. Hi Cole,
    I thoroughly enjoyed your blog. Thank you for sharing your photographic framework. Your wisdom, artistry and ability to capture so many wonderous moments is an inspiration.

  7. What ingenious idea. I can see how other photographers have impacted my photography but I’m not sure I want to take it to the extreme you have. After all if I had I wouldn’t be reading this blog. How far do you take this ‘celibacy’? Do you look at other artwork? How about movies?
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos

    1. Michael, my restrictions are primarily on other photographer’s work. I have never looked at traditional art that much, and as for movies…I had never thought of that! I’ll ponder on that one.

  8. Great read Cole! I totally relate and also stopped entering contests, and posting images on photonet and other social media. I don’t know if I’ve found my vision, but I’m a happier photographer. I do still enjoy looking at other photographer occasionally, but not sure how much it mpacts me. I do keep a 6 and 10 stop nd filters in my bag because of you though. I really enjoy the slow process. Reminds me of my 4×5 days.

    1. Paul, don’t keep those ND filters in your bag, use them! (smile)

      Being a happier photographer is a great outcome. Art should be a calming and satisfying experience. Competition does not foster those things.

  9. Cole,
    Not only do I admire you for your commitment to stay with your unique philosophy, I also admire your ability to articulate it so clearly in your writing.
    Count me among the 20% who understand but would clearly miss my pile of monographs by photographers who inspire me to grow artistically and to strive to make better photographs. Had I embraced photographic celibacy I would have never discovered your imagery and subsequently been able to share several engaging and insightful emails with you.
    While I still enjoy external validation of my work, what has changed since reading and absorbing your missives is that these compliments and feedback no longer alter my goals or what subjects I should shoot to supposedly have greater mass appeal. I also look for and create many more black and white photographs than I did before. This is partly due to your commitment to the medium, your encouragement that I should keep making them, and the extra level of satisfaction I now experience from a well-executed black and white image.
    Thank you Cole for your superb imagery and inspiration.

    1. Paul, you make a great point. We all love external validation, but the question is: do we create to get that validation or do we create for ourselves and then the external validation is the cherry on top? Only we know our motives and can make that determination. Being honest with ourselves about our motives is the first step in change.

  10. Your comments address concerns that dominate my thinking lately. It’s a lonely, scary place to be. Thanks for the inspiration you provide.

  11. I too have made piles of my work with the intention of hanging them in my house. I put my favorites on the dining room table to see what rose to the top as I walked by. And I did see a theme! Have not verbalized it yet, or hung the pictures. These are things I personally want to live with. Thanks for your thoughts! I love your back fence image.

  12. I will read this blog to my photo club and see what their reaction is and know your work inspires me so I cannot be a celibate photographer like you ????

  13. Great article, Cole…I hope more people will get a better understanding of what you have penned as Photographic Celibacy. And as important as it is to understand how you use this technique to formulate your Vision, it also is important to see what that Vision is. You have mastered that, as well. While it may violate the spirit of celibacy, one cannot but admire and be inspired by the art you produce from your Vision, which is clearly and beautifully expressed in black and white long exposures.
    While each of your photos is unique, each also are true to your Vision. Having discussed this with you before, I believe that I practice a modified version of Celibacy, and continue to search for a Vision I can more clearly articulate.

    1. Gary, good point, understanding what Vision is, is difficult. It’s incredibly complex in some ways, but incredibly simple in others. My wife thinks that I write too much about Vision, but it’s the key to everything and where my Passion is! I think I’m going to write an another article about what Vision is, just because it’s such a ethereal and slippery concept.

  14. Cole,
    Great update. For several years I’ve tried to understand your concept of photographic celibacy. I’ve been shooting seriously for five years and I’ve struggled along this photographic journey.

    I submitted work to countless competitions. Some of my images were selected but most weren’t. It was incredibly frustrating, as I really liked my work. Even more frustrating was seeing the strange images (strange to me) that were selected over mine. Should I change my “style” to get more “likes” or “wins” or should I stay true to myself?

    Your “Lessons Learned” resonated with me and I find myself evolving towards photographic celibacy. Recently I decided not to post any more images on photography websites or enter in competitions. I only will determine if I like my photographs. I don’t feel I’m at the point of total photographic celibacy. I’m still learning and still feel a need to seek the insight and guidance of others I respect, to include you.

    Thank you Cole. I truly admire, and am inspired, by your work and your words.

    1. I believe that if Photographic Celibacy is right for you, then it will come at the right time and you will be ready for it. Don’t fight it! All things come in their own time.

  15. Hi Cole — thanks for sharing your thoughts. I know I am “searching” for my vision and I am guilty of comparing my work against others. I don’t try to copy or imitate, but still often find myself questioning whether any of it is any “good” — the internal critic is the worst. Your process offers a gentler path. Thank you

  16. Cole, Very interesting discussion and observations. I have admired your work for some time. We met at You fist show in Ft. Collins. You may find it interesting that have a few photos where I tried to emulate YOUR style! I have since done a review of my work, and realized that the work I am most proud of, is where I had a vision, and was able to convert that vision to an image.

    Best regards, Kevin

    Kevin Barnes
    Westminster, Colorado

  17. Cole, Your posts about vision and photographic celibacy speak to me. When I was learning the technical aspects of photography, participating in photography clubs and “competing” helped me grow my knowledge and skills. But two years ago I quit competing and comparing myself to others and began projects that spoke to me. Best thing I’ve ever done! I’m learning about myself through my photographic voice and realizing that it was never a matter of creating a voice or style but rather uncovering my voice from within. I do love your photography and I still look at the work of others but I always come back to listen to my inner voice in my work.

    1. Marilyn, you have said it so well!

      Vision is not developed, but discovered. It’s always been there, we just bury it under a lot of “crap” such as trying to please others, trying to fit it, trying to win…

      Recently a friend who is 81 years old told me that he has concluded that following your Vision is simply “being yourself.”

      Thanks Marilyn!

  18. Hi Cole,

    Considering the practice of your style of Photographic Celibacy, the thought of how one could possibly follow that practice to your standard AND read your blogs / newsletters came to mind… now I feel dirty!

    On a more serious note, the idea of one’s own path is important, but for myself Photographic Celibacy requires less stringent viewing of other’s work, but probably greater effort when it comes to the effort of trying to follow “my own path” in making images.

    For myself, your style of Photographic Celibacy would be like giving up listening to all music in order to find my own path as a blues drummer.



    1. Funny Wally! I’m guessing that you’re in the 75% category? (that thinks I’m nuts)

      You are right though, the goal is to follow your own path. However you can do that, is a good thing.

      I am learning to appreciate that there is not just one right path.

  19. Cole, I follow you regularly. I like what you have to say and the commitment to your thoughts and photographic principles.
    I always tell people about your thoughts offering critiques on others work. It can’t be done because you first off don’t know their vision and second you only know what you like and what you don’t like.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. All the best
    Orlando, Florida

  20. I completely understand your reasoning! It’s a fine line between appreciating other people’s work and letting their style “infiltrate” your own without even realising it.

    Judging by the quality of your work, your methodology has served you well – Keep it up!

  21. Hi Cole,

    A great post that throws me directly back into my own struggle: I loooove to look at images from other creators, I am ‘convinced’ I need to focus on one type of subject, and I love to create images of ‘all and anything’.

    You probably get an idea of where I’m coming from. I wonder if my love for taking pics of everything is too much influenced by seeing so much good work from others.

    Your article really makes me wonder if some photographic celibacy would help me; knowing that it would hurt….

    Thanks for sharing your insights and giving food for thought!


  22. Conversing with a photographic instructor at a local college, and sharing your ideas, he gave me this response.

    “Coming from a teaching background I agree with most of what Cole said regarding competitions and clubs. Although, I do believe growth comes from learning from others and critiques. Depending on what the intention of the photographers are, creating in a bubble is bad. You just have to decide going in what the nature of the critiques will be. I’m not a fan of only negative comments. I think the good needs to be pointed out also.”

    I still enjoy looking at work of others, yours too!, and hope that I don’t unconsciously copy their concepts.

    This has been a fine mornings reading.

    keep calm, carry cameras!

    1. I have a page of quotes on my website, this one seems to apply:

      “I really didn’t have much to teach. I didn’t even believe in it. I felt so strongly that everybody had to find their own way. And nobody can teach you your own way…. in terms of art, the only real answer that I know of is to do it. If you don’t’ do it you don’t know what might happen.”
      Harry Callahan

  23. So to practice photographic celibacy I can no longer look at your blog. Sorry – no can do! Thanks for the insight though.

    1. If that’s where you’re at in your creative development and it would help you, do it!

      Wait a minute, I think if you practice Photographic Celibacy you’re allowed to view just one photographer’s work!

  24. Hi Cole, my friend. Great read and I think it’s a wonderful approach. But I also believe that we all go through the steps of entering contests, submitting to social media, going to portfolio reviews, and the list goes on. This is an important step in our adventure as artists because of the validation it provides. That said, validation is not everything, but it does drive one to keep going… in the beginning. Once that has been obtained and confidence is acquired can one then begin to step back and start the adventure on their own. It’s like life in-general; our parents guide us in the beginning and then we take steps on our own (with a bit of assistance from others still) and then we finally step out into the world on our own two feet heading in our own direction. Or, it’s similar to the part in the movie “Finding Forrester” where the young author uses a few paragraphs of another author’s book to get his fingers going on the typewriter and then the rest begins to flow from within. I’m also now at the point in my path of stepping out free from the influence of others. I too have begun to embrace this methodology, and I’m liking what has been happening to my works because of it.

    Photography is a strange thing in that there are so many types of it. From forensics photography where an image can NOT be altered in any way, to sideline sports photographers that have quick turnaround times, to fine art photographers that CREATE with vision, and all areas in between. What’s so strange to me is that you don’t hear painters discussing this brush or that brush like you do with photographers and lenses. Vision is hard in the beginning because there are so many that can’t find their own so they simply emulate other’s works and default back to the discussion of gear and technique rather than the feelings that went into an image… they simply don’t know HOW to discuss that topic. Only after they have acquired their own vision do they begin to have such feelings to be able to discuss it in the first place. Photography celibacy is something that happens further down the path, but not at the beginning I don’t think. It’s so great that this has worked for you for over 10 years now, and I’m happy to say I’m on that part of the path as well.


    1. Kevin, your comments bring a couple thoughts to mind:

      I do see how confidence plays a crucial role in creating. Some people are born with boatloads of self confidence, even if it’s not been earned or deserved. Others have such great talent, but lack in self confidence. But until a person feels confident, they probably will not reach their full potential.

      Regarding painters not sitting around and talking about brushes and the like, I have a story to tell.

      I wrote this blog post entitled “A Conversation Between Vincent and Pablo…As I Imagined It Took Place” (

      In this conversation, Vincent and Pablo are overly focused on equipment such as brushes, easels, stools, frames and etc. In the end they chastise themselves for focusing on the technical over the creative, and wonder if photographers do the same.

      My friend, a recognized painter, wrote to tell me that painters actually do act like this! It surprised the heck out of me. I though we were the only ones who compensated for our lack of creativity and confidence by pursuing the technical.

  25. I love your vision, Cole. I’m amazed at how much my journey and experience is similar to yours. My “Ah ha!” moment came during a portfolio review with Ted Orland and David Bayles around 2008. After reviewing my work, Ted said something like the following:

    “If you your goal is to join the club of great ‘West Coast Photographers’, then let me say, ‘Welcome’. You’ve made it. Your work would hang perfectly among some of the greats. My question is, what ELSE do you want to do?”

    An exclamation point was added two years later when I had a private review at the SFMOMA with Sandy Phillips. Her comment was “Wonderful work–just beautiful–but you’re 50 years too late.”

    Thanks for giving me a name for what I’ve been doing since then! I realized that I had reached a level where I no longer needed feedback on the “quality” of my work, and no longer need study the work of others. I just had to get out there, experiment on my own, and create work that “I LOVE”, regardless of what others thought.

    Bravo, and keep up the wonderful vision!
    Lane Wilson

    1. Lane, those were two great comments your reviewers made! And it sounds like they made them with diplomacy and love. That makes the advice easier to swallow.

      My reviewer commented in such a harsh way that my anger would not let me learn the lesson for quite some time.

      I’m not a big fan of reviewing work, but I do appreciate those who can use encouragement and positive feedback.

      1. I left out a LOT of reviewers’ comments that were “not so diplomatic”. You obviously know what I’m talking about! 😀

        When I discuss work with other photographers looking for feedback, I try to remember to always start and end with positive notes about what I like in the work; but never short change them on an honest critique in the middle. I’m typically not a big fan of reviewing work either, but I find that doing it occasionally helps me “stretch my legs” on talking about what makes an image “effective”; which in turn helps me in describing my own work when necessary (something I find extremely difficult to do well).

        For you, I want you to know that when people ask me “of photographers working today, who’s work do admire”, the answer (in no particular order) is Roman Loranc, Bruce Barnbaum, Don Kirby and Cole Thompson. Others come and go from the list, but those are pretty consistent.

        You have the best blog by far…keep it up!

  26. I understand what you are saying. Personally, I just like looking at photographs, and I’d miss that if I cut myself off from everyone else. I have caught myself from time to time when out running around looking for a photo and remembering a photo I’ve seen somewhere and thinking I’ve found a similar situation. So other people can get into my head a little bit, but I don’t think in a really significant or influential way.

  27. Great blog post Cole! This makes more sense to me than anything I’ve seen in a long time (regarding photographic vision). It’s like the path of a Zen Monk. Is it for everybody? Probably not, but I tip my hat to you for having the balls to follow your own path. Will I follow this path? Probably not, I’m a retired 67 year old photographer and for me finding “photographic happyiness” is were it’s at 🙂 But best of luck to you in continuing on your path!

  28. You inspire me! I’m not 67, I’m 68 and I want to find my vision and I want to share it. I need to stop looking at pictures on the internet and start seeing through my lens. I know what moves me when I see it, I just need to open my mind and push the button.
    Besides, you like the Rio!

    1. I think it’s actually easier to find our Vision when we are older! We stop caring so much about what others think, we no longer have this need to fit in, we are more likely to do what we want. We all have a Vision, just be yourself Bill!

      And as far as the Rio is concerned…who wouldn’t love the Rio!

  29. Would you be the photographer you are today had you not tried to replicate Ansel Adams?

    For me, recreating someone else’s work was part of finding what and who I wanted to be as a photographer. In doing so I learned about composition, exposure and post processing. I also learned what I like and do not like as a photographer. I’ve moved on from that. Now, my goal is to take photographs which take me back to the moment I pushed the shuttter. Is that in itself vision? Probably not but when I look at my favorite images over the last few years, something is definitely emerging.

    1. Michael, there is no doubt that all of that looking is now a part of my Vision. The question that I ask myself is: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Might I have not found my Vision much sooner if I had been Celibate sooner? Might I have a very different and unique Vision if I had done this? In a sense, we can control some of our Vision by what we choose to do in life, what we choose to experience. How might I have crafted my Vision differently with different habits?

      This question can never be answered, but I wonder what lessons it might teach for going forward? Or for others who are just starting out?

      One of the most frequently expressed objections to Photographic Celibacy is: looking at other’s work is how I learn.

      I wonder if that’s really true. Or does it simply teach us to mimic and to produce work that is incrementally different?

      If I could turn back the clock of time, I’d take a chance and do things differently in regards to looking and finding my Vision!

      1. “If I could turn back the clock of time, I’d take a chance and do things differently in regards to looking and finding my Vision!”

        As would I.

  30. Cole, Thank you for an excellent blog. You have prompted some reflections on my part. I believe I look at the work of other photographers not to imitate but to appreciate. Looking at your photos, for example, helps me see. Each artist sees and represents the beauty of our world uniquely. Viewing that beauty through another’s eyes and presentation opens me to look again. And, sometimes, to see for the first time. I am unable to put into words what I see; often, looking is more an act of contemplation that does not result in an articulation. Seeing is its own value.
    So, thanks again for a splendid blog. Matt

  31. Hi Cole, enjoyed your article Photographic Celibacy. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Keep up the good work, looking forward to your next newsletter. Steve

  32. Cole,

    I am enjoying viewing the photos that I purchased. Your “Celibacy” article is more validation that I need to go my own way at some point in time. I have progressed to the point that I will still listen to the opinion of others but now take it with a large grain of salt. I still need to look at your work and others (like Bruce Barnbaum) who expressed much the same thoughts in his books. Each of you is stating in his own way- make images that you enjoy making . I hope that I can learn by viewing images without imitating.
    I am now finding it enjoyable to make abstract images of rusting pipe-very interesting to see what the Fuji Velvia film look produces with my XT-2.
    Thanks for an inspiring article.

  33. Cole,
    I find your work very interesting. I have been fortunate to have been able to spend my working life in photography. I love looking at pictures and always will. Some I like, some I don’t. Your path is not for me, but I love to look at your pictures. You are a great writer. Keep it up.

    Now that I am older I cannot do all I was doing before. But that is all right. I just had my 80th birthday.

  34. I wish I could practice what you preach here. I tried, I really did. I tried closing my eyes when I scrolled past each Cole picture. Unfortunately, after a bit, I opened them. I still had to look and enjoy your fine work… you tease you.
    Jan Armor

  35. Cole, echoing others this is a wonderful read. I can certainly appreciate your point. I have stepped away from photography for quite some time now in pursuit of a different creative medium. And I have found that many times when I create something I look at the finished piece and realize it is reminiscent of some one else’s work. I was influenced by my admiration of another artist and unconsciously used their idea with maybe a little variation. It is hard to practice artistic celibacy but worth a try. Or maybe only have limited thrills, like looking at your work :).
    When I return to photography, and I will, I think I am going give celibacy a try to see where it takes me. Glad you are still pursuing your art and sharing with the rest of us.

  36. Cole, you are an inspiration to me. Your philosophy has given me “permission” to not worry about what others people are doing. While I’m not strictly “celibate” to your extreme, when I look at other photographer’s work (like yours ☺) it is simply for enjoyment. If it also inspires me to look at something different, that’s great, but I don’t waste time comparing or imitating.

  37. Cole, your blog post couldn’t have come at a better time.

    As I commented to you on another of your posts, I follow Photographic Celibacy, but not Art Celibacy. Now I’m re-thinking that because I’m really struggling with my Vision. I’m not there yet and at a bit of a loss as to where to go from here. Nevertheless, the challenge continues, and I’m confident that I’ll get there someday, hopefully sooner than later since I’m moving quickly to my “golden” years .

    Keep up your great work and words of advice and encouragement. Cheers!

  38. Cole, I am a great fan of your work. It is truly inspirational. I am stuck in the grist of photographic promiscuity.; contests, posting on social media, etc. I see now that this is so limiting for my own creativity. I will have to give this much more thought. Thank you for your vision and sharing your experience.

  39. I enjoy looking at other people’s work. Am I affected by other people’s work? I am quite sure that I am, but do not think about it or worry or fuss over whatever effect it has on me. Because when I make a photographic image I am responding to what I see and what I am thinking at the time so it naturally comes out as my Vision. Simple concept, very simple indeed. No, no celibacy for me.
    You and I have corresponded and shared ideas together for quite a few years. I see some of my favorite image makers making work similar to yours, or reminding me of their work in yours and yours in theirs. Anything particularly wrong with that. Not to me.
    Celibacy in any form and for any reason is not for me. I do not believe that frequent looking at other people’s work has any detrimental of restrictive effect on me. But, if it works for you, go for it.
    My years making photographic images and time devoted to the seeing, the craft, the making of my own work has only enriched my life enormously. Nope! At age 86, I dismiss Celibacy in any form or concept it might take or be considered.

    1. Isn’t America great? We can have strong disagreements and yet remain friends and more importantly…not try to kill each other.

      Chuck, you are a friend and I have learned much from you. Thanks for your thoughts!

  40. I have told so many photographers about your approach over the past few years. I literally can’t imagine how many. And I get crazy looks and reactions when I tell them. I can only imagine what YOU encounter.
    Kudos to you for your discipline, resolve, and commitment. It clearly works for you.
    I remember hearing about a musician who did a similar thing many years ago…and I have since internally debated the pros and cons.
    Not ready to make that leap…at least, not yet!

    1. Steve, you have no idea how much flak I take! And sometimes, it does make me wonder if I’m the screwy one. But as you said, it works for me. You’ve been a good friend over the years Steve, thanks!

  41. Cole, I’ve been following your work and story for several years that inspired me to do a lot of research on the subject of vision and style. I certainly understand your views on Photographic Celibacy. I do believe as you have stated in this blog, that there comes a time in a photographers development that PC may have a place. Having spent the time “copying” Ansel and standing in his tripod holes probably gave you the technical ability to create the images you do today–it was part of your learning process. I feel when a photographer gets to the point, they know their camera and proficient in making images and people say, “you’re a pretty good photographer–this is the place PC might come into play. If you don’t even know what a f-stop is and you want to practice PC to develop a vision, I feel is going to lead to failure.

  42. I found your post here by googling ‘visual celibacy’. My most recent blog post ‘What Is Your Niche?’ relates to and reminded me of this concept. I feel that social media makes it too easy for many to be overly immersed in the work of others rather than looking inward for inspiration. As an artist (and with an art degree) I understand the concept of self-expression but often feel like I am alone among my peers in this understanding. When I see questions about where, when and how something was captured I wonder how these photographers can feel they are expressing themselves. On the flip side, I feel that if I want people to look at my work, I should look at theirs. Your post gives me a lot to think about.

  43. Denise Bush (comment #45) shared your article with me. I always had this little voice nagging in my head that I shouldn’t look too much at other photographs if I’d truly wanted to find what’s “mine”. Thanks for sharing your experience, it is an encouragement.

  44. HI, Cole. Having just very recently being able to access your newsletter, I decided to start at the bottom of the list of newsletter issues that you sent to me – re “Photographic Celibacy”. This vision resonates with me. I have said many times to others that I don’t want to do what other photographers do… I like to exhibit (for instance) images that give me pleasure and ones that are perhaps a bit unusual, distinctive or mysterious. That concept has befuddled some other photographers I have spoken with, I think, but the concept of photographic celibacy is reinforcing and helpful as I continue to “play” in this realm. I just need to make time to do more of it!

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for those thoughts. Not many people really understand much less believe Photographic celibacy is a tool that would be useful to them. But it has served me well for over 15 years and it helps me to create “honest work.“

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