I’ve been reading a book by the well-known photographer and author Tom Ang. In it, he prefaces a section on other famous photographers by comparing and contrasting originators and elaborators; terms defining, respectively, those who invent and pioneer, and those that improve and carry forward. Further, the vast majority of practitioners of whatever the field is, are elaborators.¹
I can’t help but make comparisons. Sometimes, I think that’s what I do best. Saying “This is like that” seems to be my first step in the process of understanding anything.
So it is with originators. In space exploration, we have Robert Goddard and Wernher von Braun among many others. In photography, there are pioneers such as Ansel Adams, Margaret Bourke-White and Stephen Dalton. In Bluegrass and banjo, they are like Earl Scruggs, Joel Sweeney, Bill Monroe, Bill Keith and Don Reno.
And so it is with elaborators; they are like you and me.
To draw further analogy from Tom Ang’s work, he states:
“The vast majority of published and exhibited photography is in fact the work of elaborators – superlative artists who were often inspired to take up photography by the originators and who have themselves become great artists in their own right.” ²
To me, that’s very inspiring. To think that just because I didn’t invent anything doesn’t mean I can’t make contributions to banjo playing, photography, or whatever it is.
1Tom Ang, Photography: History, Art, Technique (New York: DK Publishing, 2019), p.21.
2 ibid, p21.