Where Have All The Heroes Gone?

The older I’ve become, the more I’ve tried to simplify my life.

I can’t handle (or don’t want to contemplate) making a choice from 10 cameras, let alone the 47 toothpastes on the average supermarket shelf, or the 4700 pairs of headphones available on Amazon.

Hence my experiments this year with one month, one camera.

This is partly a reaction to the speed and complexity of the world we live in today – and the utterly overwhelming choices we have in all aspects.

Some would claim this is the ungrateful mumblings of a spoilt first world citizen, and that choice is a privilege that vast swathes of the world’s population have never known.

But it gives us our own kind of afflictions and anxieties, often rendering us confused and  directionless.

This range of choices, combined with our ever hyper-connected online world, where any of us can publish our thoughts, images, art and videos in seconds, results in us simultaneously feeling we can do anything, but are overwhelmed by the complexity of choosing just one thing.

Anything is possible. But nothing gets done.

A photographer 50 years ago, looking for inspiration and guidance as to what a stunning photograph looks like, had straightforward paths to take.

They could seek out either a published and critiqued book of photographs, or visit an exhibition.

There were gatekeepers – the critics, publishers, gallery curators – who made decisions for the rest of us about what was worth public display and consumption.


Today we have billions of images at our fingertips online, and it’s almost entirely down to us to decide which of those images are worth our attention and study.

When the vast majority of them aren’t.

So we jadedly roam these endless beaches searching for that rare photographic gem amongst a billion ordinary grains of sand.

The so called heroes of today seem to be those who have the most exposure on TV, and those who have the most followers and “likes” on social media.

Which gives a skewed reality to the rest of us on what a worthwhile role model looks like.

It’s suggesting to us that to be someone we too must follow this route and acquire the fake tan, hair, nails, tattoos, a dog that looks like a rat, carried in a handbag that cost more than a car, and/or the notoriety from getting drunk, fighting, sleeping around, and publish it to the world in frantic fits of selfies.

Worse still, whilst we’re all human, and therefore imperfect, something to embrace and celebrate, a constant exposure to mediocrity at best – and just distasteful, unbecoming behaviour at worst – surely dumbs down everyone’s expectations and passions.

So where do we find our heroes today, the role models to light the way not only for our photography, but in life in general?

Personally, there are very few contemporary photographers I follow. In the last few years I’ve delved more into the past, investing in books before gear, something I could still do far more of.

In wider life, I’m really not sure I could hold up anyone “famous” as a role model.

More likely I would tell you my heroes are the likes of the teachers, doctors, nurses, research scientists and charity volunteers, the people who diligently go about their important work day to day with a quiet dignity, remaining anonymous to most, but life changing to those they direct come into contact with.

How about you? Who are you heroes today – in photography, and in the wider walks of life? And how do you find them?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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5 thoughts on “Where Have All The Heroes Gone?”

  1. Wow, the timing of this post…So true about embracing and seeing the beauty in imperfection. The greatest heroes are in a constant battle with the shadows. There are victories, but the fight never ends. What makes someone a hero is that they never give up. They may be afraid or discouraged, but they keep on going. My heroes, and they are so very few, have all appeared out of the blue. Sometimes it takes a while to recognize them. Real heroes tend to fly under the radar. Here’s one for you to discover, if you haven’t already- dalocollis.com Very inspiring photographer and writer on WP. Great post, Dan. Hope you are well.

    1. Julie, thanks so much for your thoughts. I think you’re right about not giving up, someone persevering with courage in the face of adversity is pretty much the definition of a hero.

      Thank you for the link to dalocollis.com, just reading the latest post I can see why you like them. I will read more with interest.

      Did you see this previous post on the beauty of imperfection?


      I’ve been trying to write more posts like this (mostly less about gear, and far more thoughtful and poetic), but await with baited breath the general lack of response as people await the next “gear” post! So I’m additionally grateful for your thoughts here.

  2. I have a lot of respect for our new head of department, so I guess that makes her my hero? It’s not often you see a black woman with two young kids in a senior position! Most of the senior leadership team at my employer (and previous employers!) are white males, so I am very inspired by her. Added to that, she is the most hands-on boss I’ve ever had. Actually gets involved in the day-to-day, listens to you, and tries to understand fully what’s going on even though she oversees so much. The guy she replaced was the opposite; never actually knew if he was in the office because he’d always be hiding in some meeting room somewhere.

    After taking care of (well trying to) my mum last year and the year before, I have a whole new respect for anyone who’s a carer, whether it’s professionally or someone staying at home to take care of loved ones. It’s really hard, and really stressful, and yet the work is so undervalued. No one cares about these people who are essentially subsidising the government, because they won’t put enough funding into social care. They get barely any support (financially or otherwise) and it’s shocking really. Your life gets completely taken over, people give up their careers, and then when that person you’re taking care of has gone, there is literally NO safety net! If you’re getting paid carers allowance, they stop it almost immediately. Makes me so angry….


    1. I work in a local authority and the district generally is very white middle class. Our organisation last year had to undertake a nationwide gender pay gap survey, about the salaries of men and women gender ratio in senior roles, and the results really shocked me, an 11% gap. I just assumed each role had a certain salary, regardless of the gender of the person in that role.

      I think carers come into my group of heroes with doctors and nurses, those quietly supporting and helping people with little fanfare. Sorry to hear the system currently offers little support to those supporting.

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