1. Have talent. (Talent is not when your friends tell you they love your work, but when people who don't like you have to admit it's good.)
2. Understand how the world works. (Not just globally, but on a macro level. Understand what people need and don't need. Understand when to approach people and when not to. Develop social skills.)
3. Choose good friends. (There's nothing like an effective network.)
4. Be modern. (Don't do anything that looks like it's someone else's work. Stay on top of technology. Engage on multiple platforms.)
I suspect that most photographers would consider these as sound central principiles to guide their work. To me that's a problem. Why? Because these rules don't concern the central task of any photographer, which is the making of meaningful photographs. Instead they're about distribution. In fact Danziger's advice isn't specific to photography at all. The same marketing principles might be useful for car salesmen or young Hollywood actors or hedge fund managers or anyone else trying to get ahead in the world.
Fine, you say. We all want to get our work seen. What's wrong with marketing? Nothing, so as long as the selling of photographs doesn't manipulate their production. But I think people following this list —especially young photographers— may confuse the two. Instead of being seen as a guide to success, these principles may be mistaken for a general approach to photography.
I'm singling out Danziger here but the mentality is widespread in the photography community. Last Spring I saw an ad for a workshop promising to focus on these photography skills: Defining a target audience, creating the optimal marketing piece, writing query letters, entering juried shows, participating in portfolio review events, attending trade shows, designing and creating self-promotion materials such as web sites and general best practices for presenting your work. All of which may be wonderful skills but they have nothing to do with the hard practice of making meaningful work.
The list goes on. Reviews, Submissions, Networking, Social Media, I'm sure you know the game. There is a real danger, if one is not careful, of being consumed with these secondary tasks while actual photography takes a back seat. And yes, I would include blogging on that list.
With that in mind, here's my revised list of four rules essential for any young photographer trying to make meaningful photographs:
1. Find your talent. Everyone has something they were put on the planet to do, but most people wind up ignoring their calling or pursuing the wrong one. Maybe your talent is photography. Maybe it isn't. But before proceeding with photography, make sure that's your thing.
2. Understand how your brain works. Learn how it sees. Learn what it likes and why it likes those things. Learn how it can trick you. Test your brain out by exposing it to a ton of photographs as well as real scenes. Forget about social skills.
3. Choose good friends, not for networking but for honest critique of your work. The best feedback will come from a mix of photographers and nonphotographers.
4. Be postmodern. Borrow from any time period and any predecessor, then build on them to create your own vision. You needn't use modern tools but whatever you use should be so routine you don't have to think about it.
That's a start anyway...