Slumps. If you’ve been photographing for a while, you’ve probably experienced at least one.
There’s the seasonal slump that usually comes on for me in February when the sky has been gray forever, weeks more of winter stretch out in front of me, and nothing looks interesting or feels photo-worthy. Seasonal slumps don’t require much more than patience. Eventually the sun returns, the slush melts, things bloom, and you and your camera get outside again into a brand new world.
Some slumps have nothing to do with photography. Life hits you hard and you. just. can’t. The camera is what you pick up to celebrate beauty and joy, and you’re not feeling either, so for a time, till you’re able to see those good things again, your camera gathers dust.
Then there’s the mother of all slumps. When this one hits you start asking yourself, why am I doing this photography thing? Where am I going with it, and why the heck am I sharing my pictures? What is the point? For me, this one is the toughest to move through, and I’ve kept company with them all.
Whatever the cause, when a slump sets in, I know if left to my own devices I could go without wanting to make a picture for a long while. And, here’s the irony. What I need most when I’m in a slump is to get myself out into the world, no matter the weather, or my mood and make some damned pictures. It’s the fastest cure for my slump, and the best way for me to shift perspective – both literally and figuratively.
I’ve got a bag of tricks I go to when I realize I’m knee-deep in a slump: shoot a roll of black and white to see differently; pop on a lensbaby or plastic lens to distort reality a bit; if I’ve been favoring a camera or lens, switch to my most opposite lens/camera combo; I usually shoot in the f2.8-8 range, so I’ll force myself to shoot at f22 for a day, or at least for a roll’s worth of images. What all of these tricks have in common is that they force my hand, and make me do something a bit uncomfortable and different with my camera, which, in turn, forces me to look and think differently. Usually these techniques are enough to help me slough off my slump, but this winter when a big kahuna of a killer slump descended upon me, I felt my usual methods weren’t going to be sufficient to shake it off.
One cold bright day I decided I needed to try something completely different. I went into the city with my favorite camera and film, and the willingness to sacrifice a roll’s worth of photos just to get shooting again. No pressure, no forced discomfort, instead the goal was to shut off my brain and quiet my inner critic. I walked through a neighborhood that I know inside and out, and let my intuition guide me around corners, and down alleys in search of light and shadow.
When the roll was finished, I had no idea what I had made, but when I saw my scans I realized that I’d allowed my subconscious to tell the story of my internal confusion. And that this story, just a messy tangle in my brain, became kind of visually interesting and coherent once I let it free. I cautiously shared a few images from the series, and to my great surprise others responded to the images as well. But even more surprisingly, by letting that confusion out of my brain and onto film, I released it.
How do you get through a slump? Please share your tried and true methods in the comments. It never hurts to have a few new tricks.
Keep your eyes wide open,