Viewfinders Manifesto #8: LEARN
We believe that making mistakes is essential on the road to making great images.
We aim to inspire here with beautiful images but we’re not afraid to share our struggles
and missteps and the learnings that came from them.
In late summer the porcelain berry vines that circle our yard turn from a nondescript vine with green berries to an astonishing wonder, as if someone had sprinkled tiny colored Easter eggs among the vines while we weren’t looking.
And as I do every year, I rush out with my camera to capture their fleeting beauty. If I search through my photo archives I can be assured to find a least four or five (or ten) images of these lovely berries each September.
And each year when I post photos of the berries online, I get lots of ooohs and ahhhs, but my more practical and knowledgeable friends will gently remind me that these are invasive plants that should be discouraged and eradicated rather than celebrated. This holds true for the bittersweet vines I admire so much, and the Datura (aka Jimson Weed) that looked great in my garden the first year, and then exploded its spiny seedpods to create a nightmarish invasion of plants the following spring. I’m still battling them even at the end of the season.
Invasives: I love them for their beauty and despair of their ability to drown out or destroy those around them. They take over the garden — and also take over my photostream. They demand my attention, and probably keep me from seeing the more compelling potential images nearby. In my excitement to take the photo of the obviously beautiful, I may be missing the more subtle and interesting shot. While I love a pretty picture as much as the next person, I need to remind myself that my goal in taking photos is to show something that the viewer might have overlooked… to tell a story that others may have missed. When I look through my photostream and feel uninspired, I know that the invasives have had their way with me again.
This got me thinking about the other invasives in our lives – those things that keep us from being our best selves and doing our best work. There are the invasive habits that we can’t let go of, invasive and intrusive thoughts that make us doubt ourselves, health issues that invade our bodies and sap our energy, and invasive people who take up our precious time. Just scroll through Facebook or Twitter on any given day and see how many invasives distract you with their big presence, and keep you from connecting with friends and family in a meaningful way.
So how do we battle the invasives in our photography practice? How do we keep from rushing to shoot just the beautiful, the known, or the thing that demands the most attention? I think we do it in same way we might battle the invasives in other parts of our lives. Here are the things that have helped me focus on what’s meaningful, in photography and in life:
I remember when I was a child lying back in the grass on a summer’s day, I would squint my eyes so that world would become blurry and hazy, and would let my mind go blurry and hazy too. Without knowing it, I’m sure I was tapping into some kind of relaxation tool that comes ingrained in us, but gets lost along the way as we become grownups. As part of a photo practice, we can use this technique to change the way we look at things. Try blurring your focus — #bluronpurpose – and see how you like the results. Your images will have a painterly quality that may tell a different and satisfying story.
I have rheumatoid arthritis, which causes symptoms that demand attention on a daily basis, and also change from week to week. It is an invasive and exhausting condition, but knowing I have to live with it for the rest of my life forces me to try new ways to cope and new ways to focus. Rather than always focusing on the most painful place in my body, I try to notice what feels really good or what has changed or shifted. With photography we can do the same thing when the invasives take over. Rather than focusing on the obvious main character, why not try to see the special thing hiding in plain sight? When you get the urge to point and shoot, take a moment to refocus and find the magic in the moment.
I’m not a person who’s afraid of change – I actually thrive on it – but I understand the impulse to stay within your comfort zone. My images of porcelain berries every year are an example of that. My feeling is that if you don’t change it’s difficult to grow, and we want to experience growth no matter what stage of life we’re in. So I try not to wait for opportunities to try something new with my photography – I seek them out and embrace them. Right now I’m getting back to film photography after many years away. If huge leaps of faith are too difficult for you, take baby steps in a new direction.
LOOK FOR MEANING
In daily life we often stay in status quo mode, and get through our days without analyzing what really matters. Those invasive people/places/things demand attention, we deal with them, and then we move on to the next invasive moment. In photography, we can settle for going along happily snapping photos of things that please us, or we can move deeper into what really matters, and what story we want to tell. I try to keep this in mind when shooting – what is the thread I want to convey or the story I want to tell about myself and my world through my images? I’m not always successful, but keeping these things in mind brings me back to the reason I’m a photographer.
Too often we do things out of duty or guilt – because the invasives in our lives tell us we must. We worry about measuring up and fear rejection. We set goals we can’t meet. With photography, we often shoot and share images mindlessly, and thrive on the feedback we get from the Instagram, Facebook and other online communities that tell us we’re good, or good enough. We’ve all had those moments when we post a photo online and don’t get the reaction we’d expected. It feels bad, even when we know it shouldn’t. The online world can invade our psyches and tell us we’re not good enough. I try, and I hope you will too, to create images that I love, that I think are worthy, and tell the story I want to convey. Start with loving your photos (and yourself) first, and the rest will follow.
What invasives are you battling? I hope you can use a few of these tools to help you keep them at bay.
See you soon.