Musings on Photography

The Best Way Out is Always Through

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on April 12, 2007

An email correspondent wrote, mentioning that her current photographs were at the surface level, that she can see the deeper but has trouble getting there, and that this is very frustrating.

My response was that it’s always that way.  It seems to be the nature of the problem.  It’s like digging a hole – to get three feet deep, you have to proceed through the first six inches, and then the second six inches, and…

Even worse, it’s like digging a hole where whenever you take a break, evil munchkins sneak in and fill the hole up again, so that after a break from the material, you have to dig the hole all over again.  They don’t pack the soil hard, so the digging goes faster the second time (and the third, and the fourth…) but you still need to dig through some surface stuff.

This seems like a rotten deal, and of course, it is.  But I have not found any way around it.  It seems to be a fundamental thing – to get at the deeper photographs, you have to be willing to make a lot of surface photographs.  Their function seems to be that making them teaches you what the deeper stuff is, and although it seems tempting to think that we could skip over them and proceed directly to deeper stuff, in practice it seems this isn’t the case.

Len says one steady pull more ought to do it.
He says the best way out is always through.
And I agree to that, or in so far
As that I can see no way out but through—
Leastways for me—and then they’ll be convinced.

-Robert Frost, A Servant to Servants

Perhaps there are photographers who aren’t bound by this ‘shallow first, deeper after’ rule, but I’m clearly not one of them.  So if you’re not one of them either, at least you know you’re not alone.

2 Responses

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  1. paul said, on April 12, 2007 at 11:00 am

    I don’t think that anyone is immune. I saw a quote attributed to Elton John:

    “If I don’t practice for one day, I notice it. If I don’t practice for 2 days, other people notice it.”

    I think that it’s like that for photographers as well. We take a bit to get into the zone, or to get deep, as you would put it. Daily practice makes it easier to do. Perhaps this is because the munchkins don’t have as much time between sessions to fill up the hole!

  2. Billie said, on April 13, 2007 at 7:14 am

    Paul, after I wrote that to you I started to write something on my blog about being on the surface but I couldn’t pull it together with words. Your words dealt with the problem much better than anything I tried to write. It is just good to know that others have the same problem.

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