It’s been a while since my last post – I was off again, down in Ashland, OR at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Disregarding a day spent on travel, it worked out to six days and 9 plays – enough to more than keep me busy.
Colin is writing on how our photography can turn, sometimes without our realizing it and often quite against our will, into a relentless and not very gratifying push for the next ‘keeper’.
One aspect of this question that I think needs more prominence is that there is an audience somewhere for almost anything. If what you want is a wow reaction then you have got to go on putting the work out there until you find your audience. This is the great success of Flickr and similar sites – they are very good at connecting people with audiences. It is very easy, as a viewer, to work outwards from some random link towards work that you value. But the corollary of there being some audience for any work is that not everyone is going to like everything. You can’t please all of the people all of the time.
If we assume ‘people’ mean strangers for the moment (producing stuff for family or close friends is different), it is interesting to think why it is that we get a buzz from the praise of a small group of random strangers. I have to feel that this is something piggy-backing on a genetic trait that evolved for other reasons.
It is very easy, as Guy describes, to let this praise become a driver that sucks the goodness out of the experience as a whole.
There’s more there, and I urge you to go and read all of what Colin wrote, and punch through his links into what Guy Tal wrote.
What Guy and Colin are describing, I have felt happening to me in the past year – a shift in my goal away from using photography as a tool to figure things out and into a search for keepers. It’s something I’ve resisted, because it’s a place I’ve been before. I read Guy’s words, and Colin’s words, and boy, howdy, I know exactly what they’re talking about.
Which brings me to Anita Jesse’s post, where she wrote:
Today, I finally let go of the images in my mind and took photographs of the poppies we have: windblown poppies on a June day when the temperature probably never made it to 65 degrees. I experimented with 1/2500 shutter speed to see if I could get anything; and, even though I moved very little, the wind was blowing fast enough that I got several compositions within a few seconds. I ended up with one that was surprisingly sharp; but, in the end, it is the softness of this frame that feels right to me. Not the poppies I was waiting for, but the poppies I was offered.
Anita, I think, has found a key. The key lies in controlling our expectations. When we head out with certain expectations, it’s because we’ve planned in advance what we hope to get and we want those photographs, not the ones that are actually there. And in reality, we don’t want the poppies we were waiting for. What we really want is both the experience of finding the poppies we’re offered, and the keepers that we find that way.
I have a little story on those lines. Years ago, now, I’d arranged to photograph on the WA coast. Because I was rendezvousing with a friend who I rarely got to see, I looked forward to that trip with eager anticipation, and in my mind I saw us happily photographing on the coast, with wild waves and dramatic spray as the surf erupted off the rocks in towering geysers, and a sky filled with dramatic yet friendly Ansel Adams clouds. And, of course, when we got to the coast, the scene was of quiet surf, no dramatic spray, and not only no Ansel Adams Clouds, but solid overcast supplemented with heavy fog.
We wandered, disconsolate, up the beach, and then back, and I found nothing to photograph. I think I made two exposures – two exposures, on a hike along one of the sections of the WA coastline that I now think is one of the most photographable places on the planet. At the end of our walk, we wandered past some trees, and I lamented that it was so foggy, even the light on the trees was horrid.
About a week after that trip, I dreamed I was back on that beach. In the dream, instead of walking up the beach hoping for a sunbreak, I wandered into the trees – a small grove of trees bleached by the surf and twisted by wind, and the entire grove filled with drifting fog. In the dream, I got out the camera, and exposed every sheet of film I had. In the dream, I went back to the car for more film – twice. In the dream, when I got home, I processed the film, and had dazzling moody photographs of fog drifting through the trees. I had never seen photos like these before, but they took my breath away.
The paradoxes are these: that pursuing our expectations in the name of getting the next ‘keeper’ not only destroys our enjoyment and satisfaction, but also somehow precludes us from seeing the keepers we’re offered. Letting go of our expectations does the opposite. And, frustratingly, knowing these things does not make it easier to head out and photograph the poppies we’re offered instead of the ones we thought we wanted and were waiting for.