Musings on Photography


Posted in process by Paul Butzi on November 4, 2009


I am not a highly motivated person. Left alone, I’d probably drift to a stop on nearly everything. I have to structure the world around me to keep myself moving on things.

And so, I read with interest this letter, written by the fantastic novelist Neil Gaiman to NaNoWriMo participants, which reads in part

Dear NaNoWriMo Author,

By now you’re probably ready to give up. You’re past that first fine furious rapture when every character and idea is new and entertaining. You’re not yet at the momentous downhill slide to the end, when words and images tumble out of your head sometimes faster than you can get them down on paper. You’re in the middle, a little past the half-way point. The glamour has faded, the magic has gone, your back hurts from all the typing, your family, friends and random email acquaintances have gone from being encouraging or at least accepting to now complaining that they never see you any more—and that even when they do you’re preoccupied and no fun. You don’t know why you started your novel, you no longer remember why you imagined that anyone would want to read it, and you’re pretty sure that even if you finish it it won’t have been worth the time or energy and every time you stop long enough to compare it to the thing that you had in your head when you began—a glittering, brilliant, wonderful novel, in which every word spits fire and burns, a book as good or better than the best book you ever read—it falls so painfully short that you’re pretty sure that it would be a mercy simply to delete the whole thing.

Welcome to the club.

That’s how novels get written.

You write. That’s the hard bit that nobody sees. You write on the good days and you write on the lousy days. Like a shark, you have to keep moving forward or you die. Writing may or may not be your salvation; it might or might not be your destiny. But that does not matter. What matters right now are the words, one after another. Find the next word. Write it down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Ok, that rings my chimes pretty loudly.

This is how my photography is working of late. When I stop and look at how things look, it’s disappointing. About all I’ve got is the idea that if after I take a photo I proceed to take the next photo, and I repeat, repeat, repeat, eventually I will come out in a different and hopefully better place.

It’s not about finding the perfect photo, or even the great photo or the last photo. It’s about finding the next photo. Make that next photo. Let the shutter go, then let go of that photo and move on to the next one.

I’m not arguing for everyone doing it this way. I’m not even arguing that most, or many, or even a few people should do it this way. But I’m doing it this way, for now, and it’s nothing more than an experiment to see what happens when I do.

4 Responses

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  1. Eric Jeschke said, on November 5, 2009 at 1:39 am

    I like this one too. You are on a roll with the fall leaves.

    Nice post too. I think a lot of people wait for “inspiration” to strike to take photos, when inspiration itself is brought on by the act of photography (and other things). Inertia, inertia…an object at rest stays at rest.

  2. Anita Jesse said, on November 5, 2009 at 8:47 am

    What a perfect photo to accompany the text.

    I always appreciate knowing that I am not alone when I dream of skipping over the drudgery and leaping straight to discovery.

  3. Paul Butzi said, on November 5, 2009 at 8:57 am

    “What a perfect photo to accompany the text.”

    As I’ve pointed out before, I don’t choose photos based on the text – almost always I pick’em at random. On the occasion I do have a reason for the photo and text going together, it’s mentioned in the text.

    Doing it this way doesn’t mean that the photo and the text don’t match – it’s interesting to me that it often does. Jungians would presumably be discussing synchronicity at this point in the dialog!

    Full disclosure about the image: The green background is our dumpster. The horizontal rail behind which the cottonwood leaf is caught is the rail on which the sliding panel door to the dumpster rides. The cottonwood leaf was not placed there by me; it landed there, in that exact position, after a windy night blew a lot of the leaves out of the cottonwood that’s next to the dumpster.

    I like the photo. It’s a reminder that beauty is not always about the subject; we don’t usually think of dumpsters as beautiful but on this particular morning my particular dumpster was beautiful in this particular way because of a random collision between the cottonwood leaf and the dumpster.

  4. Paul Butzi said, on November 5, 2009 at 9:03 am

    I think a lot of people wait for “inspiration” to strike to take photos, when inspiration itself is brought on by the act of photography (and other things). Inertia, inertia…an object at rest stays at rest.

    My favorite quote on this is from Jack London, who said “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

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