Make Good Art

I have history with commencement speeches.  I’ve been through two as a participant, once for high school and once for college.  I may be in my third when I complete my Master’s Degree in December.  At the high school one I had to give a short speech.  All that I really remember about it was the wind blowing something on my regalia off kilter as I walked up to the podium and getting me so shaken up I never quite recovered during the speech.  My college one was less exciting as my sole job was to walk across the stage.  That’s probably one of the few conscious, sober moments in my life where I truly have no memory of the actual event.  I remember the rest of ceremony and there is a photo of me getting the diploma, but the moments from leaving my seat until returning have always been a blur.  Working in education for more than a decade means I’ve set through many more ceremonies either in person or while monitoring the streaming of the ceremony out to the world.  I’ve sat through some pretty good ones, some pretty dull ones, but never a really bad or really great one.

A great one would be like this one by Neil Gaiman.  It’s twenty minutes long and I’ve watched it twice times since coming across it a couple weeks ago.  It’s one of the few things on the Internet I saw and immediately felt the need to share it to everyone I knew that would care.  After a few emails to some people I knew would love it, I just posted it to Facebook and Twitter to save time for the rest.  The speech is simply amazing and I suggest you go watch it now if you’ve not seen it yet.  A few of his points stood out for me right now though:

  • Embrace your fear of failure and make peace with imposter syndrome.
  • Enjoy your work and don’t get swept up in the next thing before enjoying the present.
  • The creative landscape is in constant flux and rules change all the time. So make your own rules.

Early this year I worked with a new model.  She had more than ten years of experience  with a good history and experience.  While we shot she several times commented that she liked my lighting.  After the shoot she posted a couple of the images from the shoot to her portfolio.  I had trouble because I just couldn’t believe at heart the work was that good.  I mean I could see the photos and I liked them.  I knew they were well lit, they showed her well, and that they were good, but at some level I just couldn’t believe they were good enough to post above all the other work she had access to.

I think I have an realistic view of my skill level.  I know that I’m not great yet, but I think I occasionally approach it.  I think most of the time I’m good, often I’m really good, and occasionally I kick ass.  At the same time I’ve been fighting this feeling that I’m really just a GWC that gets lucky.  That the good work isn’t my skill, but just the amazing models I’ve been lucky enough to work with and blind luck – the photographic equivalent of the monkey that types out a Shakespearian sonnet while banging on a typewriter.  I know that’s not right, but it’s a feeling I’ve not been able to shake.  I think everyone who creates things and actually cares about their work always has moments where they wonder if they are really any good or just get lucky at times. For some reason it stuck a bit this year in my photography.  That’s imposter syndrome.

At the same time I’ve also been fighting what I can describe as the photographic version of writer’s block.  Too much I felt like I’m repeating myself and doing the same things again and again.  Or doing something I’d already done before.  Beyond that there are things I prefer not to go into even in the relative anonymity I enjoy here.  Worlds have collided a bit and the impact left a mess at times.  The damage was not the fault of malice or poor intent by anyone, but simply bad luck and things going places no one expected.  Repairs and rebuilding takes time and are still in progress

I did something I’d not done in a long time.  I stopped shooting for a while.  I scheduled nothing for most of May.  I’d had one shoot that canceled on me at the start of the month and one at the end of the month that didn’t come to pass because of the weather remnants of a tropical storm.  But for the first time really since early 2010, I intentionally did not shoot for a while.  It was partly a chance to recharge and clear the fog.  And it was partly to look at other work and just feel that fire again, the burning desire to create.  I do again.

At the end of his speech, Mr. Gaiman sums it up wonderfully.

“Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.”

In a shoot earlier this year a model pointed to an absolutely wonderful place to shoot and I didn’t do it.  Why?  A lot of perfectly valid good reasons that were all logical.  I’ve regretted it since.  The spot was wonderful and we should have shot there and would have gotten some great shots there.  A few years ago I had a model freeze while moving to a location.  It was high and exposed and truthfully a little risky.  She got part of the way up there, but couldn’t make it the rest of the way.  I’d never really known how she felt, wanting to do something with the fear winning, until after that shoot.  I’d been timid and I didn’t like it.

So that’s my hope for the near future.  Not just in my photography, but overall.  I want to try things and if they screw up, at least they will be glorious and wonderful mistakes.  They will be mistakes that I can point at and say, “That was cool to try.”  I want to enjoy my work again and feel I’m doing something interesting each time I pick up the camera.  I want to get back into a life that I enjoy being a part of in every aspect.

Around the time this posts to my blog I’ll be on an airplane heading west.  It’s my first trip out there since I’ve been serious photographer.  I’m hoping to try some work in the amazing desert landscapes and I’ve set up some thing with a few good models.  I’ve got several shoots set for after I get back from the trip.  I’m going to try some new things, experiment with some new styles, and see what happens.  I know that some of it isn’t going to work.  I know that in fact some of it is going to really and truly screw up.  It will though be interesting even when it does.  And as always a lot of the results will show up here.

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