My friend is a fine art photographer of the natural world, leading classes, publishing, writing about photography, and whatever the hell else photographers do. I'm a words guy and my photos on this blog show I've not developed much skill in composition or technique. He's the images person, but I like when he goes into words and talks about being. Today, he posted about doubt:
Much is written about how for the artist the creative process is more important than the product. Specifically, for the landscape photographer the experience of being in the natural world and exploring one’s relationship with nature matters more than the resulting images. I agree with this. However, as someone seeking to further establish myself as a full-time nature/landscape photographer I have always found it difficult not to feel that results are the priority. I feel a pressure (imaginary or otherwise) to produce a consistent stream of high quality images. To that end I admit to willingly enduring less than Zen-like experiences to “get the shot” at times. And if an outing results in no images I often feel frustrated, regardless of how beautiful the morning or location may have been.
That I experience such feelings despite knowing better leads me to wonder, do the acknowledged preeminent photographers really have it all figured out? Are they able to always live their creative lives according to these ideals? Do they not have moments where they succumb to their self-doubts and insecurities? Do they not sometimes sacrifice their ideals to get the shot? I am left to ponder such things because personal self-doubt and questioning are topics about which they rarely seem to write. Why is that? Are they afraid admitting such vulnerabilities would weaken their standing as master instructors and mentors? I for one would find it refreshing and encouraging to know that they suffer similar doubts and frustrations from time to time. It would make them seem more relatable and honest.
I've written about the process of writing and where it can take us, but I haven't talked as much about product because I make my daily bread from teaching rather than writing. Also, I've been known to fear my product. This site meant to push me to create and publish more product, but weeks of regular production are followed by weeks of writing almost nothing. Such as this week. Each time I write, it's all drivel. Chris feels frustrated after an outing with no good images; I tear up pages and wonder where my talent has gone.
Chris knows that preeminent photographers don't have it all figured out. He wants them to talk about their doubts. When I write about writing, I can come off as a know it all. I'm tearing up pages this week and haven't published anything. I'd feel worse, but J.K. Rowling, who is better at writing thing than I ever hope to be, tweeted the following today:
If she struggles, then I bet all my money the rest of us do too and anyone who says otherwise is lying more than the president.
What do I do when it's going nowhere, when doubt overwhelms, when I feel too vulnerable to put down the next word? That's easy; write the next word and the next until the pages get better. While acknowledging that I'm producing steaming piles, I tell myself I know how to do this and it will come back to me. Chris, I'm sure, shoots more photos until he finds himself again.
Creativity is tough because there are so many incentives to stop. It's good to enjoy this work we do while acknowledging that it often leaves us feeling like a sixth-grader sitting alone at lunch looking down at the Spam on white bread with Miracle Whip that we've just noticed has a touch of mold.
This week has been Spam and mold sandwiches on my computer screen, coming out of my typewriter, and somehow worming out the end of my pen. I've felt lousy and hungry for something good which just won't come. Still, I keep going. I mean, what the hell else am I going to do? What else could be this good?