Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fun Stuff

Recently, I opened an email from the instructors of a workshop I'll be attending next month. It will be several days of shooting photos on the Oregon Coast for which I am hugely excited: The light playing off of sand and sea. The thought of capturing quiet, moody scenes; of telling a story in tones of blue and tan. Of instructing my camera to record the monochromatic drama of a foggy morning on the shore or the noisy colors of a seaside town.
All of the above make my heart beat just a bit faster, so when I saw that the subject line of this email read 'fun stuff', I thought 'Yep, it will be.....Can't wait". I scrolled through the message and found that there were a couple of assignments for participants to turn in beforehand. Cool! I love assignments. Love learning. 
The first one asked that we return a collection of 25 or so favorite images we had taken so they would be able to consider ways to work individually with each of us before we all meet up in Oregon. They wanted to find out what kinds of images we like to shoot and be able to identify themes within our work. Sounds good. I was pretty sure I could come up with these and set about placing a few, that to my eyes anyway, were "good" into a desktop file. Turns out, this was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be: 
'I really love this one.....but what will they think? This image speaks to me, but have I made it clear why? I put a lot of thought into this photograph.....but will they understand what it meant to me? Are any of these even......GOOD'??

The second assignment asked the opposite: The request was for a collection of 'misses'; in other words, images we've taken that for whatever reason simply didn't work out. Whaaatt?? My first thought was to politely shoot back a response letting them know I don't normally show people those. That if it was more difficult than I thought it would be to pull together some of my more decent images to show, then sharing any misses might be kind of too personal and embarrassing and.......Oh Geez.....cringe-worthy.

Of course, the reason for this second assignment is that there is just as much to be learned from figuring out what doesn't work as in finding out what does. That pin-pointing the reasons for a miss can translate into more successful and productive time behind the lens. This is perfectly logical. It makes perfect sense. As part of the workshop these two professionals were offering to look at my work from all angles and give me a few pointers so that I might become a better photographer. But still, it meant showing a couple of people who I aspire to be like just a little.......who maybe in some small way I would like to impress with my skills.......some of my worst artistic choices in the form of digital disasters. Why couldn't they simply want look at work I think is good (or even OK) and take it from there?

Years ago, the first time I had a piece of writing critiqued by an entire classroom full of writers, I was a such a nervous wreck I could hardly pay attention to the discussion. After class I quietly collected a manila envelope containing the 30 or so copies of my story marked up with my classmates comments and suggestions, took it home and stuck it, unopened, inside the cupboard above my desk. And even though I had participated with honest effort in this exercise by reading, reviewing and writing constructive criticism and comments on the stories of the others in the class, it still took me a month or more to open it up and read my own. And when I did, I learned a whole lot.

After a couple of days I concluded (correctly) that hesitating to participate in this way made me somewhat of a hypocrite. Me.......the person who constantly encourages my kids and anyone else who will listen to scoot out of their own personal comfort zone and make the time and effort to pursue whatever it is they're most interested in........was having a difficult time thinking about doing just that. It made me feel I would be choosing to expose my soft underbelly, and I was reacting like a big chicken. And yet I know it's a necessary part of the process. An important part of the journey.

I think that sometimes in my hurry to learn, my rush to get where I want to be, I am tempted to hop, skip and jump over the small steps. Fortunately, I've been able to figure out that as unsettling as those steps may be, it is even more precarious and difficult to travel backward in order to figure out what I may have missed. I've learned that following a passion (at the risk of utilizing a very overworked phrase) isn't always about becoming GOOD, or even aspiring to BE GOOD, at what ever said passion might be. And it's not AT ALL about being validated, and CERTAINLY SHOULDN'T have anything to do with expecting praise. The truth is that in doing something you enjoy over and over again, one cannot help but become better at it. And in photography the rewards are this: With repetition and in paying close attention to results (whether they be awe-inspiring or astoundingly miserable) one inches ever closer to expressing the thoughts, stories and pictures created in ones imagination within the confines of a visible image.

So I twitched, grumbled and cringed my way through a recent catalog of photographs, stopping to pay attention only to the ones previously deemed worthy of the desktop trashcan. I decided which unfortunate clicks of the shutter I should include in the file labeled Assignment #2 and sent them off, together with Assignment #1.

I don't particularly love to look at my failures and showing them to anyone else is something I like even less. But it makes a difference, and giving them due attention is just as important in the growth process as enjoying the feeling I get with something that 'worked'.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend! I'm going berry picking tomorrow!

Warmly, Margaret

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