I’ve been lurking around the bloggy parts of the internet, listening in on conversations to which I am uninvited but in which my name gets mentioned often alongside the word “vision.” I hear lots of people inspired to chase their vision and express it more clearly. I also hear that some folks are just plain frustrated. Frustrated by all this talk of vision. Frustrated by trying to find their vision. Frustrated by trying to express it once they’ve “found it”.
I sometimes talk of vision as though this stuff is the easiest thing in the world. Vision-Driven this and Vision-Driven that. I get the feeling that some folks feel left out – or worse, chastised – because they haven’t found their vision. I’m hoping the beginning parts of Within The Frame explore all this stuff with a little more clarity. Maybe not. So let me say a couple things here.
No one I know discovers their vision once and for all hiding under the cushions of the couch. It is a moving target, ephemeral, and the moment you see it in your peripheral vision there it is! Until you turn to look at it head-on, and it vanishes. It’s not easy. You’d be forgiven for cussing once in a while. Nothing wrong with being passionate about it.
I took a course in Rabbinic Thought in college. It taught me that the questions are often more important – usually more important – than the replies. That the root of the word “question” itself is the word quest. I think it’s so with vision – that the questions all this stuff raises do not get in the path of you finding your vision, they are the path. It is our photographs that are the attempt to respond to those questions. Of course we find it hard to put our vision into words, if we could do it so easily we’d have all picked up pens, not cameras.
I might have used this analogy before, but it bears repeating. Writers do not sit down, lasso a thought and then write it down. Another thought, another page. Some do. Most don’t. Most writers I know, the ones I’ve read, and I myself, sit down often – usually, even – with no clue what to say, nor how. We don’t think so we can write. We write so we can think. The writing is not something we do to merely record our creative thinking process. It is the process. I often sit down with no clue what the next words I will write are. The writing pulls them from me. It’s the same with photography. Or it is for me. The viewfinder is part of our process of thinking. The frame is our silent partner in finding and expressing our vision. That’s why it often takes several frames to get it right, why a shoot often undergoes an evolution until the elements fall into place. Sure, some of us visualize it all ahead of time, but the rest of us – the mortals – we usually wrestle our vision to the ground. And we don’t always win.
Look, if this was easy to put your finger on, to define it, how worthwhile would it be? We’re hundreds of thousands of people with hundreds of thousands of little black cameras all looking at this world through hundreds of thousands of eyes.
Different things to say.
Different reasons for saying so.
Different obstacles to overcome in the saying.
So to the frustrated, let me just say this. Me too. This vision stuff is a pain in the ass. But ask any poet, novelist, songwriter, painter, if their vision comes to them in frequent epiphanies or through the hard labour of struggling. My money’s on the struggle. That’s why some of them go insane. Or turn to heroine. What is important is not that you have a handle on your specific vision of your specific subject, but that you’re asking the questions, engaging in the process. What do I think about this? What do I feel about it? How can I capture that in this tiny frame and these two dimensions?
It’s not math. It’s closer, I hope, to poetry. Your photographs won’t be better for figuring this stuff out; they’ll be better for wrestling with it. So knowing that, take a breath. Slow down. Don’t get bent out of shape. We aren’t curing cancer here. We’re writing visual poems. Ease up on yourself. Bitter, insane photographers make bitter, insane, visual poems. Remember those wierd Magic Eye posters from the early 90s? You look too hard and you never see the image emerge from the noise. Looking is not the same as seeing and sometimes you see better if you don’t try so hard.