Yesterday I wrote an article about authenticity. This is part two.
Photography can be a lens through which we look at the world, and in that world find wonder and experiences we might never have without the camera. But sometimes it’s a little too easy to see our own reflection in the viewfinder. And from there a little too easy to compare ourselves with others. It’s a short step from creating something beautiful, or honest, to looking around to make sure others have seen not just our photographs, but have seen us, the maker. “Look at that!” becomes “look at me” pretty quickly. Twitter and Facebook make it easier than ever to feed the ego.
It’s a brutally tough balance to find, especially when there are so many voices clamouring for attention, a chorus to which we feel we must inevitably add our own. But some days it feels like it’s a chorus of voices all trying to out-sing the other and it’s exhausting. And it’s worse when we hope those voices are saying things about us. And we keep checking in to see if they have.
I wonder if listening to such a glut of voices doesn’t rob us of the space to listen to our own. I know I’m having a tough time finding a signal in all the noise. I’m distracted. I feel like my job has become more about “being a (well known) photographer” than making photographs. I love you all, and I care about you, but checking Facebook to see if you like my blog, my photograph, my clever little whatever, it’s exhausting and it’s killing my muse. It’s not about you. It’s about ego.
Julie Neidlinger said it well when she wrote, “I can’t be authentic, be original, be all these “true to yourself” kinds of existences if I care what you are thinking.”
Remember when every frame was golden and filled with wonder? Remember being so in love with the strange, beautiful alchemy of this craft that we weren’t looking for atta-boys or Facebook likes? When our joy came from the creation, not the feedback? Remember how that joy led to curious, creative play, and the way the hours would pass while we were on our knees with a camera in the grass, or watching images come alive in the darkroom? Remember when the name on our gear didn’t matter because it was just all so mind-blowingly magical and we didn’t care what others thought about us? I do.
I want to go back to that. I want the first book I open in the morning, with my coffee, to be a book of photographs, page after page of the amazing work created by friends and mentors, past and present, not Facebook. I want the magic back. I want to look around at the photography world and be filled again with respect and awe, not fear that we’re all, myself included, sliding unnoticed into mediocrity, because we’re more worried about our image than about our images. I can’t be the only one.
Learning to be a photographer is learning to see. It’s about receptivity. Perception. An openness to the world around us. Wonder. Curiosity. And yes, the growing ability to wield these clumsy black boxes to turn the light into an image. My biggest obstacle these days is not my lack of craft, or the need for better gear. It’s the noise from without and the noise from within. It’s distraction. It’s ego. Authenticity struggles and dies kicking for breath when we choke it by listening more to the voices of others than to our muse, our own imagination and voice.