I get nervous when things come too easily, which, as it turns out, is not remotely the case on this trip. Sadly, I also get nervous when things are tough and there are no guarantees that my work is going anywhere. That’s the tension I’ve been living in on this trip across Canada, now into its 6th week. I’ve been posting images of the trip on Instagram and here on the blog, but not the work I’ve been chipping away at, which has been misunderstood by at least one reader already who wrote to tell me my work sucked and he was close to unfollowing me. Funny how you can get anything online; presumption and unkindness being in particularly abundant supply.
We don’t create our photographs first for other people. God help you if you do. And if you think other photographers are out there first for you, you’ve got a particularly narcissistic way of looking at what is otherwise a very beautiful world. No, most of us create first for ourselves, to see the world in new ways, to wrestle with that balance between our vision and our craft, and – for me – to create bodies of photographs that work together in a way that they couldn’t do on their own. But the thing about bodies of work is that they evolve, they surprise, and for the impatient among us they take too damn long to give us the first hints of what they are becoming. It’s why I’ve not posted – and won’t be posting – much of my work from this trip, at least for a while. And it’s why you need to be patient with yourself as you create.
Seeing is truly an act of the mind, not the eyes, and the mind gets distracted by a million things; so it seems to me that there are few photographic skills more important than patience.
There are hundreds of photography sites out there, all willing to give you tips and tricks, shortcuts to get you there faster. When you get tired of those, and bumping up against the reality that not a single one of those shortcuts is going to get you where you’re heading (this is a journey, if anything, of many, many shortcuts, so I’m not sure they can be rightly called that), then slow down, take a breath, and think of this work like a long exposure. It’ll take a while. You aren’t doing this for anyone but yourself, so don’t be afraid to go at your own pace, and most importantly – to enjoy it as you go. If you wait until you “arrive” before you enjoy the passage of time, you’ll never do so.
All this came back to me last night, the 8th night on Fogo Island, when, up to the tops of my boots in a bog, I was swatting mosquitoes and eating blueberries I’d picked on the way, and waiting for the light to fall, and making – what – my 2000th frame, and having a wonderful time on the very edge of the world, but uncertain about what I was doing. We’re so very addicted to certainty, and in a craft that relies on the very unpredictable elements of light and time, it’s no wonder we suffer withdrawal symptoms. Add to that our gear, and weather, and the fact that seeing is truly an act of the mind, not the eyes, and the mind gets distracted by a million things; it seems to me that there are few photographic skills more important than patience. And you know what, sometimes the work does suck, but that’s often the first step on the way to creating something beautiful, and if you can’t deal with that – in your own work or the work of artists brave enough to share their process with you – then you’ve got a lot of frustration ahead of you.
(Thank you for your patience. The work I’m creating here in Newfoundland and Labrador is part of a book I’m imagining about Canada at the edges, and my experiences of a land I feel deeply connected to. So I’m sitting on it. Letting it percolate, and allowing it to show me what it’s becoming, rather the other way around. Still, here are two roughly edited images, and if you’re longing for a new desktop wallpaper, you can use both of them for that purpose.)
Funny, I have been following you on instagram and growing to love your work. Not the other way round. Keep it up. Can’t wait to see the refined product. whenever that may be.
Your comment about people on the internet being unkind really resonated with me. I recently saw an image on Google + of Mount Rundle with a caption that said ‘Rocky Mountain Sunset’ in Banff National Park. Being a photographer and having grown up in the area, I knew the photo was actually of a Mount Rundle sunrise taken from Vermillion Lakes. I left a comment saying it was a nice photo, but it was actually a sunrise. Someone on Google + in the comments section called me a psycho and actually provided a link to a Youtube video from the Bill Murray movie ‘Stripes’, where there is a character nicknamed ‘Psycho’.
Like you said there is no shortage of negativity on the internet…
David ~ Good idea to develop the greater part of your art outside the realm of social media commentary. It seems the best way to arrive at an original vision of the world. Keep on following, or chasing, your muse!
P.S. I especially connect with your second image.
This is funny! Well not haha funny but funny that someone(a follower?) said that your work sucked!?! I agree with everything you’ve said in this blog. Regardless of how technically crisp(which doesn’t prove for a good photograph) or rough round the edges a picture is, it’s the story behind the picture we should look at, no? I mean, after all, we are story tellers and what good it is to tell that story to yourself? I think you should continue sharing your experience. To your true followers, we look out for it. Your experiences are shared with us and to a degree, we are taken to that place and moment when a second(or fraction of) of time was captured.
The second reason why I said it’s funny, it’s because I was leaving last weekend to go to two cities outside of London to, for two weddings. We were shooting both days and overnighting at the first venue. With us, we had loads of bags with gear and clothes. So I asked one of my colleagues to shoot us(with an iPhone) with our bags and post on twitter/fb. The feedback I got was, “are sure you want this on there?”. I agree that our portfolio should display our best work but Instagram and Facebook and blogs etc are social media forums. This is where we play, have fun…
Anyway, I say keep on sharing! Don’t let the human in you be trapped and enslaved by critic’s opinions, ones who need a fancy face or appearance for display. Be you! Be human!
“We don’t create our photographs first for other people. God help you if you do. And if you think other photographers are out there first for you, you’ve got a particularly narcissistic way of looking at what is otherwise a very beautiful world. ”
Thank you for that.. I don’t know why it kinda hit me when reading that, but I often think “is this something someone will like?” when I take photos, and I’ve got to stop that. I have some great moments of “I don’t care what people think, I like this photo!”, but those are probably outweighed by the former thought process 😉
From now on, when I’m taking a photo, I’ll think of those words you wrote, and focus on taking photos for the love of it, rather than to get ‘likes’ from friends on facebook and the like!
Cheers, and best of luck with the book!
Thank you for sharing this inspirational and poetic writing with your readers.
I can now understand some of your connectedness to Canada after returning from a wonderful trip through BC.
Beautiful images , David.
You certainly don’t need to explain yourself to anyone of us, you have paid your dues and create wonderful, sensitive images that stir the imagination and the soul of others.
Keep doing what you do so well, and thanks for sharing, the ups and the downs……
I have to admit, I haven’t been super amazed by anything you’ve posted since you began this trip. That being said, I’ve also been wishing you were posting more. I don’t follow your blogs for the images you make perfectly, or for the insights you deliver flawlessly…. though I do so enjoy both your beautiful images and your insight. I follow your blogs because I think you’ve practiced living this life created/creative long enough… I think you’ve gotten quite good at it. So I find myself strangely excited to see another picture that doesn’t stand out, or read a few words that don’t say a whole lot. Creativity takes digging, takes work… and when you make your process transparent enough that you’re willing to share the imperfect because it too is part of the journey, you give us all permission to take our own creative journeys, to celebrate the beautiful we make and the less than stellar that gets us there the same. it’s all part of the stuff– the bravery, the fortitude, the beauty– that makes us creatives tick.
And about the person who said your worked sucked and he was close to unfollowing you…. maybe he’s just scared?
Thank you. for sharing. all of it.
Great to hear as always that patience prevails David! I myself have been feeling the pull (really for years now) to jump into what seems like a rushing stream that goes faster and faster by. This world is so full of the shortcuts you speak of, quick updates, and life hacks that its so easy not to give ourselves the time we need to breathe and sit. I just five days in the Sawtooth wilderness of Idaho, climbing and taking pictures, walking around alpine lakes immersing myself into less than a square mile for the entire time. When a I snapped a few frames one evening I realized I hadn’t taken a 30 second exposure in months, and that seems far too long to rob myself of the giddy anticipation of what will be captured while that shutter is up. Then a few days later I shot a friends wedding in what was a whirlwind of photos, but I digress. It’s always good to be reminded to slow down and that this life and craft is often about a precious balance. Cheers to your road trip!
Really great article, David. Even though I’ve been shooting for 20 years or so, I still have trouble remembering about patience, especially in the early stages of a new adventure somewhere, when time is limited. Quick! You only have so many days before moving on to the next spot — hurry up and make the masterpiece before you have to move on! The bane of “travel photography” I suppose.
Of all the photography blogs I follow, yours is by far the most meaningful. To wit:
I just returned from two weeks in Alaska — my first visit — and largely due to your writings forced myself to slow down and enjoy, making photographs as I went, and not putting pressure on myself to do anything other than enjoy the process of exploration — physically, mentally, and photographically. It was astonishingly refreshing, and this may have been one of the most treasured trips I’ve taken. Thank you for that.
The only downside was that I just started feeling a groove, and beginning to crawl out of the rut I often find myself in taking the same photos over and over regardless of where I’m travelling, when it was time to catch the plane home. Bah!
But I think I created a few images in those final days that are among my most favorite, and it was worth the wait.
Keep rockin, David. For every negative comment there are hundreds of us who read regularly and are continually inspired by what you do; we just don’t leave comments very often.
In reading your books and blog, I’ve often been struck by the similarity between writing and photographing. I’m first a writer (although now a glossy magazine will be publishing a photo essay of mine, thanks to a lot of what I have learned from you, especially from “Photographically Speaking”), but it seems to me that patience is the hard name of the game for anyone trying to create something. You follow a hunch, an interest into the unknown because, after all, you’re creating it. It hasn’t existed before, and you have to wait it out to see what it will become. Sometimes ideas don’t work out, sometimes they become something you could not have imagined when you began, and sometimes they do become what you wanted, but in any case, it takes a lot of patience to get there.
Way to go, Annette. Congratulations on the placement of the photo essay, that’s fantastic. Thanks for letting me know. Knowing, as creative people, that we’re touching other lives is such a joy.
I do not think your work sucks, in fact I think your an amazing photographer, writer and teacher. I’ve followed your work and your writing for years, you inspire others to bring the best out in themselves and their work. I look forward to seeing this project when your ready to share it.
Your honesty, clarity and depth of thought always invite conversation. Thanks again for one of your deeper posts, and forgive the long, slow response…
You’ve expressed the essence of what photography can be: The mobile mind. Photography is about changes in consciousness, whether they come in a flash or over years.
Slow seeing in a central part of this, both the un, sub, or unconscious awareness as well. So, those leading us to where we want to go in photography, like you, are involved in mind and brain changes much more so than a product.
Sure, the books, and websites, and publications are inportant, but 100 years from now when they are no longer read, who cares. We are making photographs now, for ourselves, and for our own expanding mindful awareness of how to connect what is outside (other) to what is real inside (self/brain). Perhaps the best photographs are also those that dissolve the boundary.
And how to do this? Slowly, with care, over a much longer time than most photographs cycle. As you said.
Please don’t take any notice of the idiot! Too many of these wimps who feel so brave on the internet! I, and I see many others, enjoy your journey and the behind the scenes blog photos, whether via Instagram or other.
These two photos are great and if a foretaste of what’s to come, I’m looking forward to the finished product.
And, while I’m here, thanks so much for baring your soul in the Starving Artist book. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s a huge inspiration and motivator to me.
Keep up the great work.
I second all that Vicki said just above. You are one of the most inspiring, motivating, and attitude-changing people I read. I love your honesty and that you don’t beat around the bush. You tell it like it is, yet never in a mean way – always with the intent of helping others. I’m in a bit of a transition with some things and reading your blog and re-reading your blog is such a help. Thank you for continuing to share your journey, your photographs, your rants, your thoughts, and your perspective. It means more than you probably know.
Quite an adventure you’re having! Two comments you make really hit home. “you aren’t doing this for anyone but yourself” Developing a true passion for this wonderful art form seems to be the common foundation for many…
“enjoy the passage of time”… Patience is a virtue that seems to be in very short supply, however, a true passion doesn’t develop without the passage of precious time..
Be well! Thanks for sharing your adventure
Thanks for the post man. Really timely for me. Hard to remember this as a new guy wanting to make it in this photo world. Easy to get distracted by all of the side stuff. Forget the haters. Go create something that blows you away.
Enjoy the rest of the trip!
Yes, I’ve also been surprised by some of the unkindness blog readers can bestow.
My immediate thought is, if you don’t want to follow (my) blog, just don’t. At least, don’t be so rude, unkind and ungracious to convey it to me in words. I mean to say…..why would you bother to do that? Sometimes it feels as though there are people in cyberspace who think it’s their God-given right to be nasty & rude.
I for one love your blog. I love your humbleness, your words of wisdom and the thoughtful and encouraging way you inspire me to be not just a better photographer…….but a better person.
You inspire me to ‘keep on keeping on’. No matter how bad a day I’m having trying to capture the world around in images of both the city and in nature and share it with others, you inspire me to try again another day.
Thank you for this.
I am new to your blog. It is indubitably beautiful, terrific.
I appreciate your sharing this journey.
“even tho’ they do have eyes, they do not see”
If that image of the trees and their roots is anything to judge by, this book (and here’s to hoping it comes to fruition!) will be excellent.
I am still thoroughly enjoying Seven, but the prospect of you withholding images for this new project is a good one, as much of the work in Seven was familiar to regular followers; though seeing it anew in print form was fascinating!
Ahh, the irony. Not even a half hour before seeing this, I was looking at your Instagram shots and thinking I was so glad you understood what Instagram is all about by posting behind the scenes photos from your journey (b roll, you might say). So many pros suddenly decide they need a presence on Instagram and proceed to treat it just like all their other social media platforms by posting the exact same finished work from their portfolios, rather than taking the time to appreciate it for what it was designed for – a platform for mobile photography. If that’s what this person is judging your finished work on, then good riddance – I say block ’em before they can be arsed to hit the unfollow button!! 😀 (Oh, and thanks again for the Starving Artist book!! Read it last night and will have something to say about that later…. ☺)
Thanks! Kind of you to say. I do think that while Instagram was designed for one particular thing – mobile photography – it’s become something more. The anarchist in me rebels at the thought that I *should* do this or that, regardless of what it’s made for – so if you look at my feed – especially when I’m not out on one adventure or other – there are plenty of images from previous assignments and most of them not made with a mobile device. I get as driven up the wall by the “mobile only” police, and those that use the word iphoneography, as I do by the “iphones aren’t real cameras” people. I just want to make and share photographs… 🙂 As for Starving Artist, you’re very welcome. I truly hope it helps usher in some freedom for you…
Indeed, for me, mobile photography has evolved over the time I’ve been on Instagram and is now more about the spirit of currency (not of the money sort) and story-telling than about gear, especially with the advent of wifi in all sorts of cameras. If I could buy anything else right now, it would be a wifi-enabled mirrorless over anything else, replacing both my phone and my DSLR.
And the term iPhoneography annoys the crap out of me because, hello – Android!! 😀
Thank you, I enjoy reading your posts. The picture of the trees has an almost hypnotizing effect on me.
I too appreciate your honesty and creativity. I think the statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is true. You stay true to your own expression in my opionion that is true creativity. I was so excited to hear you are in fogo my fathers family is from there
What great timing! After a rocky recovery from unexpected heart surgery, I’m finally, if gingerly, getting back to making photos. I needed to be reminded about that patience thing (never my strong suit) & that I do this for myself, not the gallery owner or anyone else. PS – Your blog has kept me inspired & helped me through some pretty dark hours these past four months. Thank you.
These two photos are beautiful and I love reading your blog. Thank you!
Thank you so much for your honesty. Best article I’ve read in a long time. I’ve always found your work inspiring, motivating.
Keep up the great work.
I always heard about the long silence between the beginning of a journey and hitting the Ahaa moment. I loved the way you have articulated the silence in a meaningful way and thanks for sharing your thoughts!!