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.)