“This benefit of seeing…can come only if you pause a while, extricate yourself from the maddening mob of quick impressions ceaselessly battering our lives, and look thoughtfully at a quiet image…the viewer must be willing to pause, to look again, to meditate.” — Dorothea Lange
I recently dug into my photo archives to find images for a new portfolio I’m putting together. I should admit this right here and now (although you may already know this about me), I’m a tough critic of my own work. Seeing old work made me cringe. Eek. I wanted to pull every photo from the internet and bury them in a deep hole in the back yard. What was I thinking? Suddenly I could see my work clearly, possibly a bit too clearly all at once. I felt overwhelmed and excited at the same time and I needed time to process.
I stepped away from the computer. Washed a few dishes. Drank a glass of water. Walked around the house a few times and realized with much more compassion, yes, this is in fact exactly where I need to be. On the precipice of making the kind of work that matters to me. That says something words cannot articulate.
Then I remembered bits of advice friends offered over the years about what it means to embrace your artistic voice. The first came when I learned to draw and struggled with perspective. My friend and I sat on the floor in his bedroom. I sketched the same scene over and over. Erased it, began again. Eventually the page nearly tore and had more gray eraser smudges than pencil lines. I tore the page from the notebook and started on a clean page. D reached for my hand in protest. No, leave it. Don’t tear your work out. But, the drawing sucks. It doesn’t. You can’t see it yet. If you tear out all the drawings you don’t think you like, you’ll miss the good stuff. You’ll also miss the chance to look back and see how your drawing changes over time. It’s okay. Leave it.
The second came when I showed a friend a scratched out story I had written in a notebook. She looked at me and said, there is some amazing stuff here, you just need to learn how to find it and edit your own work.
Both friends were spot on with their wisdom and as photographers (and humans), we evolve, constantly. Every new notebook, sketchbook, portfolio, etc. is going to be the best one, until time traipses on, and we look back at past work. There will be gems, always and rejects too, it’s all part of the process. Finding them while keeping expectations in check is the hard part, but it’s also the part that brings radical change to our work and vision.
Nikki | Art & Lemons