As a photographer I often feel a pull in two different directions: 1. I want to grow in my work and push beyond my comfort zone but 2. I want to continue to refine my personal style and hone my point of view. Where’s the line between finding my niche and resting in my comfort zone? Looking back at my recent work has prompted me to consider this issue once again. SPOILER ALERT: This post has no answers, only musings.
By way of context, I don’t think it will be surprising to anyone familiar with my work that I am a city girl. My soul may belong to the ocean but my heart really beats to the pulse of a big, buzzing city. Give me city architecture, street art, or even a subway platform and I can’t help but be inspired to make photographs. Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time in the mountains of Colorado. It was beautiful. We were surrounded by stands of aspen trees with leaves in shades of yellow from flame to neon. There were windy mountain passes and barely-there hiking trails and even a hot springs. True natural beauty. I was awed.
I shot this.
In fact, I shot quite a few like this. And these photographs? They are … fine. There I was, surrounded by the amazingness of nature, so I did the expected thing (that thing I do) and I put my camera to my face and made the best photograph that I could. To be honest though, if I wasn’t writing this post this photo would have sat forever on my computer, never seeing the light of day or having been seen by anyone but me.
Our time in the mountains was bookended by a few hours out and about in Denver. I shot this when we stopped for lunch on the way from the airport
And I shot this at the bar where we had our last night celebratory drinks.
Now, these photographs? I love. They feel 100% me and not only did I share them on Instagram I’m also considering adding them to the new portfolio site I’m building. To me these represent both my comfort zone and my niche and they are work I feel I can be proud of. That said, I still question myself. Should I have tried to push myself and make more, somehow, of the beautiful landscapes?
A few years ago I took a weekend workshop about storytelling in photography and putting your voice into creating a body of work. I remember chatting with the instructor at lunch about my forthcoming trip to Death Valley and saying that I was meaning to learn about HDR technique so I could make the most of the landscape shooting opportunity. He looked at me quizzically (I mean with a true WTF face) and told me, pretty bluntly as I remember it, that he wasn’t really interested in seeing my HDR landscapes. I then mentioned my plans for desert self portraits wearing a huge rainbow tutu. “THAT!” he said. “That I would be interested in seeing from you”. His point was that, as a viewer of my work, he could only truly be engaged in it to the extent that I was engaged in making it. I take solace in that in those moments when I wonder if I’m allowing myself to get too comfortable. Also, those tutu shots remain among my favourites that I have ever taken.
In fact, I did take the opportunity on this trip to shoot a lot of portraits of my willing friends, a genre that is somewhat out of the comfort zone of this girl who likes her life still. Maybe landscapes are just a bridge too far from my niche?