Manic-depressive photographers

The life of a photographer is an aimless wandering along a path consisting of equal parts of enthusiasm and despair. One moment excitement about the ridge that provides a perfect panoramic image. The next a desperate sorting of 100 confusing images resembling crap (not to put too fine a point on it). Hours editing the picture that you are convinced will be photo of the year and times where you feel like setting fire to the camera or stick your head in the oven when you’ve seen some pictures made by an obscure Russian peasant who makes yours look like schoolboy snapshots. Days when you are high reading letters from unknown fans on the other side of the planet, and days where you stare up at the ceiling wondering just exactly what the hell you actually do. Times when you shake your head over images from “photographers” who obviously lack any self-criticism or technical aptitude, but perhaps own a good camera. Other times when you flip through your own portfolio and wonder whether you are crazy about it or that you actually don’t have anything to contribute other than bad taste and colour blindness. And there are times when you wonder whether your time and money would have been better spent on a vegetable garden or Icelandic banks.

Thankfully the phase passes. Every time. But only till next time.

Over the years I have discovered that I am not the only one with these concerns, thank goodness. Mike Johnston puts it very succinctly:

“To be honest, must of my pictures suck. The saving grace of that admission is that most of your pictures suck, too. How could I possibly know such a thing? Because most of everybody’s pictures suck, that’s how. I’ve seen Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets, and most of his pictures sucked. ”

If this is creeping insanity, then at least we’re not alone 😉

But what is this phenomenon? In my opinion it is two things: Gratification and exploration. Gratification to gaze over the style, whatever it is, that has kept you busy recently. And constant exploration to uncover the gut feeling which a photographer and a beholder experience when they see something that is just amazing – and which yet has to be achieved. When this is finally achieved, the gratification from this style already begins to happen again, and you can revert back to your exploration. And this includes the equipment’s technical specifications, recording method, finishing, design, faces and stories. That’s why we are constantly searching for even better equipment, the perfect face, looking for the narrative that can justify the images to ourselves. Hauling hardware up and down stairs, and constantly crawling around in mud and knee-high grass to find EXACTLY the right angle that is the answer to our prayers. To pinpoint that special technique that will forever give the adrenalin kick we are constantly searching for. But every time the pleasure is all too brief, and we have to hump on until we experience it once again. And this is precisely what I have discovered – that it is quite simply a necessary evil. If you are not exposed to this alternating enthusiasm and frustration, then you have simply stalled or are unable to assess your own work with a certain amount of self-criticism. If you think you will find the perfect image among your 100 perfect shots then you have not understood anything. Because in essence, that is what it’s all about: 20% equipment and creative capabilities and 80% self-criticism, so that you can find one fairly good image among 100 misses, and then just get back on the horse and try one more time !

Ah well – I’m off to burn my camera!

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