We often just assume that photography is fun, but is it? It is supposed to be fun. We are supposed to enjoy it, but there are many sources of potential angst, especially when we become increasingly dedicated/passionate/driven and even competitive. I think it is true for most things in life: the bigger the high, the bigger the potential low.
This is only a quick post, but I would be very interested to hear about any stories you have about the ups and downs you have experienced over the years and will kick things off with mine:
I am guessing it was 2002 when I visited the ‘Ansel Adams at 100’ exhibition in London. At the time, I was an avid landscape photographer, shooting primarily on 5×4″ film and making my own silver prints in the darkroom. Up to this point, I had seen relatively few prints made by other people, although the ones I had seen suggested my own were OK. So I walked into this exhibition like a calf to the slaughter, with no idea of what I was about to see.
While not every print was of the same standard, there were plenty in there that stopped me dead. I remember one in particular, of a tree in fog, that held me entranced. The shadows were so beautifully separated and luscious. The highlights so delicate yet detailed and ‘present’ and the whole image possessed a depth that was astonishing. And I felt like weeping.
I had worked so hard at my printing, but this exhibition showed that I had climbed not a mountain, but a molehill created by the smallest species of mole imaginable. I could now see how much better prints could be. It was as if Ansel had used an entirely different process to make the darned thing. I could not wrap my head around how he could achieve such results with largely the same materials I was working with. Yes, I had made ‘nice’ prints, but nothing remotely approaching what I was now looking at.
Above is one of my better prints (digital snap displayed) from a year or so after seeing the Ansel at 100 exhibition. The tree used to reside at the top of a hill above my mother’s house in Andalucia, Spain. I say ‘used to’ because neighbouring farmers cut an illegal road through her land and destroyed this and many other trees in the process.
I feasted on the prints. I tried to understand all that I could about what was happening with the tones and their relationships. I etched their appearance and impact into my eyeballs and soul. For a moment, I felt excited by a new goal to pursue, but when I realised the scale of the challenge, I slumped into a chasm of defeat. The challenge just felt too vast, especially considering that I was teaching myself and did not have the funds for expensive workshops (especially the most compelling ones in the US). I seriously considered giving up there and then (about ten metres outside the exit), but obviously didn’t. Once I had recovered from the trauma of my hard work crumbling in the face of this comparison, I learned a lot and I learned it more quickly than I thought I would. However, it was a close call.
Thankfully I did not tear up all my prints when I got home, but I did tear up a huge number. Seriously. But it wasn’t an act of petty anger, but instead about refiling things where they belonged (which in a great many cases meant the trash) and marking a new beginning. I remember very clearly, when I slowly worked through my portfolios, which were rammed to the gills and decided to make space for the very much better prints I was about to make. It was cathartic and helped sharpen my determination to follow through.
What about you!?