Diversion from the Path- a letter to Olivia
Fujifilm X-T2, XF 16-55/2.8 WR
ISO 1000, 1/250s @f8
The mind gets distracted in all sorts of ways. The heart is its own exclusive concern and diversion.
~Malcolm de Chazal
Tēna koe Olivia:
It was lovely to talk with you on Messenger yesterday, and to share your photographic journey, along with its trials and tribulations. Thank you for inviting me to share what little I know and offer what I can. As I said, when we spoke, I felt a blog post coming on, something that needed to be shared more widely. I hope it will be of use to you.
You say you have lost your photographic mojo.
That is fantastic. I am ecstatic. I am over the moon.
I am thrilled for you.
Now you can truly begin to move towards the beautiful maker of pictures that I know you to be.
I can’t wait to see the images you will make.
You see, I know where you are and what you are going through, because I have been there.
It is really an unconscious act of self-sabotage, but one done by your Self with a loving heart, for when you emerge, you will begin to make work as you have never done before. Assuming, of course, you don’t find the darkness more comfortable than the possibility of emerging into the light. Be wary of that, for we can become addicted to our own pain. Remember that the bears which roam your country (Canada-I so want to visit it one day) eventually emerge from hibernation at the end of winter, driven out by hunger and perhaps the need to walk in the light. Maybe, in the darkness of their winter cave, they have been dreaming of chewing on succulent salmon and sweet berries.
I have shot myself in the cojones more times than I would care to remember. I once persuaded myself that I was over photography and sold all my gear. The following six months were terrible. I kept seeing pictures, and I swear my shutter finger developed a twitch of its own. There have been times I looked at my work and decided it was all crap. Or, worse, I got bored with what I was doing, and looked for My Next Best Thing.
We all must spring-clean the house of our ego from time to time…
I couldn’t take it anymore, and began again. And this time I was making better work than I ever had.
You see, in our progress to who we truly are, as individuals and as artists (the two are simply sides of the same coin), we are going to fall into traps. And there are plenty of them along the road to mastery of our art and of ourselves.
You see, I can talk about these traps with a degree of knowledge, because I have fallen into them.
Every. Single. One. Of. Them.
This trap is entitled:
I Must Make Money from My Photography.
If I am not making money from my photography, I (by extension I/me) am no good at it.
I am not worthy as a photographer.
Which really means:
I am not worthy.
Which is simply not true.
You wouldn’t be a brand ambassador if you sucked as a photographer.
I think that, in trying to measure your photographic worth by the money you are making, you are missing the point. And being held by one of the many diversions that can take us from our personal (and) photographic path. And their number is legion.
You tell me that portraiture doesn’t do it for you, that happy-family-photos-in-the-park isn’t the portraiture you want to make. However, they have their place and value. I have the photographs of my father’s family, collected by my late aunt, all carefully annotated and dated in copperplate. They date back to 1840, barely six years after the medium came into being. I had no idea my father was a champion dog triallist, until I found a small photograph of him, smiling proudly with three large trophies and his four dogs. Imagine, then, the great-great-grandchildren of the family you are photographing looking back at these, and re-membering their past. Surely then, it is a matter of attitude to what you do? And seeing the value in what you do…
Yet you feel drawn to make images of the land, to show the beauty of your country and the natural world. This a worthy motivation for making pictures. I came to this realisation myself one dark night in South Africa. It was a dark night of the soul for me. Wet, exhausted and hypothermic, I awoke around 4am and wrote my mission statement. I revisit it from time to time when I am going off-track, or just when it need to. It still holds true for me. Today as then. Have you thought about doing something similar for yourself?
Here is the thing. A great photographer is not necessarily a great businessman. In my experience, the most successful photographers are business-people first and photographers second. I can think of a New Zealand photographer who made a lot of money from family portraiture, high-end all of it, and developed a complete marketing package. However, the town in which he operated got too small for him in terms of the size of the (well-heeled) client base, so he moved his operation to Auckland where there were a greater number of wealthy people whom he could attract. The story goes that he went out with a real-estate agent, found the house he wanted, asked the price, and then wrote out the cheque on the bonnet of his car. He went on to build his business even more. While his work is of unquestionably high quality, I doubt that in coming years anyone other than the subjects will remember his photography.
Is this what you want?
I suspect not.
You spoke also of your loneliness and the way that it is reflected in the fact that any people in your photographs are either very small or not there at all. That should tell you a lot. Make photographs of that. Towards the end of his life, the great American photographer, Gary Winogrand, was experimenting with seeing how small he could make the human beings in his photographs before they ceased to have any meaning in terms of the story. He seems to have been withdrawing from human life, a factor, I suppose, of his knowledge that Death was close by, and that his time had come. He was dying of pancreatic cancer.
Here is another thing. Our cameras can be a silent but trustworthy companion, a friend on our road. I f we will allow them. And if we recognise and avoid diversion.
Yet another thought:
Some of the greatest photographers (Jay Maisel, Ansel Adams, Harry Callahan et al.) were trained as artists, and had (photographic) day jobs. Callahan, for example, was a commercial photographer, whose speciality was, I am told, women’s underwear (?). Ansel used to photograph visiting tour groups and sell them 8×10’s. In no case were they diverted from the work they felt called to make. They just made a distinction between the two.
So, perhaps there is a middle way for you, that keeps you on the path, while supporting a deeper, richer work.
Journal your inner life. Keep it in a paper format. Allow it to find expression outside yourself and do this regularly. Keep it secure, and add to it frequently. Return to it. Daily if you can. As the great Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, put it:
The greatest journey is the journey within.
Then go and make pictures of your inner world. Sit with them and rank them by their authenticity. Again, do this regularly.
And do not be surprised if you find you have tapped into a rich vein of expression, self-expression and expression of your Self.
You see, many of the things which can divert us from our path are just that; diversions. Ultimately the diversion comes back to the main road, however it always takes longer, and time has passed/past which could have been more wisely and efficiently used.
Look within yourself: the answer is there.
O, and you might want to get a copy of Entering the Castle by the wonderful Caroline Myss. I suspect you would find it of value.
Ka mihi arohanui ki a koe, e hoa.
Big love to you, dear friend.
Friday, 05 January 2018