Things to think about when your work seems worthless.
Spoiler Alert: Although this post begins on a down note, everything will work out. Also, no pictures; just observations and thoughts.
In the summer of 2012 and again this summer (2013) I was in a photography funk. I became reluctant to get out and shoot. I thought that the world didn’t need another image of the ocean or the dunes, let alone another blog post on that subject. I had doubts about the worth of my work in general, thinking of it as a lot of banal images….another sunset/sunrise, waterfall, flower scene, mountain stream, sea birds, and of course jetties, beaches and waves.
Part of the problem is that I tend to work only a couple of small farms: the Medford Leas campus and the Beach Haven shore. It seemed to me that those cows are giving less and less milk. Colleagues have ventured to other locales from coast to coast and to other continents, and returned with dramatic and beautiful images. The great landscape photographers are beating the bushes of Iceland, Patagonia, and Namibia in search of new scenes, and returning with exquisite work. I haven’t done anything like that for three years, and the idea of packing and transporting to such locales becomes less and less appealing because of my age. Ennui has arrived.
I look at the work of distinguished landscape/nature photographers with some of whom I have done productive and enjoyable workshops. Magnificent as it is, I see a sameness in their work. We’ve all seen the dramatic (sunrise) (sunset) behind magnificent mountains with (rocks) (flowers) in the foreground. We’ve all seen the dramatic (sunrise) (sunset) behind awesome rocks emerging from the far sea while the tide rushes silkily over the (beach) (small rocks) in the foreground. A few weeks ago I received an email touting the sender’s workshops with four superb images but they were all of the type I’ve just described. I’ve made the point; to go further would invite having a contract placed on me.
So, I’m doing the same old thing and others are doing the same old thing. What’s to be done? First I did a hard review of my work. Over the past 14 years of digital photography I have set aside images which I liked very, very much. I went through them again, individually, and culled some more. Then I grouped them in categories. I found that a third were of beaches, bay scenes, jetties, sailing and water birds. Yep, too much time on the beach. Next were sun/moon rises/sets at 15% and flowers, shrubs and trees at 14%. Lakes, streams and waterfalls trailed at 6% and landscapes were only 5%. This was not the result of careful planning over 14 years; it just happened that way.
Be they as they may, I enjoyed looking at the images, and I began to feel that I have done some very nice work over the years. There are several club-competition award winners. Not a lot because I’m still learning how to shoot and post-process for judges. There are several that have won awards in other competitions. There’s the one biggie that was one of 25 runners-up in a competition with 10,000 entries. Felt good about that. Maybe I should continue shooting.
But what? There’s still that nagging question: does the world need another sunrise over the ocean, or high fall clouds over the beach, or a silky waterfall rushing thru moss-covered rocks past a blooming trillium, or another Great Blue Heron pose? Well, I decided, the world probably doesn’t need it, but I do! I need the joy of capturing something that I see as beautiful or graceful or stirring or peaceful or dramatic. It also occurred to me that if the great landscape painters, e.g. the Hudson Valley School, had quit after their first painting of the valley there would be a great void of enjoyable scenes.
So, having become my own cheerleader it was time to damn the ennui and get out there! I opted to return to the mountains, Bear Mountain, the Catskills, and then the Adirondacks. I drove off with trepidation in the car with me. I was going back to things I’ve photographed before. Would it be more of the same thing? Well, by the first hour atop Bear Mountain, shooting a five-image, wide-angle panorama of the Hudson, Bergie was back. The rest of the week was just as much fun and just as satisfying. Yes, I went back to a waterfall in the Catskills that I and other club members have tried to capture many times. I did again and it was a pleasure. Best shot ever! Then off to Ausable Chasm and the hike through the chasm and the ride down the white water, just as the family and I had done over forty years ago. Then to my favorite spot (4th time) at Lake Placid for some great sunsets over the lake, and great views from Whiteface Mountain. Great fun, great shots.
Now, right near the end of writing this essay (yes, right here) came the last stage of my recovery. I looked out and saw the fog begin to creep across the bay and marshes. Down at the club this weekend were the “big boats”, the large cat-boats referred to as A-cats. I wondered what they’d look like in the morning fog, and I drove there and found out. I was excited, and happy with the results! Did I capture any prize winners? I doubt it. Is there one that might sell to a lover of these historic boats? Maybe. But the point is that I don’t care. The thing was worth doing for itself. I’ll enjoy looking at the images and remembering the moment, and I hope some others will enjoy them when I put them on-line.
Memo To Me: (1) Study the work of others; work to learn and improve but have confidence in yourself, (2) Get out there and shoot and go back again and shoot it again because the more perfect image can still be made, and (3) Enjoy what you’re doing or get a new avocation.
OK, one image at least.
Excelsior, and Damn the Ennui!