As a photographer, I believe my primary responsibility–both to myself, and to my audience–is the creation of new images. Anything that gets in the way of creating new images–working in Photoshop, printing and mounting photographs, displaying photographs at a gallery, working on this blog post–is a threat.
Of course, there are some necessary evils. I can take thousands of photographs, but unless I find some method of presenting them, they are useless to me and my potential audience. So a delicate balance must be achieved between the creation, manipulation, management, presentation, and promotion of the images. That balance is different for every photographer, and can vary widely over time.
“Do less thinking. Do more photography.”
–from my journal, written while sitting on the shore of Rock Creek Lake in the Eastern Sierra, August 4th, 2004
Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my own advice on that trip–and ended up writing this piece and a few others. But I still managed to do some great photography on that trip.
“Consciousness sucks. I think, therefore I suffer.”
— from the movie “Being John Malkovich”
My friend Dan once told me the story of his community college photography professor pursuing his “life work.” Like many photographers, this unnamed professor idolized Ansel Adams, and one image in particular: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. It became his obsession to reproduce this masterpiece through his own lens. For a dozen or more years, he traveled to Hernandez; he found the exact spot where Adams had composed the original; he timed his trips so that the moon would be in the same phase and position; and then he waited, waited, waited for the exact same conditions. He eventually got what he wanted, coming very close to duplicating that legendary photograph.
What a profound waste of time and energy! I like that classic image, too, but I spent $50 and got a nice framed print to hang above my fireplace. While this professor was trying to duplicate the image himself, I had a dozen or so productive years as a photographer, visiting many fascinating locales and producing many thousands of images—all of them unique). Few of those images—maybe none, actually!—could compare to Adams’ Moonrise, but they were 100% mine, and producing them helped me grow as an artist.
What exactly is an artist? Elvis was an artist. He used his creativity, his imagination, his genius to produce something from nothing. Sure, he had influences, and maybe even borrowed a few tricks from those who came before him, but he mixed it all together and conjured up something that was uniquely his. Countless Elvis impersonators—sorry, “invokers”—may be able to “conjure up the spirit of the King,” but few would consider them artists.
The other thing about Elvis: he didn’t set out to be the King. He was the right man at the right time; his talents and perspectives found a niche and it all just sort of happened, the immensity of the wave catching everyone—including Elvis himself—by surprise. In other words, he didn’t think about it, he just did it. If he had put more though into what he was doing at the time, we probably wouldn’t be hearing his rendition of “Hound Dog” in endless rotation on oldies stations today. Not to mention the thousands of Elvis invokers in Vegas and elsewhere who would have missed their true calling.
“Think.” A child does something stupid, and an adult says, “What were you thinking?” or “You need to think before you do something like that!” Thinking is a good thing—or so we were taught. Should you go with the 30-year mortgage or the 15-year? Should you stay in your current job, or take the offer you just got from the other company? Should you do your grocery shopping today after work, or on the weekend? You carefully weight the pros and cons, and come to an informed decision. You think.
But is it a universal truth that thinking is better than non-thinking? We all know it is possible to “over-think” a problem, but where does it make sense to “not-think”?