A load of old cobblers

One totally crap picture…

It must be something in the air. Or the water maybe. Or p’raps its just the time of year. Whatever. Cos for the past few weeks I seem to have been surrounded by various brands of photochum who appear to be afflicted with massive loss of confidence and doubts about self-worth in pic-taking terms. Or loss of inspiration. Or direction.

Either in the middle of it, or just beginning to plumb the depths, or dragging themselves out of it.

Not just one or two either, but a veritable bevy of them.

Its really weird, and in a sense a bit depressing. Cos in almost every case these are folk that have produced pics that have left me cringing with envy. Envy of their undoubted skill and talent.
And the depressing bit comes in for it means that if these folk who each in their own way are clearly very competent are despondent, then what hope is there for a bumbling bungling idiot like me?

Fortunately such thoughts don’t stay in my head for very long. Prob’ly on account of the absent-mindedness which in this particular case seems to be working in my favour. Like I sort of forget that I should be feeling all depressed and down.

Which is not to say that I can’t identify with these poor folk to some extent. I can. Indeed, only too well unfortunately.
I too have had my periods of self-doubt, my crises of confidence, and all the rest of it. And I can identify at least three principal causes…

1. Spending far too much time looking at what other photographers produce. Who all seem so much better than I, and leave me with the feeling “Bloody hell, I’ll never be able to do stuff as good as that.”

2. Boredom. Too much of taking the same types of pics, in the same locations. Boredom with the way they look. Boredom with my own inability to “see” things in different ways, from truly different perspectives.

3. A total sense of disenchantment when, in my perception, there is little visible improvement in the pics I’m taking now over those taken when I first embraced this whole digital photography lark.
A disenchantment reinforced by my seeming total inability to achieve the standard of technical competence that I consider a necessary requirement.

There may well be other “causes of despair” as well, but these are they that spring most readily to mind at the moment.

The most recent manifestation of one of these “down periods” was back in early December last year when I penned that “Self-appraisal“. (And that was a bloody stupid thing to do too!)
But it didn’t last long. Fortunately they never do!

Whence comes this rubber ball-like ability to bounce back on top of things and plough on seemingly without a care in the world; the knack of finding the silver lining in the darkest of clouds; the trick of turning negatives into positives?
I really haven’t a clue, but it seems to be a curious quirk that I’ve always possessed… and mighty glad I am too!

I suspect a huge part of it is my apparent inability to take anything too seriously for too long… myself mainly! And fun as well. I’m a great believer in doing things for the sheer fun of it. Hell, the necessary routines of Life can be a right drudge most of the time… why should we add to it doing stuff we don’t enjoy, or for reasons that become far too serious?
And if we truly want serious then there’s loads of real shit going on in the world we can try tackling instead of turning this photo-taking nonsense into one of them.

So that’s all hunky-dory for me, but what about all these other poor souls who’re still struggling? I sympathise, and would like to offer some words of encouragement. In fact, I tried to do precisely that on one of those photochums’ blogs, but in reality that achieves bugger all.
Responding to my paltry effort host jestingly remarked that I should get meself a blog and post the stuff there. Stupidly I thought about it. Then thought about it some more. And realised that was actually quite a good idea. So here it is!

Well, what’s to say? Toss out a few random thoughts maybe? Speculate a bit on what may be really driving such depressed states? And what better place to start than taking a closer look at those three “causes” I mentioned just now.

1. Looking at other folks pics. I guess if you get even moderately into this photography caper there’s a desire and maybe even a need to do this. In my own case I enjoy looking at what other folk are doing. However, there’s a hidden snag to it all. Which is that I’ll not spend much time on pics that I don’t “rate”.
Let’s take Flickr as an example. Quite appropriate too, given that this is supposedly the “companion blog” to my own Flickr account, and that Flickr is the place where I tend to do most of my pic-browsing.
So if I stumble across a photostream on Flickr that’s full of what I call “happy snaps”, or in a style to which I simply don’t relate, I’ll rapidly skip over it. Finding myself gravitating toward ‘streams containing pics I enjoy looking at, or that inspire me. Um. Yeah. That’s the thing y’see. If I’m constantly looking at such “inspirational” works, or admiring superb technique, or compelling visual impact then it practically goes without saying that I’m looking at stuff which, in my mind, is better than mine. And if I spend too much time doing this then its almost inevitable I’m going to become a bit downhearted, especially if I try, and fail, to emulate that which inspires me.
Yet, perversely, looking at such stuff educates me in a sense in that it helps me to see where my own pics fall short… and also helps me develop a more refined appreciation of imagery.

Tricky, isn’t it? So perhaps what we should be doing is dedicating at least an equivalent amount of time to looking at pics that are, by anyone’s estimate, total crap. And there are certainly enough of those on Flickr too.
And make no mistake about it… they too can teach us things. Like what to avoid in our own pic-taking!

In other words, trying to attain some sort of balanced view rather than constantly, though unwittingly, belittling ourselves.

Throughout all the foregoing what we’re essentially doing is comparing ourselves to others (or our work to the work of others if we’re gonna be a bit pedantic). And, ultimately, that’s never a good thing to do.

Learn from others by all means. But surely what we should really be doing is seeking to be ourselves. To “do our own thing”.

I suspect a large part of photography (certainly in the early days) consists entirely in discovering what “our own thing” actually is. And, as far as I can see, there’s only one way of achieving that… try everything!

Which brings me very neatly onto the next “cause”…

2. Boredom. Too easy to get sucked into the habit of photographing the same things, in the same locations, in the same way. Sometimes that’s all opportunity allows. But there’s nothing to prevent us from trying to create other opportunities. Going to different places. Photographing different things. Trying different techniques. Setting ourselves little challenges even.

Example… taking a totally boring everyday object and seeing what can be done with it pic-wise. Different angles, different modes (macro, close-up, distant, whatever), different environments and settings, different lighting… and so on. Loadsa pics. All of the one totally boring object. And out of these loadsa pics finding the ones that “work”.
(I’ve been doing this a little bit myself recently, and, bizarrely, I’ve noticed its affecting the way I approach taking other pics. Strange!)

But there are loads of little challenges we can set ourselves, covering all sorts of variables. All grist to the mill basically.

All very basic, elementary stuff… but how useful. And different.

3. Lack of progress. What’s the old saying… “Rome wasn’t built in a day”? Why should we think we can pick up a camera and instantly become super photographers?
Why should we think that even a year or two messing around will make us super photographers?
After a lifetime of taking pics maybe we’ll have come somewhere close… if we’re lucky!

Yeah, some people seem to have the knack instantly… but then we’re back to the old “comparing ourselves to others” stunt, and that’s just wrong. Forget what others can or can’t do.
I’m not them. I can’t live their life or have their experiences. I can’t see things with their eyes. And would I really want to? I’m me, and I have my own unique life to live, in my way. And that’s just how I like it.

So back to the lack of progress thing. Me for example. Frustration that I don’t seem to be any further forward then when I first started.
Well, what a load of old cobblers that notion is!

Cos when I first started (even before I started in fact) I was utterly convinced I wouldn’t be able to take pics at all. And that’s wrong… cos clearly I can. Moreover, pics that occasionally (admittedly only some of them) some folk quite like… and are even prepared to put their money where their mouth is so to speak.

Well, bugger me!

And although in my off-days I can see no tangible improvement between early and current stuff, in reality that’s also a load of old cobblers.
For there is an improvement, quite a significant one in fact, though not always in obvious ways. I can even begin to see a sort of “trend” developing (dare I say “style”?). Not in every single one, obviously, but over batches. First hints possibly of what may be ahead sorta thing.

Plus I know, or at least understand, a helluva lot more than when I started, and the whole of photography as a concept has changed dramatically in my mind.

So yes, progess is made, even though most of the time we may not consciously be aware of it. And though it may not always come through in outer form, i.e., in the pics we actually produce.

I suppose really we’re our own worst critics. Cos we have expectations of ourselves that far exceed what we’re capable of doing.
But isn’t this exactly as it should be? In reality is this not the goad that drives us onward, that compels us to try to improve, that makes us frustrated with our failures and dissatisfied with our so-called “successes”. For is it not true that no matter what we produce it always falls somewhat short of what we’d like to produce, or intended to produce, or visualised producing?
Of course this is exactly as it should be. Else we stagnate; stop learning; stop growing.

The trick then is not to be disheartened by this process, but encouraged by it. Indeed, even welcome it.

And, I suspect, the biggest hurdle we have to overcome is the urge to chuck it all in. Perseverance, practice, and more perseverance. And always having our sights just a little bit beyond what we can do. Not too much mind you, cos then its overwhelming and self-defeating. Just a little bit. Just sufficient to keep us striving.

And of course, every time we reach that target whaddya know? Some bugger comes along and moves it just a little bit further ahead. Some bugger… hopefully ourselves.

On the other hand, p’raps this is all just another load of old cobblers. Cos what the hell would I know? After all, I’m just a bumbling bungling idiot. And relish every minute of it. Cos that’s “my thing”.

Another totally crap picture…

Real good, ain’t they?

About fotdmike

Occasional photographer; occasional writer/blogger; occasional activist; occasional computer-geek. Bit of a fool really.
This entry was posted in Photography Chat, Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A load of old cobblers

  1. ellyukrm says:

    Yet again, you’ve hit the nail firmly on the head! A sense of balance is definitely what it’s all about – be inspired by what you see and experience, learn from it and learn from mistakes or when things didn’t turn out quite as you planned, take pleasure in small ‘victories’.

    I, for one, felt inspired after our photo jaunt and althugh I’ve not been taking many pics in the past month or two, I’ve been looking at the world differently, seeing things from different perspectives and imagining how I’d compose and take photos.

    Now that I’m back at work full-time I don’t get as many opportunities to mooch about with the cameras, but I’m *seeing* stuff and making mental notes of times of day, lighting and subjects that I can perhaps capture at an opportune moment. I actually get a great deal of pleasure from this ‘virtual photography’ as there’s a sweetness about capturing the image in my head, knowing what it should look like and not being disappointed if it doesn’t work. Mind you, I’m rarely actually disappointed by photos; sure some are a bit ‘meh’ but there’s always one or two that I think, yeah, that just worked and that is the true pleasure of the whole experience for me.

    • fotdmike says:

      I’m rarely actually disappointed by photos; sure some are a bit ‘meh’ but there’s always one or two that I think, yeah, that just worked and that is the true pleasure of the whole experience for me.

      Yep, I think that about sums it up. I expect to end up with a load of crap so when I do its no real surprise, and not really a disappointment. And the fact that very often, from any given session, there’s usually a bunch that are “so-so” is generally good enough for me and makes me feel that the time spent has been worthwhile. Then, on occasions, there’s one or two that really do seem to “work” and that’s what then makes me eager for the next little session, or to try something new, or a different approach or something.

      The key thing here though is that they only need to work for me. Appeal to me. Cause me some delight.

      And all too often I’ll discover that, if I revisit them months later, they may no longer have the same impact. And that I perceive as a good thing, cos I interpret it as being a sign of growth and development, of refinement of taste and the evolving of expectations and abilities.

      Some of course remain constant favourites and that’s good too cos, in my mind, it tells me there definitely is something good about them “in their own right” so to speak.

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  3. forkboy says:

    It feels so good to know that I am your muse 😉

    And where you say, “Whence comes this rubber ball-like ability to bounce back on top of things and plough on seemingly without a care in the world; the knack of finding the silver lining in the darkest of clouds; the trick of turning negatives into positives?” I cannot help but think of that Pink Floyd lyric “Quiet desperation being the English way.”

    Perhaps there is another reason this bout of illness has struck so many: it just happens. I imagine even the very best of photographers have days, maybe weeks or months or even years when they feel they haven’t done their best. That the spark of creativity and accomplishment is simply elusive for whatever reason.

    But as an extension to our series of comments on my posting I could further illuminate the matter by saying there is so much else in my life that is going and has been going wrong that it would be nice to see at least one thing I enjoy going better. Perpetually unemployed with no apparent hope of that changing. An education hard-won going to naught. The marriage… well: not here. It is quite simply a desperate need for something I do to be good. To be better than the norm. To be worthy in some manner. It boils down to a much needed and desired ego-boost in a world that has taken so much of late.

    In addition, I have noticed something that truly concerns me about the ability to recognize what makes for a great photograph. I have a small collection of photographs of which I am ever so proud. To me they grand and great and make me smile with pride and immense satisfaction. And then I post them to Flickr and the response is meager. And this cycle has created a true concern in my head that I simply don’t recognize what makes a great photograph and if I cannot recognize one then how in the hell will I ever be able to take one?

    But if nothing else my friend…. your post made me laugh quite hard and quite often. Everything you say is spot-on. But getting past the knowledge and using it to move forward is always the bigger problem. Fortunately, as you read in that post, I’m working on that.

    • fotdmike says:

      Well, I have to confess you weren’t the only muse (sorry and all that). It seems I’ve been bumping into this malaise in one form or another, and at one stage or another, all over the place in the past few weeks and its really beginning to do my head in.
      What the hell’s the matter with me that everyone seems so down whilst I’m so damn chirpy? It just ain’t fair!

      Great photograph? What’s all that about then? Who the hell wants to take a great photograph? Pics that work… that’s the thing. And you’ll know it when you see it cos there’ll be that indefinable “click” inside. If the click ain’t there then the photo don’t work.
      And when I talk about “work” I mean work for you. Cos that’s all that matters.

      I might see one of your pics and claim its the best thing since sliced bread. But if it does nothing for you then that’s meaningless. Conversely, I could totally trash one of your pics (not that I would!) but if in your eyes its the real biz then what more can you possibly ask for?

      And sod Flickr. Who cares if the adulation of the Flickr community is somewhat absent. What are you doing… living for yourself or living for Flickr?
      Providing you enjoy what you do and what you produce then that’s all that matters (for the second time of saying). And if you don’t enjoy it, why are you doing it?

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  5. forkboy says:

    Is there anything fundamentally wrong though with wanting one’s work to be liked on Flickr? I mean, isn’t the mere fact we upload our images to Flickr show we have a certain sense….a modicum of vanity regarding our work, especially seeing how we aren’t specifically using Flickr to share family photos with family members in a quick and easy fashion.

    We share our pictures in a public arena. Are you really telling me you don’t care if they are rubbish or not?

    • fotdmike says:

      Ah… I don’t care if other people think they’re rubbish. Yeah, its nice and gratifying if someone likes something I put on Flickr, but if they don’t, or they think its crap, well, that’s no skin off my nose.

      If folk don’t rate my stuff, well, that’s their choice. And how I react to that will depend very much on who they are, what their own stuff is like, and what mood I’m in. Most of the time I just chunter on merrily doing my own thing. Cos that’s what I do.

      isn’t the mere fact we upload our images to Flickr show we have a certain sense….a modicum of vanity regarding our work

      Now that’s just making far too many assumptions regarding why and how people use Flickr. Coincidentally (well, not entirely coincidentally cos it was triggered by your previous comment) I’ve been giving quite a bit of thought to this over the past few hours, but I’ve not yet assembled my speculations in a sufficiently coherent manner to share ’em. In fact, I’ve only just done another blogpost about this very thing.

      I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with taking pleasure in having one’s pics liked by the Flickr community. It can be quite gratifying and a hell of an ego-boost. But that’s all it is. As superficial and meaningless as that.
      Wanting one’s work to be liked on Flickr is another matter entirely, and I’m gonna reserve comment on that for the mo’.
      What I think is a bad/sad thing though is when lack of recognition on Flickr has a negative impact. That’s the point at which you really need to ask yourself where you’re coming from. Or so I think.

      Do you take pics just for them to be liked on Flickr (i.e., trying to bend yourself to other folks’ sometimes questionable whims and fancies) or do you take pics for your own enjoyment and benefit? Are you seeking to copy conventional and accepted “styles” or are you trying to discover your own? Are your pics an expression of you or are they an expression of how you want other people (i.e., the Flickr community) to think of you?

      In other words, do your pics have “integrity” (no matter how “bad” they may be), i.e., a sort of essential honesty, or are they simply attempts to pander to the trends and fads of the moment?

      Profound questions melad.

  6. Pingback: Sometimes I even agree | Adventures of an Idiot – occasional ramblings of a photography freak

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