When Jim Cook asked me to write an article for his weekly post I told him it might not be a good idea. Sometimes people think I'm nuts because I talk with trees and rocks. They're at least partly wrong: I don't talk to them; we communicate.
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Staying Out Of The Picture
If "credentials" means a list of things to make authority believable, then I have none. The first definition of the word is "that which entitles one to confidence, credit, or authority." As you read on you'll see I believe no one should take or be given credit, and it's sad we seem to need it. Since the "authority" part of the definition has already been shed, that leaves confidence. Hmm, confidence may be my only credential. Knowing that this is a characteristic shared with hero and fool alike, the Reader is adequately forewarned.
We humans like to categorize everything; it makes us feel we understand things when we compartmentalize them into cozy coffers of confinement. "Define" and "confine" have something in common. My confidence in making all of these statements doesn't come because I believe I'm right, it comes because I believe I'm out of the picture. There are many disciplines that strive to remove the ego from our actions, and this can be a very helpful approach to enjoying a new appreciation of your own work. This is very true regarding photography. Removing the ego can be a very liberating experience that can help you connect to the natural flow of Creativity. When approached with this sense of participation in the process, you will often see things in your photos that you know were not originally intended --whether or not you admit it to others is another topic for consideration and involves the continuation of shunning ego.
Ego can make for a stunning show though. When one devotes energy to one's ego and backs it up with natural talent, the results can be quite outstanding. When I first started shooting with a real camera I had already been playing music for years. In that arena there were many eager to expose their egos, and those who did were perceived by audiences to be much better than those without such a display. Sometimes the thrill is in watching someone who is "crazy," and sometimes the ego enhances the ability to show the talent. Again we see "confidence" by hero and buffoon alike. For me it was all about getting lost in the music. Consequently I'd always hear things like, "Oh, you're in the band, too?" Yeah, I was... by definition, the bass player. But, without confinement, I was also able to experience getting lost in the creative flow when by myself with a bass at times of sickness or when otherwise needing the recharge. I could sit and play and all symptoms would disappear, which is not to say they wouldn't come back when I stopped. Just holding the bass in my hands would start the process, and now the same is true when holding a camera in hand or on tripod.
Photography can be approached in two ways (at least as we confine the definition for this article), meaning the photograph can be obtained through two different paths, on-the-go and planned. Both can connect to Creativity and both could benefit by leaving ego in the bag. Planning the shot would include studio work and camera-for-hire stuff, as well as studying maps, geography, weather and other conditions with a specific subject in mind. On-the-go is more like strap on a camera, start moving and shoot what stops you. When planning, especially by yourself, you have no need of Ego unless it's a tactic you use to perpetuate lies you need to help you sleep, albeit that sleeping with lies is not conducive to helping with anything. Sleeping dogs never lie. There are arguable benefits in allowing Ego to reign in either approach, on-the-go or planning, but this is my article so there is no one with whom to argue.
There is planning in the on-the-go approach, just as there are often on-the-go instances occurring in the most well-planned shoot. The planning that is part of each process involves things like learning your camera and how to play it, much in the same way as learning your instrument will enhance your connectivity with Creativity when playing music. This learning can also be left in the control of the egoless you. Rather than looking at a photo and proudly declaring I did that, quietly try to find the cool stuff in it with which you had nothing to do. Next time, try to let that stuff tell you what to take home with you on the memory card or film. Let that avenue be your approach to learning the craft. Now, if, unlike me, you have talent, by all means let your ego fly. But, if you also allow the influence of what is not you, even your ego would perform better.
Aside from the ineffable benefits of leaving your ego in the bag, there are some we can describe. For example, without the ego in the soup, you won't get that yea-me feeling when someone compliments your work, BUT you also won't experience that woe-is-me feeling when they find fault. No credit, no blame. No problem. The reward is in the process. Without an ego you won't slow yourself down wondering what you did wrong, or stop your progress when you feel you got one right. You learn to appreciate the freshness of your own work in the same way you can experience the excitement in another's work. You learn to feel Art regardless of the artist. You see it everywhere. You improve without effort when the shackles of pride are removed and you stay out of the picture.
Oh, and for those thinking the title of this article might shed light on how to make sure you don't accidentally stray into the shot... well, that's easier than trying to keep your camera and tripod shadows out of the frame. But I'm sure you all have left this discussion much earlier, so... see you in the pictures.