Photography & Perfectionism

October 31, 2010 § 4 Comments

As I mentioned, I pulled out my camera last week to try to take some pictures for the blog… And it wasn’t a great experience. I felt a old demon kicking in and the harder I tried, the worse the photos got and I felt so frustrated. And then it seemed silly to be so frustrated!

I started off this year taking a photo a day, and made it farther than I thought that I would – in fact, there’s at least a month’s worth of photos that were never uploaded. For some reason I had this process down when I was taking photos for this project. Less emphasis on posting an image I loved, more emphasis on recording LIFE (with the hope that by practicing daily I would improve over time). I didn’t stress about it (too much) if I hated a particular picture, or thought it could be better.

The time off from taking pictures every day has somehow increased the pressure in my mind, maybe in part because of the guilt of not using my camera. Now I feel stuck. I’m out of practice and trying to find the right buttons, the light is fading quickly in the evenings, and there’s the underlying dissatisfaction with my surroundings*. I need to get back to the spontaneity, the documentation. Maybe especially because I’m out of practice, I seem to want something lovely to show for it. It should matter more that the object of the photo is lovely to me and worth remembering. Just as my words and handwriting don’t need to be “worthy” of a beautiful journal, my photos don’t need to be “worthy” of their subjects. Apparently I feel inadequate because I don’t have a nice photo to show. That’s just ridiculous.

When I set out to take a nice picture, to try to capture an emotion or texture or moment in a beautiful and emotive way – I will inevitably be disappointed. I envy both uncomposed, often unfocussed “snapshots” that are beautiful in their honesty & simplicity AND the artistically structured ones that are gorgeous images and stand on their own.

It’s the intent that’s really the issue here. Is it to make a beautiful picture to share? Or is it to document what I’ve made/a moment/an event for myself first? I want to approach photography as a practice, like my writing and my yoga and my knitting. I started to really enjoy taking photos because it gave me a little window of noticing the beauty all around me. I want to recapture that. Process over product. Intent over accomplishment. Seeing over portraying. Maybe I need to go back to firing off iPhone shots. Less pressure, maybe? This one T took the other day is perfect. No staging, no stress, no fancy camera. Real. Thank you Sweetheart.

I think my favorite part of this picture is my tiny reflection there, in my mother’s ring.

*(ooooh, didn’t know that one was in there until just now! That’s a whole other topic!)

§ 4 Responses to Photography & Perfectionism

  • tini says:

    Mel, don’t be frustrated with your photography. I often wish, I could pictures as great as Katrin does or Jared Flood. But then I’m not in a place of life, where I have the patience to get acquainted with my “camera” or do 9794 shots, so that I can get a perfect one. Until I will be, I will take pictures that are o.k. and that will give me something to remember, when I look at them…

  • heatherknits says:

    You could do this perfectly, if it was the only thing you chose to focus on, and you gave up all those other time-consuming activities that are important to you. In the end, I think it’s a matter of priorities, as well as intentions. I agree that practice is helpful, and if you get back to a photo a day, you’ll have some gems to show for it. I’ve never been one that is patient with trying to achieve perfectionism when there are so many variables. I feel the same way about spinning. Maybe one day I will feel accomplished, the way I do with my knitting (for the most part), knowing that what I set out to do is similar to the product I will have in the end. But even with knitting, my attention isnt’ always enough to produce perfection. I think you have an inkling of what I am trying to say – that as I’ve gotten along in life, I’ve realized, as I know you have to, that it’s mostly in the doing that there is satisfaction. Since it’s not for profit, I consider a beautiful product to be a bonus. It’s been easier for me to lower my expectations and enjoy the result. Until you decide to prioritize perfection in photography, it seems like your previous intent of documenting rather than producing high art would at least encourage you to get back into it!

    I really struggle with the idea of a practice. You know this struggle, since you are actually pursuing a practice right now! We can’t be strong and flexible and fit and zen after one yoga session. It’s the same with artistic pursuit. There are a lot of steps in the progression, and one day you have a product. The other days, by-product.

    I definitely encourage you to pick up again with the camera. I remember reading something that Lou Reed said, in which he compared ideas to snowflakes (very paraphrased). Each one is unique, but if not captured, another one always comes along. I feel this way about moments, and photos. You may not capture everything the way you wanted, but if you practice, you’ll have great days that were unexpected as well.

  • katrin says:

    If my pics were as good as yours I’d be more than happy.
    I think it’s the point of view – as always…
    we judge ourselves harder than others do, and so we’re never (or rarely) satisfied with what we get out of our camera. Or the sewing machine. Or off the needles.
    There always will be someone who makes better pictures, nicer clothes, has a shinier car or just seem to be blessed with that very special “gift” we miss.
    During those last months I did a lot of thinking about these things and noticed it doesn’t matter. Just be yourself and enjoy what you do – no matter if it’s perfect or not.

    I still owe you a mail, I know – it’s not forgotten, just delayed.


  • Rachel says:

    I don’t know how to write a comment to this post because I’ve been feeling exactly the same way as of late. So much that I’ve read this post over and over again in wonder that our thoughts are so similar. In fact, I’ve been meaning to post something similar to my blog and finally got the nerve to do it (or will later today). Though my thoughts are not near as ‘open’ and ‘intimate’ as yours…I so respect your courage in sharing this.

    I know you aren’t in any way wanting compliments…but I’ve always thought that your images are stellar and I’ve seen them change over the time since I first started reading your blog. It’s obvious that how you see things through the lens, what you are attempting to capture, and what you want from a photograph has changed. Which is the nature of art.

    I wonder if the online world is the cause of what you wrote (and what I’m feeling as well). It used to be that taking pictures was fun, it was just for ourselves (or our family/friends), and the challenge of taking a good picture was internal. Now that we post our lives (or parts of them) online, that we participate in photography challenges, that we document more for others maybe than for ourselves, it has shifted how one views the photograph. Maybe shifted to how others will view the skill and composition etc rather than capturing a moment or a slice of beauty in time…for ourselves. We challenge ourselves based on others, compare ourselves to others, rather than it being a personal challenge. If so, I don’t have an answer for how to get past that feeling…to still take pictures for us whether they are posted for others or not. I hate the feeling that when I have a camera in hand, I’m thinking about whether I should or shouldn’t post the picture…how it will compare and will it be ‘good’ enough. I just want to enjoy the process again for the process…not for the product or the blog post.

    Finally…yet again, I agree with Heather’s comment 100%.

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