Getting Lost in the Tangents
(Lose yourself in the story, not in the surroundings.)
“No, it's not a very good story - its author was too busy listening to other voices to listen as closely as he should have to the one coming from inside.”- Stephen King
This post is a part of my “Childlike Wonder. A return to storytelling in photography” series. If you haven’t read part one, it’s not necessary, but it’s likely to be helpful for context.
With that said though, pardon me while I step up to the pulpit for this next part.
Throw off, with reckless abandon, the shackles of the creative rules that are ingrained into the listed “do"s and “don’t”s that you’ve formed in your mind!
With everything you learn in the arts, there comes a point where critical thought becomes the millstone dragging your apathetic body down to the depths of mediocrity; into uninspired burnout. If left unattended, into a slow and unannounced regression of abilities. Like a bike that’s been left unused for long enough; the chain begins to rust, the tires go flat and dry rot, and then the day comes for it to perform again, discovered upon like a long lost friend from grade school - only to realize the bike is in shambles, and the relationship made shallow by neglect.
You’ve locked yourself in a box, and built walls to keep the box out.
You’ll find you’ve perfected your craft into disarray and shambles. With anxious hands and in an attempt to be “different,” “new,” or “edgy,” you’ll fall back on the white vignettes, selective color, faded imagery, and the trendy cliches of the past. You'll find yourself repeating beginner habits in a frantic attempt to make “art”. You won’t realize that these things can be done differently, that they can be made into something that is quite beautiful… if you’d just loosen up on the reins.
You won’t realize this because, in the peak of Dunning-Kruger, you’ve planted your flag firmly. You ascended to the highest hill of “are we there yet” only to think you’ve made it to that final place with no room left to expand. The educational ropes that you’ve used to climb the challenges of early-stage photography have become the bindings that hold your wrists back from breaking molds and adventuring into the unknown. And the greatest disservice was that, through all of your learning, improvements, and profits, you’ve locked yourself in a box, and built walls to keep the box out.
To break this mold that you've built, you'll need a departure away from your comfort zones and into unexplored territory.
You'll need an abrupt change of course, a tangent.
Getting lost in a tangent, for me, happens quite regularly, and often to my partner's dismay. I'll storm in the room, hands waving wildly, with thoughts going a thousand miles an hour and start pouring words out like a busted pipe. Being lost in a tangent is about being so in love with the story, the idea, and the craft, that it excites you to the point of restlessness, thinking and rethinking details and future ideas and all the many possibilities.
It's also being so lost in the craft that, things like uncooperative vendors at a wedding or a portrait session going on a bit past the planned time, just don't phase you. You're too lost in your thoughts, in your viewfinder, and moving to get the next shot.
You need to be too focused to be bothered caring about anything else.
There are sixty minutes in an hour, sixty seconds in a minute, which means if you’re taking pictures at 1/250th of a second, in each hour you have nine-hundred thousand frames of possibility you can capture. Each hour of your day is filled with split-second stories that you can either document or let melt back and disappear into time. We often don’t think of these, or at least, we don’t think to apply these ideas, even as photographers where documenting memories is our sole gig. We often overlook and underestimate the great responsibility we have, as the choosers of what we allow to be remembered and memorialized.
A friend mentioned that they were asked out to breakfast by a client, but it was unfortunate as mornings weren’t exactly their thing. This is when I originally put forward the above “frames per hour” idea. I even went so far as to figure out the average distance from one side of a diner booth to the other, so I could work out the room they would have with a fifty-millimeter lens. They reminded me that this was just breakfast with a client, not a shoot. It’s times like this where the things that come into my mind surprise even me, not because they should be surprising, but for the exact opposite reason: it makes so much sense.
“Are you a photographer, or do you just take pictures for work?”
We tend to do this craft for so long that the initial excitement blends into the background; behind all of the learning, the skills, the guidelines, and the outlines of how or when we should “do” photography. The thing about all of this is, we didn’t get into photography because we love planning meetings, keeping records, managing bookings, and doing our own accounting. Typically we get into photography because we love taking pictures, we want to capture moments, or emotions, or a raw idea, something we can’t quite place our finger on. We need that reminder that we are photographers, we don’t just DO photography.
Storytelling, at its core, was what started this journey for us. It needs to be our obsession.
I love this idea of storytelling as an obsession because it directly relates to the entrepreneurial spirit that we have to have as photographers.
The passion is in the doing.
There's this idea that just roaming around and looking at different kinds of photography will result in us finding and choosing our passion within photography. That's just not how passion works. The passion is in the doing. We fall in love and grow in photography as we do it! So if you want to grow, you want to develop a style, a brand, a love for the craft, you have to go do it.