At Work In The Work

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Life brings its seasons, on its own time, on its own terms. We humans challenge that, don’t we? We, I, would like nothing better than to control the terms of life – at least to a great extent. But here we are, at the whim of the vagaries of life. It can be a rocky path.

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These days my photography is a challenge. It isn’t flowing to my satisfaction. I am not flowing to my satisfaction. And so the rewards of making images – those feelings of success, the accolades, the sense of satisfaction, are lacking, wanting. It is a frustrating time. It is also a time of questioning my reasons for photographing.

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Do I photograph for accolades, for those positive feelings? Honestly, much of the time I do. But that is a risky proposition. For then my continued photography rests in large part on the good graces and expressed good feelings of others in response to it. Is that really how I want my art form (whatever that truly is?) to be dependent on an external locus of control? Or is photographing, and art in general, really supposed to be the expression of an internal response to life, a reaction to life and its mysteries, joys, heartaches, and wonder?

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Of late my web presence has decreased significantly. I am posting less, social media-ing less, and being much more selective with my inputs. Work and family commitments have dictated this in large part, but it was time really. I strongly recognize the importance of managing one’s inputs as it has an enormous impact on one’s life. And I have chosen to be more choosey with my inputs, encouraging myself to select higher art forms like well regarded photography, fine art, fine literature, really creative movies, good music, better food. The changes have been significant in a short period of time.

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But a word of warning should you choose to embark on such a journey as well – you might well become disappointed in your efforts at your own photography, at your own art. Higher levels of input let you know where you stand; higher art shows you exactly where you are mediocre. It takes some fortitude to face this. It can be a tipping point. This is the point where some push on, strive, grasp higher, tenaciously hang on for the long term. This is also the point where many pack it in, throw in the towel, quit.

Time for some grit.

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9 Responses to At Work In The Work

  1. Ed says:

    Every other day I feel like this. I know exactly, on all counts, where you are coming from. i am tenaciously hanging on for the moment, getting ready to reach for that next hand-hold on the sheer face. i’ll either slip, catch myself were I am, or fall. But I cannot stay stuck here. I’m not one, but I have read that climbers say if you think too much about your next move it’s too late, too much doubt has crept in and you face a serious consequence. Brian, judging by your image output of late I’d say you’ve found a path, you just need to follow it with out too much forethought. And I’ll try to take my own advice too.

    • Brian Miller says:

      Thanks Ed. I’ve climbed a fair bit in my day and I know of what you speak. I also experienced it greatly when I raced bicycles (in Prospect Park incidentally :) when I intuitively felt the right time to attack. My intuition was rarely wrong and questioning it meant I was too late. The same goes in my images. I think the struggle is that I usually feel it as I photograph and I have not been experiencing that lately. Perhaps learning the x100 is taking me more time than I thought it might; perhaps it is not really being connected with the subject matter I really want to connect with,but cannot; perhaps I am just physically very tired (I am) and so I am questioning a lot. Thanks for the feedback on the images. I keep pushing myself and I don’t feel I am reaching what I am aiming for. Such is the quest, I suppose. :)

      • Ed says:

        Ok, so you’ve mentioned two things I can identify with also. One, learning a new camera can take time. Initially you are so enthused you just go out and make images joyously. But then you start to wonder how else it can become even more adapted to your working, or what else it can do. This inevitably leads to a period where you slow down and enter a learning phase. It’s a slightly opposite analogy but in weight-training you can often reach a plateau in strength no matter how hard you think you are trying to push past it you are not. It takes an extra effort, an extra session per week, really going for that extra 5lbs, whatever, you need that extra push. In this case you just need to dive in and photograph an extra day per week, or stay that little bit longer, 5, 10, 30 minutes if you can’t manage an extra day. It’s hard because of the time/tiredness thing, and I certainly sympathize there too. But needs to be done to push past it.

        Secondly, subject. Yep. I have the same problem too. I am learning more and more about what, who, where I want to photograph by looking inside. But often one or more of those is not in NYC. So, try flipping it around, is there an angle you can do where you are? Is there a sub=project you could do as part of a larger one you envision but can’t make reality yet? If you are pining for a subject in New York, in Brooklyn, flip that as ask “how do Brooklynites integrate into NM,” like yourself. Just a top-of-the-head idea as an example.

        Yes, this is always the quest. Photography is never perfect, but strive to make our images as good as we can. Embrace the tension of imperfection and look inside you for what you are connecting with.

        • Brian Miller says:

          Hi Ed,

          Thanks for your reply. I am trying to push through the plateau. I am finding that the camera is not necessarily getting out of the way for me when I am making images. I’ve recently tried another tack so it might yet change. Photography is hard enough without having to deal with quirk issues, but that being said I do really like the new camera and use my dSLR’s much less.

          Regarding turning around the focus and project: I am on that track. Not too long ago I realized that my freewheeling travel days were over for the time being and therefore photographing distant cultures and distant people (the “exotics”) was not going to figure in my images. But then I realized I live right in the middle of a very photogenic area with specific cultural influences and expressions. So that has become my focus. I’m enjoying it very much but struggle the realize the quality of the images I would like to achieve. Much of the day requires adhering to the Sunny16 rule in our bright sunlit state. Much of the goings-on involve this sunlight. That is what I have to work with for now.

  2. Pardon the pun, but I think it really has to do with focus. You get “better” (whatever that means) at something the more attention you can give it. Both of you have many other obligations/distractions—necessary ones—but those pull your brain away from what you are doing (photography). Until you can minimize those and maximize the amount of time you think about an practice photography, progress will be slow.

    But… you’re still making progress. If you keep this in mind, it won’t seem so frustrating when you plateau for a while. You just have to keep banging away at it until things change.

    Practice doesn’t have to always be making photographs (i.e., “carry a camera everywhere”). In his book, Letting Go of the Camera, Brooks Jensen writes, “In order to be a great artist one must be thinking photographically, looking at photographs, looking for photographs, sensitive to potential photographs, rehearsing, practicing, and even, when possible, creating photographs on film and paper.… Every day can be a day on the path of the creative life.”

    Keep plugging away, but when you have the chance, see if you can find an hour or so where you don’t think of anything else but photography. Don’t think about work, family, bills, etc. and just pay attention. Sit and watch. Imagine photographs. Take them if you want to, but practice seeing photographically.

    It’s helped me out immensely.

  3. Radek Kozak says:

    Lovely post Brian, really resonates with me as i am trying as well to minimize mine social media-ing and focus on what’s most important for me creatively, intelectually and so on. Trying to shower myself lately only with art, music, literature, poetry that i believe is a projection of my individual self, that is well suited for my soul and mind. It is, as you said, a little heart-breaking when one looks at distance and try to compare oneself to that. It’s tricky too, in a sense that it might be very intimidating to the point that it takes away a courage of putting your own art out there. I’ve been there but quite time ago i stumbled upon a very simple line by Jon Acuff: “Never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle”. Something clicked in my head with this simple truth. Yes, i’m still trying to surround myself with good art, art that inspires, but i’m trying to separate that from what i’m doing – otherwise i’d go mad quickly.

    As to creative ups and downs. Well i think there’s only one thing we can do with that – aknowledge, embrace it and move on. Seems easy but you and i both know it’s not.
    I think in order to move on and fight with that creative swing we have to know WHY we are doing the things we are doing, what’s our mission, what are the values we value the most. Having some asthetic core doesn’t hurt too. This is the minimum questions we have to ask ourselves along the way and the answers can only come from within and from trying many many things. Of course there’s different journey map for everyone – it would depend on who we are but in times of lost it could really help, even if we have it in some residual form.

    Having said that i agree with Ed on you recent images. I feel a wind of change in them and i think you might be on a right path to something.

  4. Brian Miller says:

    Thanks so much for the compliment, Radek. It helps to receive third party feedback on what is coming through in my images. You are right, knowing the Why of photography and art can be helpful. I also use art and photography to explore questions and curiosities that arise in my psyche. As Ray might say, “I’m finding answers to questions that haven’t been asked yet”, or something like that. ;)

    But I think Stuart is right in that the amount of energy and time we can give to focusing on something is more likely to directly proportional to the output as well as positive feelings about it. And my focus is continually being shaken by the requirements in life. It’s something many struggle with, I know, and we each must find our way through it I suppose.

    I am noticing though that this post has garnered a fair amount of commentary; much more than my post usually attract. I wonder if perhaps this post has struck a familiar chord for many? :-)

    Cheers, Radek. I hope you are well.

    • Radek Kozak says:

      Yeah i hear ya Brian. Life’s a bitch that way i suppose. I predict this would be familiar stuff for many struggling artists slash fathers / husbands / 9-17 workers etc. You, Matt or others have children to top it off – have no idea how you manage, how you do that dance, that whole balancing act. Stuart may be indeed right, point is though when we do have that extra time (and sometimes we just have to create it because otherwise there will be no time left indeed) we should focus that energy on doing something of those values mentioned earlier. I think we can still do sth meaningfull with that little energy / time that we have left from other life’s requirements. What i’m saying i guess is that we should do our best to prevent it from dissolving in to sth that we ultimately be not so much fond about. First step though is to discover those values close to our heart and that sometimes is the most difficult part.

      Hope you’re doing great as well man. Cheers from Poland

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