Who burst my Bubble?

“Wherever you go, there you are”, I remember this quote all too well. I’ve changed circumstances in my life quite a few times only to find the same face staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. My view of the world is really what I bring to the breakfast table. However, there is one major factor contributing to my “lack of creativity” feeling lately. It comes from something outside of me, even though it’s ultimately me responding to it.

 

As the first flowers of the year popped up in all the familiar places, I ventured out and took some photos. I still enjoyed being in nature, but in the back of my mind I could hear a familiar nagging voice overruling the gratitude I usually experience. “You’ve seen and done this all before” the voice said. So I tried to look for some different subjects and angles, give it a bit of time and try again. But still the outings lacked the flow and child-like enthusiasm I had felt during previous springs.

Over the years I have gotten to know myself quite well. My runs of inspirations in jobs or creative processes typically only last a few years; then I’m ready to move on. I picked up a video camera for a few years, did some cool new things, made a film and from one day to the next I just dropped the camera. Boxes of tapes still sit in the closet, waiting patiently to be processed. I wonder if I’m heading the same way with photography. Repetition feels like stagnation. With the exception of steady relationships and a place to call home, I have always had a disliking to it.

 

I could ask myself a thousand times why it is so important to feel creative. The answers require some soul searching. Is it a desire to be unique? A need to feel free? Is the moment I don’t get the highs and satisfaction I crave, the moment I give up? Perhaps I will pull the fibres of my being apart a few more times and unravel the mysteries of my soul. Or I could just accept that ultimately, me is just me.   While I take full responsibility for my repetitive distorted thoughts, my mind lately feels it needs to blame the lack of inspiration on something outside myself. It blames the current world of photography and social media in particular. Whereas I still genuinely enjoy the process of immersion in nature, social media has bluntly robbed the photographer in me of the “living in a happy bubble” feeling. I wonder if I’m alone in this. A few years ago, like many relatively new photographers, I started participating in the social media frenzy that is nowadays considered a “must” to any photographer’s marketing approach. We are aspiring professionals who sell a few prints and calendars  and post images to social media sites to collect more “likes” and “wows”, hoping to reach a substantially growing audience that hopefully one day can be translated into a revenue stream or more photographic opportunities.

 

It seemed like a good idea at first, but I quickly starting feeling discouraged by the way the digital photography world seems grossly oversaturated. Photo sharing sites have made the world of photography into one big fishbowl. My inner cynic concludes that every possible nature photo has been taken, and at a level of excellence that may seem commendable but also incredibly boring. While I am taking this statement to extremes, I certainly have moments I feel like this. I was happier living in the blissful bubble, not being aware of what millions of other photographers were doing.

 

Even though I enjoy sharing the beauty that surrounds us and keep posting some images for that reason, it was here, on social media, that I noticed the conflict between my values and my creative work. While I understand the need for every artist to get comfortable with self-promotion, it is the competition for our world’s two-second attention span that really bugs me. It feels empty, meaningless and miles removed from my personal objectives and values.

What I currently need is a renewed vision and, paradoxically, some creativity preserving discipline. It has meant deleting some social media accounts and at least temporarily stepping away from others photographer’s feeds. I will understand if others stop following me too. Call it a photographic celibacy. I am currently asking myself some important questions. Is it important to have a message in my photography? Could I ever venture into commercial photography without sacrificing my strong personal values? Can I even still see the world as a non-photographer?

 

While a vision in photography can be the result of some strong values and/or a desire to make some money, ironically my latest quest for a new vision is more the result of what I don’t want. Sometimes it takes a few “don’t wants” to find out who we really are.

 

 


 

How to embrace a lemon

On my photography outings I often try to adopt a mindful approach. I say try, because I regularly fail like a chicken trying to lay a perfectly round egg. The last week was not any different. My head was full of good intentions; to take some time to relax, not judge the outcome and let the photography process unfold organically -whatever that means. The result was slightly different than anticipated. Sometimes when you’re looking to savour a juice peach, life hands you a lemon.

 

A few days back, a sunny spring day, was a good day to go exploring, find something new, and shift creativity from neutral into first gear. I’m on a ridge overlooking the Bow Valley. The ridge is exposed to the southern sun. As I walk I feel the heat of the early season sun linger in pockets around me. I sit down in a hotspot and let the world around me unfold. Inspiration will come, I think. If not, it is pleasant relaxing my eyes on the distant mountain panorama. I sit down and focus on my breathing. Deep breath in, long breath out. It’s the start of my long-intended and long-anticipated meditation sessions in the wilderness.

 

After a minute I get bored. It’s a common pattern. My mind wanders off, thinking about a stealthy cougar approaching, ticks crawling up my legs or amazing photography opportunities waiting just around the next bend. To sit down and stop my mind from going in circles often turns out to be a real challenge.

 

triangular-crocus-logoToday is no different. I’m happy to be out in nature. My body is calm, but my mind is restless. I pride myself on the intention of just sitting and being.  “Here’s a high five to myself for even trying”, I think. My eyes are already scanning the area around me for a photo subject. I soon discover a flower that peaks my interest. The sun sits high in the sky, so I use my backpack to create some shadow on the flower. The backpack is shaped awkwardly- a flat back and round front. It’s not unlike my own waist these days. The pack does not easily stay in place on this moderate slope, so I wiggle it into a juniper bush. Finally it sticks. I lean forward on knees and elbows and start the interactive game between camera, flower and elements.

 

Suddenly the light is back on. The backpack rolled over like a helpless beetle. I don’t care and keep going. “Thump”, the backpack makes a sound again. Now I look up. Only a meter away the backpack has taken another tumble downhill. With my camera in hand I sit up and observe. The backpack flips once again, gently limping down the hill, taking a quick breather after every somersault. “The next juniper bush will grab it”, I tell my dog. Wrong. The pack’s round front leaps gracefully over the bush. “Thump, thump, thump”, the backpack is now gaining momentum. My world stops for a moment while I witness the pack transform from a leaping gazelle into a cartwheeling rock. It seems to be enjoying itself. My lenses inside the bag have come along for the joy ride to the valley floor.

 

Deep breath in, long breath out. To my own surprise I don’t respond; I just watch in awe. My thoughts have come to a four-way stop as my backpack shamelessly runs the traffic light. Like a Buddhist monk I sit and watch. Ten seconds of mindfulness. The backpack has by now disappeared into the trees some fifty meters below. As in a sudden awakening, I jump back on my feet and start running down the ridge with my camera in hand. Soon I stumble, plummet and tumble headfirst through numerous juniper bushes. Acknowledging my camera survived the first beating,  I get up again and navigate the steeper part of the slope with a lot more awareness. In the trees on the valley floor I find my pack. The lenses, packed in soft, foamy cushions, are shaken but not stirred. No damage at first sight.

 

My lenses have taken a beating, but two days later I’m outside again, drifting through the woods with no particular plan other than to test the lenses. My dog Charm is again by my side. I’m surprisingly calm today. The rushing sound of a creek pulls us in. The sun plays with rays of sparkling white water as it rushes over a log. I find a nice angle and set up a tripod along the creek, aiming to take a long exposure shot. The shore is rocky, covered with soft, slippery sphagnum moss. Charm finds a soft green pillow and wallows in the sunlight. I set the exposure time on my camera to thirty seconds, press the shutter button, step back and let the camera do its job. I relax, sit down and continue where I left off a few days ago. I am relaxing my muscles, smelling the woods, feeling the sun on my skin. Deep breath in, long breath out. I can’t believe I am actually doing it.

 

creek-camera-logo“Plunk” I hear next to me. I look up. The camera and tripod have disappeared. All that remains are a rock and rushing creek. I can’t believe it. The tripod fell over and landed in a dark deep pool. I can’t even see the camera. Like the episode on the ridge a few days back, I am left stunned for a few seconds that seem like eternity. Deep breath in, long breath out. I am no doubt living in the present. Mind is empty, hollow, vacant. Then, as if a spark hits fuel, my brain starts racing again. “Do I untie my shoes, jump into the creek, scream, just give up?”, I rush from thought to thought.  I decide to reach into the pool with both arms and blindly feel my way to what appears to be my gear. I lift up the dripping mess. “There goes my photography for a while”, I say out loud. My dog looks at me from her mossy bed and silently acknowledges this newly acquired wisdom.

 

For a while I sit on the moist moss and lick my wounds. The camera is water logged and lifeless. The lens is saturated with milky muck. It’s too late for CPR, defibrillation or surgery. Even though frustration is dripping from my face, I realize life has once again handed me perfect little exercise in remaining calm and trusting a good outcome.

 

Deep breath in, long breath out. The universe obviously has other plans for me this week. I decide to embrace more writing this week. Perhaps I’ll buy a lottery ticket. Don’t things often turn out for the best after life appears to go tumbling down a mountain? As I walk back home, I promise myself to apply what I heard on the radio the day before. What do you do when life hands you a lemon? You take a huge bite out of it, knowing lemon is good for you.