On Second Thoughts and Comparisons
My Photography II course came to a close Tuesday night, and overall, it was a great ending to the class (albeit a sad one as I miss it already). As I wrote last time, our assignment was to go through all of our photographs taken for previous assignments (no vacation pictures or other faves allowed), and select our “Top 8” photos that also fit into a cohesive sequence. This was a bit of a daunting task, which I shared in my previous post.
Along with displaying this set, some of us–myself included–also needed to play catch up from the previous week’s assignment: a series of self-portraits. Now these aren’t necessarily self-portraits in the strict sense, but rather photographs that represent ourselves in some manner. After all, every photo is a self-portrait in some way as they reveal more about the photographer than the content of the photo. Each photo a photographer takes is a choice, a decision, a point of view, a communication. We, of course, could take photos that were more traditional self-portraits that included ourselves in the frame, but that was not a requirement. It was more about photographs that showed parts of who we are and what we’re about. Thus, we were tasked with “shooting a roll” of self-portraits and to choose 8 to show.
We started the class with the self-portraits, and I felt excited about showing my work. I felt like I took photographs of aspects of my life that are very important to me. I tried to be self-reflective and open in the choices I made regarding the content that I shot. I also worked hard to use photo techniques that demonstrate my point of view and approach to photography.
And I got really good, positive, encouraging feedback from the instructor and my fellow classmates. They loved my little notes of self-affirmation. They appreciated how I staged the photograph with the sliver of myself emerging in the corner of the shot in shallow depth of field (the photo above is inspired by Tracey Clark). They learned that I’m also playing around with Polaroids and working on my own spiritual journey.
And all of this validation felt really, really good. Maybe too good. But, I didn’t take these photographs for them, I took them for me. I took them to capture parts of who I am, to see myself in a different light. To reflect on what really matters, to me. And yet, I found myself being focused on whether or not they liked my photos, whether or not they found my photographs to be strong in an artistic way, and whether or not they found me interesting. And because they did, I ate it up.
So when it came time to display our Top 8, I was feeling good. But as I laid out those 8 photographs, I felt something inside me shifting. I started to re-look at these images as I placed them on the white mat board, one by one. I began to have second thoughts…The class started in a different part of the room this go-around, and we viewed four or five other students’ work before coming to mine. Two of these students’ Top 8 were just incredible. The lighting, the color, their point of view. Just spectacular. All 8 of their photos were ones I would want to blow up and have framed on my wall. And their sequencing blew me away. They were both able to create such a cohesive grouping that flowed beautifully. I felt really happy for them and could see the accomplishment they had made in such a short time. I admired the work they had created and celebrated that with them. And…I also felt a bit envious.
When we got to my set, I began to compare my work to theirs, and in comparing, I felt like my photographs came up short, that I came up short. I started to have self-doubts about my skills as a photographer. I started berating myself about the choices I made in selecting my Top 8. I was thinking I should have taken shots of “better things” and how that would have allowed me to have more interesting images. I found myself in a very old place inside that saw everyone else as better than me.
I’m amazed at how photography and venturing on an intentional creative path is bringing up so many parts of who I am and what I struggle with on a deeper, emotional level. I realize as I type this that I shouldn’t be that shocked. Creativity is about the one creating, photography is about the photographer. So I’m going to take these lessons from this last class, and reflect on them some more. I’m going to sit with these feelings of comparison, self-doubt, and validation-seeking. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep looking for signs that I am a superstar.
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