Tag Archives: process

Many Paths, One Destination

Longs Peak, Cloud Wedge. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2013.

Longs Peak, Cloud Wedge.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2013.

I’ve been reading a bit lately about how some of the different photographers whose work I follow approach their craft.  For a group of artists whose work I uniformly admire, it strikes me just how different their working methods are, sometimes even being just about the opposite of one another.  Some in the group study their subjects and plan their trips very carefully, others just show up and react to what’s there.  Some are incredibly technical in managing their camera work and image processing, others are surprisingly hands-off and embrace getting unexpected results.  Some do not look at the work of other photographers or artists, others study such work very closely.  In trying to reconcile these differences, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions.

First, the process really isn’t that important, it’s the final image that matters.  When I see an image that takes my breath away, my reaction doesn’t depend on, for example, whether the image was captured digitally or with film.  Rather, I’m captivated by the subject, the light, the composition, or whatever it is about the image that I find moving.  A good image is a good image.  Rarely, if ever, does finding out more about the process change my opinion as to how much I like the image or not.  Technique need only be good enough to execute the desired image, no more, no less.

Second, there’s many ways to produce fine results in photography.  Just because one artist does things in one certain way, doesn’t mean you have to do things in that way.  The proof of this is in the fact of so many artists working in such different ways, and all producing admirable, high quality work.  The better approach is to know yourself – how you learn, how you work, and what works best for you.  Certainly be open to learning how others approach their craft, but only adopt such methods if they make sense to you or complement how you work, and certainly don’t make the mistake of thinking there’s just one way – a “right” way – of getting things done.  There’s many paths available to get to the same destination.

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Process, Not Product

Black Trees Series 2, No. 1

The creation of art is the creation of failure.  These are not my words, I borrowed them from a podcast by Brooks Jensen at LensWork, with my apologies to the same for appropriating them for my blog.  Still, the sentiment behind these words has a certain universal applicability to it, and it is that sentiment that I would like to discuss a little bit here.  What person who has engaged in an artistic endeavor for a sustained period of time has not felt the sting of disappointment when the work just isn’t flowing well?

In the same podcast, Brooks related a story he himself had taken from the book of another on the topic of art (I forget the name of that book – if anyone can tell me, I’ll certainly add it here).  Briefly, a class of pottery students was divided into two, with one half being instructed over the course of the class to be concerned solely with producing one, perfect pot, and the other half being instructed over the course of the class to strive for making quality pots, but to be more concerned with producing simply many of them.  Who produced the better pot?

Perhaps counter-intuitively, it was the group that was focused on making many pots.  The practice of making pots over and over – of attempting, failing, learning, and trying again – ultimately pushed the second group up a learning curve that the first group didn’t have a chance to climb, because the first group simply was making fewer pots.  Stated differently, the process-focused group ultimately produced better work than the product-focused group.

There’s a lesson hereThe process is more important than the product.  If an artist is too focused on product, then the artistic pursuit is likely to be a slow, unproductive, and disappointing one, because after all, who among us always produces perfect work?  On the other hand, if an artist focuses on the process, then the work is likely to be engaging, satisfying, and ultimately better.  Moreover, a process-focused artist understands and is less deterred by the creation of failure, because failure is part of the process of making art.

The image in this post, “Black Trees Series 2, No. 1,” is the product of several failures.  Prior to creating this image, I had been working on several other images, trying approaches and techniques that ultimately were dead-ends.  While I’m certainly as susceptible to frustration and disappointment as anyone else, I honestly can say that I enjoy the process of photography and making images, and so I was able to keep working through my creative block by staying focused on the process, even though the product that I was producing in this period wasn’t very good.  The image here likely wouldn’t be what it is without having had the benefit of my many failed attempts at producing other images along the way.

And to anyone who may be struggling through a rough spell, I say remember to enjoy the process and don’t be too concerned about any individual product.  Art is supposed to be fun, and after all, we’re all only as good as the sum of our failures.

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