“When photographers get beyond copying the achievements of others, or just repeating their own accidental first successes, they learn that they do not know where in the world they will find pictures. Nobody does. Each photograph that works is a revelation to its supposed creator.”
– Robert Adams
I love this quote by the American photographer Robert Adams because, for me, it encapsulates so much of the fear and wonder of creating art. Whatever else people may think about artists, I think they think that artists have a predictable, repeatable process for creating their work, perhaps in the way that a carpenter might build a cabinet or a chef might prepare a meal. Nothing could be further from the truth, at least for me. I wish I could wake up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll make a fine art photograph today,” and have a completed image running off my printer that same evening. After all, photography is just about finding an interesting subject, operating a camera, and doing some computer (or darkroom) processing, right?
If only that were true! I struggle myself with trying to create a degree of predictability in my own process. The simple truth, I think, is that the process defies predictability. When I go out with my camera, I never know if I’m going to capture anything worthwhile. When I work on a worthwhile capture, I never know if I’m going to end up with a satisfactory print. There have been numerous occasions where I thought I had good starting material and that, for sure, I would end up with something great, only to somehow find it all went wrong along the way. Conversely, there have been numerous occasions where I thought my starting material was mediocre, but that I would give it a try anyway, and ended up with something that I really liked.
If the process of creating art is so unpredictable, how do you go about making new work? For me, it comes down to trust and faith – trusting my eye to see things that I find interesting, and faith in my ability to translate that into a personally satisfying image. While somewhat scary, the possibility that any individual attempt at making an image might not work out is less important than being able to produce a meaningful body of work over time. The image in this post, “White Trees, Series 2, No. 1,” continues what I hope is just this kind of a meaningful body of work, notwithstanding several dead-end attempts at other images in this series along the way. Every photograph a revelation, indeed.