Today I left the apartment with fervor, energy and drive that I haven’t felt in a while (at least a week!). Motivation is a costly commodity when the temperature is 38 degrees and the wind is gusting at 30 miles per hour. I like to get out and do the photo thing but let’s face it, I’m a wimp. If it’s a choice between taking photos or keeping all my appendages intact, I’ll just go pull something out of the big box of books and turn the heat up. But this afternoon I poured out the door like a bucket of water over Niagra falls; I was ready to take on the day and whatever it happened to bring.
As with weather, I’m also a wimp when it comes to parking. I’d rather park somewhere a mile or two away than bother with a parking garage. As I got out of the car at the Indianapolis Zoo and headed across the river on foot towards Lucas Oil Stadium I could feel the wind pushing at my back like an impatient mother trying desperately to give birth to an overly plump child. I knew that the walk back was not going to be a pleasant one. Regardless, the car was safely parked, I had camera in hand, tripod and other equipment on my back and I had a destination. Frozen face of the future be damned. It was now time.
Then I arrived at downtown and saw all the… stuff. Here was the city I had photographed at least a dozen times and it was all made up for a monumental event. It’s almost as if the place looked at me and said, “OK, Mr. Smart-guy, I’m waiting. Take my picture already.” And, as happens to me anytime that an entire city anthropomorphizes and mocks me, I found myself rather locked up artistically. Rather than relaxing and just letting the photos come to me in a natural way, I ended up playing a complex three-dimensional game of “where’s Waldo” in which Waldo is that perfect shot that I just have to get and if I don’t get it then I would look back on the day a month from now and be furious with myself.
And really, I think that’s exactly the problem with such events. If I just show up at some random spot and glide around for three hours I know with absolute certainty that I’m going to find something I really like. I can summon something from nothing without much forethought or difficulty. But when you go to an event wherein people EXPECT you to get good shots it’s a much different mindset. It’s almost as if because I know there’s something to be found I end up impatiently looking for it and missing the more natural or artistic bits that are all around us at all times. As a result, I always see the photos I come back with after an event as rather disappointing because I never feel that I found that ineffable “it” that was lurking waiting to be captured.
Despite my disappointment, I come home and post my rot online so that at the least I can say that I documented the day. Inevitably though, somebody will come along and notice something in the album that really does have more to say than I thought. The hangover of expectations, it seems, not only saturates the act of taking the photos but also finds its way into post-processing and would last forever except for the input of people from outside my own skull. I’m a terrible judge of my own work in general and the issue of expecting something from a situation seems to make it much, much worse.
Clearly though I need an attitude adjustment. If I choose a random direction and drive then I see photography as a fun recreation that can turn any locale into hours of fun and produce something I like at the end. If I go somewhere on purpose then photography becomes a gauntlet of challenge thrown down that must be picked up and accepted at all costs. I find myself walking faster and faster in an attempt to locate that redeeming photo op that will make the miles of walking all worthwhile. I won’t deny that I’m often a hopelessly competitive person, but in this case I’m just competing with myself in a pointless and circular way that does more to burn calories and wear out my jeans than it does to advance my art.