“If there is emotion in the picture, that’s good, even if it is a bit blurred or poorly framed. For me, it is not a problem.”
That quote is from one of my favorite photographers. His images make me weep. Let me say that again…they literally make me weep. I’m being a little dramatic here, but I think I could die happy if I took just one frame that captures the quality he does. I’m not there yet (or even close) and I don’t know when I will be or if I will ever be. It’s something I think about everyday and stay awake at night puzzling out. It’s not that I don’t have a good eye or taste. It’s not just that I don’t have the skills or experience. I think it comes down to something much more essential. I think it boils down to fear. A dirty little F word if ever there was one.
It takes courage to ignore the rules. Sometimes you have to be downright brazen to reject or ignore the opinions of others. You must be fearless to create honestly. For me, at least, it also takes bucketfuls of courage to say in even the tiniest whisper, “I’m here!” Confession: I’m 35 years old, I have three children, I have a home, a career, friends, hobbies and responsibilities out the wazoo. I should have my shit together, but I still cower in fear every single day.
I’ve always been in awe of those people that move through the world as if they belong here. You know the ones. They are the ones that people love to hate because they are so freakin’ epic. The ones that do what they want, because at least one person will be happy. The ones with Teflon skin, that pay no mind to the haters and don’t identify with the pleasers. I tell my children and myself to seize life! Follow your dreams! Break the mold! [Insert cliche]! But then I step out my door and get in my own way.
I trip over myself as I hustle to make room for someone else. I have things to say but I choke on my words. I lose myself in daydreams that I dismiss as folly. I write down my plans and then place them neatly in a drawer to be forgotten. And I come up with a million excuses and a billion other things to blame.
Here’s the truth. It’s not “being prudent”. It’s FEAR It’s not always “putting my kids first”. It’s FEAR. It’s not “a lack of time”. It’s FEAR. It’s not “humility”. It’s FEAR. It’s not “being polite”. It’s FEAR. It’s not “being too broke”. It’s FEAR. It’s always fear.
Growing up I learned: don’t be different, don’t be loud, don’t expect or ask for attention, don’t dream big, and definitely don’t – under any circumstances – fail. (Another dirty F word.) How have I tried to avoid these pitfalls? By enlisting fear as my guide, no doubt. But here’s the thing, as Donald Miller so eloquently puts it, “…fear isn’t only a guide to keep us safe; it’s also a manipulative emotion that can trick us into living a boring life.” And I’m the poster child.
This past January is the first time in all of my years that I made a New Year’s resolution. This year I resolved to make changes and take risks. For me, just making that promise to myself was a baby step. Maybe writing this post is another baby step (I’m sure I’ll have a vulnerability hangover, despite knowing nobody will read this). Even though no one knows it but me, sharing the images below is a baby step toward claiming my space and breaking the ties with fear.
You see, I made these images of my youngest son one weekend. He’s two and he’s got loads of character. I love pictures of him that show him as a vibrant little guy. He has several congenital heart conditions and a respiratory issue, and though he’s mostly normal and healthy, photos like these remind me to be grateful. I love these images so hard…though it scares me to say it.
Then last week I watched part of a workshop by a well-known and very successful photographer. He laid out a checklist of points that every photograph must have in order to be “good” and/or “professional”. He’s an expert in his field and he must know, right? Good grief, most of the favorite images that I’ve ever made break at least one of his rules. And the images below? They break nearly all the rules of a “good” photograph.
That is all Fear needed to hear and it was off running at full speed. I immediately thought I should put away my camera, shut down this blog, hide under the covers, and make a public apology for even thinking I could do something I love. Oh the embarrassment! By his measure, “good” and my photographs clearly aren’t in the same neighborhood. They don’t even speak the same language!
But instead, here I am swallowing hard and taking a baby step away from fear instead of burying myself in its familiar arms. I may not speak the language, but I’m trying to learn it. And I’m aiming to speak in the dialect of Mr. Laboile, so I can say without fear, ”For me, it is not a problem”.
Next baby step; a personal project that I will talk about soon. Just who the hell do I think I am?