Out Of Yosemite Workshop: My Thoughts


New Growth


Yesterday, I returned home from an amazing photography conference held in Yosemite National Park, with 100 other creative photographers and 15 of the very best Yosemite photographers alive today, including a few who worked with Ansel Adams. I went into the conference, nervous that my work wouldn’t be “good enough,” or that I wasn’t advanced enough to even learn from such amazing teachers. Impostor Syndrome is something that many creative folks struggle with daily, and I acknowledge that it has been something that has affected my work and what I’ve been willing to share for some time.


What I began to understand while at the conference has helped me to get past this, in ways I never expected that I could overcome it, and move much deeper into why I photograph and what I want to do more of with photography. When I focused more on just taking a pretty picture and sharing it, I always worried that what others photographed was more beautiful, was technically more perfect, or followed the rules of composition and light with better understanding than my own work. I was always judging my work against that of others, which missed the point of making photographs entirely. I was missing the point of making art.


When I first picked up a camera and took a picture, it was because I saw something that moved me, and I wanted to share that emotion and how it affected me with other people. As a child, with a cheap disposable camera and 36 exposures on my roll of film to work with, I took photos of things that made me wonder, that surprised me, that made me feel and made me think. That made me stop in my tracks and gape, occasionally. I recall making several photographs specifically, one of some little pink wildflowers that were growing on the side of an otherwise unremarkable small causeway. I recall that I’d never seen them growing there before and I wondered at how they came to be there, that little splash of color in the middle of brown clay soil and weeds. Were the flowers pretty? Absolutely, to me they were as they clung to the edge of the eroding soil. Was the resulting photograph beautiful? Probably not, by the standards of technical and compositional rules. But a friend of my mother’s saw something in that photograph, and she asked if she could paint it. Her painting was much more classically beautiful than my photograph, but somehow, without having the technical proficiency to take a “good” photograph, I had taken an *emotional* photograph that was able to inspire her to paint it, and to me, that beats a “good” photograph, any day.


Flow

When I picked up a camera again a few years back, I was focused on making pretty photographs. And I did, sometimes, but mostly I was learning to work with light and shadow, to understand my camera and what I could and could not do with it, and to learn the software necessary to develop an image. I learned all this by making a lot of mistakes, over and over, until one day something would click and I’d level up and could begin working on the next skill I needed to master. And along the way, I unconsciously discovered that making a technically proficient image is so much easier than making an image that emotionally connects, because making an image that connects requires that you become vulnerable to the lens and thus your audience. And so I ran and took refuge in that safe haven, because exposing yourself by putting yourself emotionally into your work, then putting that out into the cold world is hard stuff. Freeman Patterson said, “The camera points both ways,” and this is true whether you want it to point at you or not. In choosing to focus on working toward technical perfection and ignoring or minimizing emotional honesty in my images, I built a wall between me and the viewer. And walls are only good for hanging art.


In my conference in Yosemite, I learned from instructors who helped me to understand that photography is not just making pretty images; it truly is a way that I can express what I feel and see and how I understand the world around me. I can speak in metaphors through photography, and come to a better understanding and expression of myself, by looking at the world through not just my camera lens, but the lens of my experiences and values and perception of the world. With photography, the picture is not the art; what I bring forth from inside myself is the art and the picture is just the expression of that. Each of the amazing instructors at the workshop helped me to see things differently and more clearly, and encouraged me to reach deeper inwards in my photography.  I learned so much from both my teachers and fellow participants; it's going to take me some time to fully assimilate all that I've learned. I’d like to especially thank photographer and instructor Colleen Miniuk; the field session I took with her was absolutely instrumental in learning ways to crack into the safe of my mind, where I had neatly stored and locked away my creative spark and drive. 


At The Junction of Water & Wood

And so I leave Yosemite rejuvenated, and having wiped away the cloudiness from my eyes as to what I want to accomplish when I have my camera in hand. I want to find the things that make an emotional impact on me, that move me and express something deeply held within myself, and then share that with anyone who cares to also see it. I don’t feel like an impostor anymore, because I’m no longer in competition. Who could compete with me in the race to be more authentically myself?


I titled the photograph at the beginning of this blog post “New Growth”. It was one of the last photos I took as I left Yosemite Valley after the conference had ended, the tiny Spring dogwood blooms just beginning to grow against the backdrop of the Merced River. While it’s an obvious metaphor, it still rings true. And I deliberately took technical departures from The Rules of Good Photography with this image in order to express the emotion that arose in me as I watched them- choices I made to ensure that the camera points toward me, and not toward the dusty tomes of technical jargon  where I was attempting to hide before now. Of course I hope that you’ll enjoy it, but I am working on becoming okay with other folks not liking my photographs- as long as I remain true to finding my vision and expressing my own honest emotion. I’ve learned the rules, and now it’s time for me to learn how to break them as I begin to make art for myself.


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