"The greatest teacher failure is..." - Yoda
With the release this week of yet another blockbuster episode in the unstoppable juggernaut Star Wars franchise (is it really forty years since I first stood in line for tickets to see the original film?! Geez...) it seems only appropriate that the title of this blog should be a quote from The Last Jedi, spoken by one of the Star Wars universe's most inspired and best-loved characters.
As creatives (may we togs call ourselves that?) we can all too readily be the play-it-safers referenced in my previous post. Well... I don't know about you, dear reader, but, for sure, I can. I'm guilty... When I know I can acquire a decent image in a familiar way in a familiar location and I have a good idea of just how it will need to be PP'd when I get it home, it's tempting just to stick with all that familiarity, with the well-trodden pathway. At least you know you're going to return home with something, right? We all hate arriving back empty-handed, right? However, going out and trying new things necessarily means that you risk coming back with nothing - and that's a bit too much like failure, right? And it sucks, right?
If you can't face the hyper-drive jump to the Dagobah system, you could take the advice of someone from our own cosmological neighbourhood:
"He who has never failed can never be great..." - Herman Melville
Yes, it's an exquisite irony: failure is a principle cornerstone of success. So embrace it. Embrace it as essential to the process of personal artistic growth. Accept your mistakes, own the mistakes and, above all, learn from the mistakes - because the only absolute mistakes are the ones you fail to learn from...
"He who never made any mistakes never made anything..." - Theodore Roosevelt
At the risk of sounding sycophantic, I sometimes study the work of my landscape heroes - Percy, Kenna, Goldsworthy,.. with what can only be described as goggle-eyed, slack-jawed incredulity - the impact, essence and steady expansion of their paradigmatic portfolios simultaneously stopping me in mid-thought and taking my breath away. They have all mastered the art of expressing their personal vision with a visual style that, together, informs their unique creative signatures and drives the evolution of their portfolios forward. To attain this level of achievement is the goal of all photographers who have any sort of progression-obsession within the sub-genre they have chosen to work in.
So. Where were we? We mortals? Before I started eulogising the immortals... Oh yes. Failure and mistakes...
The three dudes referred to above are all living examples of mastering the art... They are Jedi Masters of Photography. And just how many times do you think they failed and how many mistakes do you think they made before they arrived at the lofty peaks of personal accomplishment and international recognition in their bodies of work?
So, do not be too hard on yourself if you feel your portfolio appears derivative, obvious or uninspired. It is a work in progress. Be a constructive critic of your toggery. Recognise elements you like as well as those you would prefer to change next time. Inspiration will come. Epiphany moments will propel you forward. And they will turn up when you least expect them to... The answer is, in the words of that Hawaiian-shirted, Elder Statesman of Californian hippy-surf-dude culture - the great toggery teacher, Bryan Peterson, to "just keep shooting...". The more you shoot the more your personal vision and visual style will organically grow. Just accept that there will be good days and there will be bad days. The ebb and flow of creativity is a natural part of being any sort of artist.
All photographers, no matter how celebrated, sucked once upon a time. All great photographers have, over their lifetimes, struggled with what seemed like insurmountable challenges and have cursed in frustration at their efforts with experimentation. They all experienced creative doubt, fatigue and anxiety. But the common theme that defines all the great masters' achievements is that they persevered and saw them all through to their conclusions, the good the bad and the ugly, until they found their voice, their style and their place.
This is your mission if you desire to become a Jedi of Photography.
May the Force be with you.