Photographic Envy, Dismay and Performance
Thursday 28 January 2016 — Category: Thoughts
While writing last week’s article — Preparations For Going Mobile — about my planned trip to Utah in February, I ran across a forum posting on the Micro Four Thirds User Group Web site entitled Bryce Canyon under the snow. That was the very topic I was contemplating, as well as hoping to see in person for myself!
When I was browsing through the stunning photos, I experienced a number of intense emotions in a very short period of time. My first reaction was awe at the amazing scenery and stunning photos. The awe quickly degenerated into corrosive envy and a strong desire to take my own photos of Bryce Canyon which would be just as awesome.
Then the envy started to be combined with an overwhelming dismay because I felt that I would never be able to take photos as stunning as the ones I was viewing. My dismay began to be infused with a feeling of depression over my inferior abilities as well as a sense of performance — that I needed to push myself to compete with and be as good as (or better than) other photographers.
Wow! Experiencing all those concentrated thoughts and emotions was like being blindsided by an express train. Just by looking at those photos, all of a sudden I felt discouraged about my planned trip to Bryce Canyon because I felt like I could not measure up. Why not just stay home and admire the photos of others, which are much better than anything I would be able to achieve? It would definitely be a lot cheaper and easier! However, further reflection over the following days helped put things into perspective.
As I searched my heart to pinpoint my main goal for the trip, I realized that it was not to go to Bryce Canyon and take awesome photos, although I would very much like to achieve that as a subgoal. No, in pondering the motivation for this trip, I realized afresh that it is the journey itself  that is the goal, not any particular site or sight along the way.
Even if I did not take a single picture during the entire week-long trip, I would still want to go so I could experience the Great Basin backcountry for the first time in my life. I want to feast my eyes and my heart on all of the scenery along the way, the mundane as well as the awe-inspiring, even if I were to capture it only with my human memory and not on an electronic memory card.
So to summarize, the main goal of this trip is not the photographs I might bring back, but the experience of the trip itself. Any resulting pictures will simply be dessert and not the main course.
As I wrote a few years ago in the article Fed Up With Photography, competition with other photographers was a major factor in my becoming burned out with photography for a period of time. Competing against other photographers and comparing my work to theirs is not a healthy way for me to enjoy photography.
Even though I have not entered any photographic competitions since the end of 2012, there is still a weakness in my heart which tempts me to compare myself with others and to want to compete with them, if only in secret. When they arise, I must take those unruly thoughts in hand and banish them from my consciousness for the sake of my emotional health.
It is an interesting coincidence that when I was preparing to go on my first — and so far, only — trip to the eastern Oregon backcountry nearly four years ago, I wrote an article which dealt with these very same issues of competition, comparison and feelings of inadequacy — see Heading Back East ... of Oregon.
I didn’t remember that article when I started writing this one — I “rediscovered” it only just now! What’s the deal? Perhaps when I am getting ready for a major outing into lands unknown I spend too much time in introspection!
Whatever the reason, it is probably good to be reminded of these truths afresh — that I don’t need to value my giftings and abilities by measuring them against the giftings and abilities of others; that I don’t need to let a sense of competition or performance drive my photography; that I don’t need to be in control, but can go with the flow and take what comes.
Even if the quality of my photos on this trip doesn’t meet the standards of other photographers, or even my own standards and expectations for that matter, I will still be glad that I went, because in the end it is the journey and the adventure that counts more than the photos. If I do manage to bring back some worthy pictures, that will simply be icing on the cake. And with luck I will be able to have my cake and eat it too!
Earlier this week I took my truck down to the large, empty parking lot at the Albany fairgrounds so I could practice putting snow chains on the tires. I took my time to figure it out, and after a few false starts I finally got it. The whole exercise took me about an hour. Boy, I sure was glad I spent that time and effort to figure it out in a warm, dry, empty parking lot rather than on the side of a freezing, snowy road in the backcountry!
Well, I still have a ton of preparations to make for my trip, so this will probably be the last blog entry until I start posting daily reports from the road, which should start Tuesday morning — as long as the weather doesn’t force me to postpone my trip.