Brian's Photo Blog — Article 82
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Heading Back East ... of Oregon
Sunday 15 April 2012   —   Category: Thoughts
It’s fairly early on Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in the McDonalds in Sweet Home having a Big Breakfast with Hotcakes.

What’s the deal? Why am I having breakfast in Sweet Home, of all places? Well, for months I have been hearing the call, “Go East, middle-aged man!” It’s true that during six years of living in the Willamette Valley, seemingly far-off Eastern Oregon has appeared in my imagination as a mysterious, remote, desolate, vaguely-defined location.

So today I’m setting off for that mysterious region, to discover what really exists out there. My seven-day journey will be based around the tiny hamlet of Frenchglen, population twelve. If that’s not mysterious, remote and desolate, I don’t know what is!

It looks as if I’m going to have mixed weather, with some possibilities of rain, high temperatures in the mid-50s to low-60s, and lows in the 30’s. I've been dreaming of this trip for some time now, and finally settled on the week of April 15-21 for a number of reasons:
  1. Linn-Benton Community College is closed on Thursday 19 April, so I will miss only one day of my Backpacking and Map Reading class.
  2. We will be heading towards a new moon, which will facilitate my first attempts at astrophotography.
  3. I’m planning on making a trip to Eastern Oregon again in May, so I needed to fit an April trip in sooner than later.
As I have been pondering my week in the Oregon Outback, I've been feeling an increasing pressure to “perform” photographically. Because this trip is costing a lot of time, effort and money, there’s an unspoken expectation that I should come back with lots of great photos, to make that expenditure worthwhile. Also, in order to do well in the monthly camera club competitions, I feel a pressure to come up with some great shot during this trip.

Along with all this pressure to perform comes numerous fears and anxieties:
  • Will I be in the right place at the right time for great, award-winning shots?
  • Will the weather cooperate, or will it ruin my photographic opportunities?
  • Even if I am in the right place at the right time, and the weather cooperates, do I have the necessary skill and talent to get those great shots?
  • Will I have expended all of that time, effort and money for nothing, or will I come back with award-winning photos?
My experiences of photographic competition and expertise during the past week only serve to exacerbate these fears. First there was the seminars by George Lepp. While lectures and articles and books by photo professionals often provide valuable insights, there’s also the hidden pressure to rise up to their level and take pictures as good as they do. It’s a double-edged sword, because their very encouragement can lead to discouragement.

The photo competitions at the same NPPNW meeting that Mr. Lepp was speaking at exhibited a level of amateur photography excellence that I would find very difficult to achieve. Am I just a photographic wannabe who will never rise above the levels of mediocrity, despite my longings to excel?

Second, there was the 4Cs photos I was judging this week. Again, there was a level of photographic quality and ability that seems beyond my reach. And finally, not doing as well as I have in the past at the monthly camera club competition only intensified my sense of inadequacy. Can I measure up to other photographers? Or am I doomed to always fall short of success?

All of these thoughts and fears and feelings have caused me to probe the depths of my soul and investigate my foundational motivations for pursuing photography. I've spent a lot of money buying equipment. I’m spending additional time, effort and money traveling to various locations to take picture, and to enter photos into competitions. Why am I doing all this? What do I expect to get out of it?

As with all professions and hobbies, there is a subtle allurement — sometimes obvious, sometimes below the surface — to perform and excel. We are tempted to find our indentity and worth in what we do, and how well we do it compared to others. We often start out with the best of intentions, but over time, the seduction of competition draws us into a mentality of achievement, performance and comparison.

Obviously it feels very good to have my photos recognized and admired and awarded. Who wouldn’t want that? But is that what is motivating me to go out and take more photos? Is that why I’m heading to Eastern Oregon today? Is my value as a human being dependant on my ability to take well-liked pictures? When I snap a photo, am I thinking about how much I like it, or about how well it might do in the next competition?

To go even further, what about the mentally and physically handicapped person who can’t achieve anything society would consider worthwhile? Do they have any value, or are they totally worthless because they can’t perform? Doesn’t every person have value — from the unborn child in the womb to the elderly Alzheimer’s patient — simply because they are made in the image of God and He loves them? In the end, does personal worth have ANYTHING to do with performance and achievement and success?

Even if none of my photos ever win an award again, even if nobody likes my pictures at all, will I still pursue this hobby, or will I abandon it in disgust and despair? Can I still find enjoyment and reward in photography, in and of itself, or is my photographic fulfillment all wrapped up in awards and recognition and the admiration of others?

I need to keep all of these things in mind as I explore Southeastern Oregon this coming week. I need to focus on the joy and pleasure of discovering new places, taking advantage of the photographic opportunities that are before me, without fretting about those I might be missing. I need to pursue images that please me, and harmonize with my inner photographic eye, rather than what I imagine other people will like or what might win awards. I need to find my value in simply BEING, minute by minute as life unfolds, rather than in DOING and trying to achieve something great.

If there’s a Verizon cell signal in the Frenchglen area (and that’s a HUGE if!), I hope to make daily blog entries — complete with photos — of what I have been discovering that day. My iPad is raring to go and up to the task! On the other hand, if I’m really isolated out in the boonies, this blog will be suspended for the next week. Either way, sooner or later, I’ll have plenty to share about my adventures back east ... of Oregon!
For a complete list of all the blog entries and photo albums resulting from my trip to Eastern Oregon, be sure to check out the April 2012 Eastern Oregon Photo Outing Recap
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 82
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