“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you. Lao Tzu”
A photographer friend messaged me two weeks back about a great horned owl nest in a nearby nature center. He sent a few photos of the mother and owlets, and I knew I had to check it out. Although I was buried in grading by the “A-job,” I dropped everything, grabbed my pack, tripod and sped off to see the owls. I arrived anticipating there would be a few photographers, but was shocked by the spectacle. Sectioned off by yellow crime-scene tape, a mob of three-legged platforms supported giant eyes that pointed uniformly towards a nest in the distance. Most of my colleagues were shooting with optics that made me look as if I was part of the amateur hour. I squeezed myself between two 500mm lenses and shot with the knowledge that nothing new would be photographed today. I was destined to repeat the work of others, and felt burdened by “inadequate” equipment. Plagued by a desire to distinguish myself from the masses, “the urban wildlife spectacle” is now neatly penciled between root canal and marathons on my list of things to avoid.
Who is my audience and why do I pursue this craft?
These poignant questions pop into my head like a compulsion to check the stove before leaving home. When I compare my work to the masses, I see an inadequate hodgepodge of photographs that say little more than, “this is what I saw.” Yet, I am mature enough to recognize that my self-deprecation is the normal response of a perfectionist that cares too much. The library of images I have cultivated say far more than the words I write, and these photographs reflect both the art and reality in the life I have lived. My critical flaw is that I seek validation for work that is meaningful to me but meaningless to others. Such measurebating is a poison, an impish urge that frustrates the creative that lurks within.
So here lies the dilemma that challenges my rational and empirical mind. I don’t sell many photographs, I no longer pursue publications and my stock images lack value in a world where “free” is the new norm. Despite these realities, I continue spend countless hours chasing wildlife and investing my hard-earned salary traveling the world in search of brilliant light. My behavior is perfectly irrational, yet the compulsion to make images has never been stronger. This “work” I do is a mode of self-expression, a release and a vacation from the constrained realities of daily life. To compare and compete taints the experience and restricts the opportunity to be content.
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