I spent the past 15 years editing and critiquing my images among the other responsibilities of running a business. It has been nearly 21 years since I sat in a real classroom and had my work critiqued as well as critiqued the work of my fellow classmates.
While the Sam Abell photography workshop at the Los Angeles Center of Photography was only several days, it felt amazing and familiar sitting in a chair sharing my work and receiving comments as well as giving thoughtful comments in return. The image set below taught me yet again my mind can be my worst enemy.
The second day we all met at the Santa Monica Pier 30-minutes before sunrise for a an early photo session. Because of the time of day there weren’t many people to photograph and being inconspicuous was not an option. It is hard to hide when it is me and one other person on an open beach.
I grew more and more frustrated, and kept pushing myself to see differently without people and making the best images possible with whoever was there. I had to be efficient knowing if I didn’t get something good from that person, it could be a while before someone else came along. It also forced me to approach the people and have a conversation to ease them into the fact I was not going to leave and I was on a mission. Regardless of pushing myself, I was tired from rising at 5 am, and not shooting under my “normal conditions” so my own immediate feedback was nothing more than, “You are shooting crap.” Say that enough times in your head and I promise at some point you will believe it as well.
I returned to the classroom at 1 pm and downloaded the images from the morning’s shoot. We had about 3 hours to work on our image set and present to the class. None of the images really spoke to me. I pushed through editing to focus, study and look at my work in a different way. I used 6 images from the shoot and left to grab some lunch for the remainder of the afternoon. When I returned and showed my work there was excitement about the clean, subtle moments and how the images had a clear message with precise impact.
When I got home that evening, I went through the images again but this time, I ended up with about 25 images that caught my attention. It was as if a fog lifted and I could see better. While getting up at 5 am to shoot for 4 hours and immediately turn around and cull and process the images into a portfolio for sharing all in the same day is a lot to ask. This is not Project Runway.
I look back at the shooting session and I did push myself to see differently, and it paid off. But it was unfamiliar to me and I overlooked it as failure. Being in the classroom made me step outside my own head during that critique while classmates gave honest and constructive feedback (good and bad). I look back at the editing and culling of the session and realize now I did pick the best 6 images, and they did have impact. But what I saw and felt about the image set later in the day was not the same as before the critique.
As a photographer, being present at the moment, and creating the images comes with emotions. Those emotions wrap themselves around my work disturbing the process from the shoot to posting in a short time frame. The emotions can make me believe an ill-composed and stale photograph is the most amazing because of what I was feeling while shooting at that moment. Being uninspired while shooting and endlessly searching for visuals while feeling down can leave me thinking the image set is a miss.
I hope to not wait another 21 years before sitting in another class. Hearing what other people see and feel about my work is so valuable to shaping my vision and honing my eye. And likewise, getting out of my own head and studying other people’s work knowing I can return the honesty and feedback sharpens myself even further.
The entire process made me realize yet again, trust your gut.