I was supposed to write about something very different for this issue but found myself lost somewhere in the middle of creating my composition and after a few days of struggling with the stubborn text decided to abandon the initial idea altogether and try something completely different instead.
As it turns out ‘different’ is a very powerful word. Of ancient Roman origin, like many other words it slithered its way into the English language from the French and today it carries a handful of meanings including unalike, divergent, contrasting, disparate – but also novel and unusual. Novel pertains to things that are ’interestingly new, unconventional, innovative, unorthodox, ground-breaking, trailblazing, revolutionary’ – this is a list long enough already.
What does it have to do with long exposure photography, or any kind of photography for that matter? My guess is – everything.
Like many before me and surely many after me, I have recently had a fortune of experiencing a little block. Nothing really appealed to me enough for me to be happy taking an image of it. All creativity gone. We all know that feeling. It catches you off-guard, creeps in and tries to bring you down. Then, after some time, surprisingly, it goes away.
Regardless whether you are an artist, a sportsman, airplane pilot or – god forbid – a politician, a block is not a nice feeling to taste. It kind of dims your vision, surrounds you with some sort of invisible smoke that gets more and more dense as time passes. You find yourself bereft of the joy of whatever you like doing. In time like this you could be standing in front of the most astounding view and think nothing of it.
I do not really know how people fight it, or even if they do. I do not get it often enough to have my personal strategy at the ready. This time, not having a better idea, instead of pushing myself to take images, I took a brave decision to wait it out.
Henri Cartier-Bresson said: ‘To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart.’ I did check – the head, the eye and the heart were all in the right places. My head was thinking, my eyes were seeing and my heart was doing its magnificent job of making blood travel through my body.
If what Henri Cartier-Bresson said is anything to go by it was clear that the alignment was missing.
‘My photographic heart had slipped out of alignment’ I said loudly. Did not help. Alignment is yet another word of French origin, but my command of spoken French is very poor indeed. Then, to commemorate this discovery of almost astronomical proportions, I uttered a certain word, so popular that it does not have synonyms in English.
Words are no more than sounds with meaning, I thought to give myself a spot of courage. Enough to ask how to re-align my head, my eye and my hearth. Lost as I was, it turned out that the answer was frightfully easy to find.
Have you heard of comfort zone? Of course you have. A cosy, warm sort of space where things go smoothly and expected results are produced with both ease and precision. It is where you feel at home, undisturbed and – to finally get to my point – unchallenged.
In photographic terms: a perfect equilibrium between your abilities, your every-day expectations and the repetitive outcome of your work.
To call a spade a spade: boredom.
Another word for boredom – and a one lot more descriptive – is ennui. Once again, it is of French origin but it trickled into French from (of course!) Latin, where it had a very descriptive meaning: it is hateful to me.
And this is exactly how I felt towards my very own comfort zone, my snug space filled with lack of challenge and confrontation.
There is a snowball chance in hell I could become a pilot and I would definitely not wish to become a politician. So, not that kind of challenge and change was on my mind. I kept pursuing what I love and – to cut a few weeks story short – things stirred and – gradually – the block abated. Looking through a viewfinder now I can gain see images I am happy to devote myself to.
There is usually a moral to a story but in this instance there never was to be one. Just dare yourself – should you feel that your creativity dries up – to go against what you already know. Dare to be different from yourself of yesterday. The boredom you are experiencing is not with the world. It is with yourself.
P.S. Funny how you can say: ‘I found myself lost’. It seems to open an entirely new box of Pandora language possibilities.