“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” -Anaïs Nin
Photography (practiced at its highest levels) is a creative endeavor. But creativity takes courage. It takes more courage than you may think. While many of you are focused on trying something just because it’s NEW – you don’t get to REALLY test your courage until you try something YOU! This essay applies to any art, but I am aiming at photographers because I know many of you are struggling with this. So please read on.
It’s hard to be vulnerable – especially in this day and age when people can say anything they want anonymously about you without fear of consequence. But it’s more important than ever to make sure we DO find the courage to show our true selves and make images that reflect our personal vision. That is the only way we’ll end up avoiding the world that sets the stage for a very funny movie you should rent called “IDIOCRACY”.
So where do you find the courage? Start by associating with and loving other photographers who are like-minded. They will build you up if they are the right people.
Then, as I have advised before, think like a five year old child. Back when you were five, you hadn’t been taught all the things that are not possible. Go back to that place to find your courage to explore and see things with a fresh eye.
Allow yourself to fail. Most of the big successes in my own life came only after multiple failures. It took me more than 12 years to get my well-known photograph “Cranes in the Fire Mist.” I failed every time I tried until I didn’t fail. I failed as a human being in general until I matured. I failed the first time I took the SCCA racing license test. But then I eventually passed it. Failure is normal.
Take good old Abe Lincoln for example. He failed in 1832 to get elected to the state legislature. In 1838 he was defeated in a run for Speaker of the House. In 1840 he sought to become an elector and lost. In 1843 he ran for Congress and lost. In 1848 he ran for Congress again and lost. In 1854 he ran for the US Senate and lost. In 1856 he sought nomination as Vice President and lost. In 1858 he ran again for the US Senate and again lost. In 1860 he was elected President of the USA. Failure builds character, strength and resolve and gives us permission to keep trying.
Believe in yourself. That is a great place to find the courage to be creative. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to? Think positive thoughts about yourself and your art. Don’t let negative thoughts crowd in.
Don’t wait for permission or affirmation. Just start shooting. The fear of rejection leads to the inability to find courage to be creative. So just don’t go there. Don’t ask anyone if it’s okay. Just do it.
Stop looking for excuses. They are crutches that you depend on because they make it easy to say “I can’t do it because I don’t have the right camera!” That’s bull crap. Use what you have. Go out there and be brave. Don’t let the lack of any perceived necessary thing stop you.
Keep a journal of creative ideas and when fear starts to overtake you, you will find courage in the journal. Focus on the energy you get there and not on the fear. Think of others before yourself. There may be people who need to see the photos you will make. Maybe they have never been to the places you’ve been or seen the people or things you’ve photographed. If you can’t do it for yourself – do it for them. They are counting on you.
I’ll never forget one of my first big gallery shows in the early 90s. I did a show of photographs from the Slot Canyons in Arizona. An elderly woman came up to me, put her hand on my arm and looked me squarely in the eye before saying, “Honey thank you – without you I would have never known this place existed, let alone what it looks like.” I never forgot that lady and will see her in my mind’s eye until I die.
Lastly, if you want to find courage you have to pay attention. You have to put time into this. You can’t sit it on the shelf and wait for the magic fairy dust to do its job. You have to act. So go forth and be bold. Try to be brave. Believe in yourself. Just do you. I bet you can find the courage you need to be creative if you really want it.
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