One of the exercises in the Adventures in Seeing book is to do a 180. Whatever you’re drawn to photograph, go ahead and take the picture, but then do a 180 – turn around and see if there’s anything you missed while focused on your subject. Sometimes you won’t find anything in particular. Then again, sometimes you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
I started thinking more about this after reading James Clear’s brilliant article on inversion. For any problem, situation, dilemma, question, turn it upside down. Think of the opposite that can happen.
“Inversion is different than working backward or “beginning with the end in mind.” Those strategies keep the same goal and approach it from a different direction. Meanwhile, inversion asks you to consider the opposite of your desired result.” ~ James Clear, Inversion
Here are some ways you can use inversion according to Clear.
* Imagine the worst case scenario.
* Imagine the opposite of what you expect to happen.
* Ask yourself what you don’t want … to do, to happen.
* Examine your thoughts, beliefs, judgments, etc. What if they aren’t true?
* How could you break the rules or challenge the status quo?
* Learn from your mistakes.
* Challenge assumed limitations or obstacles.
* Identify what doesn’t matter to get to what does.
I realized that all of these things are tools we use in adventures in seeing. And, that I’ve used inversion to get to the heart of what photography means to me and what matters most. Here are a few examples.
Maybe whether anyone else likes a photograph doesn’t matter as long as I like it.
Maybe a book or exhibit or sales is not the measure of success as much as what I learn along the way.
What if my work is not meant to be financially rewarding, but is valuable for what is offered and what is received in other ways than money?
The Value of Failure
Recently I set up a series of two hour workshops in my hometown, with the intention of establishing a local presence. I don’t know a whole lot of people here. My hope was to have up to 20 participants in each session, yet that didn’t happen. I had only one in each session and each person was different. I could see this as a failure. Perhaps the timing was wrong.
Yet, each person was so interesting and we had a lot of fun. I had a chance to practice what I had put together and focus on how one person was receiving it. If I’d cancelled the workshops, I would’ve missed this experience and the people would’ve been disappointed. Maybe I’m meant to get to know people one at a time or do more one on one work.
“While most people were focused on how they could achieve success, the Stoics also considered how they would manage failure.” ~ James Clear, Inversion
Here’s another dilemma.
When I tell people that I’m a photographer and a teacher, they usually ask me one of two questions. Can I teach them how to use their camera? Will I photograph their event? But, that’s not what I do or what I even want to do. How can I better present myself?
Recently, I received a beautiful email from a workshop participant named Kathee. She wrote:
“What a difference your classes have made in my life! I now journal at least 1-2 days a week just to keep a records of my pauses. My images tell me detailed stories filled with emotion and memories. I fill my gardens with objects and flowers that not only catch the light but ground me from the craziness of this world.”
I thanked her for her kindness and noticed that there was very little about “photography” in her note. The comment about her images had to do with the stories they told her. She’s incorporated pauses in her life and she acknowledges them. She feels grounded. All of these things get to the crux of what adventures in seeing is all about. The photograph is a by-product. So, this is a good place to start with inversion for me. If it’s not about the photograph, what is it about?
I approach this by asking myself why I photograph in the first place. This question has evolved for me and I first wrote about it in 2012.
“When I experience a connection with something in the moment just as it is, it reveals something universal that resonates deep inside. It’s magical. It changes me and the way I see. It cracks me open and I see how everything (including me) belongs. I continue learning and growing through my encounters.”
In 2016, I addressed this question again and added the question, “Why am I drawn to my camera as a companion?
“My mission in life is to fully experience and embrace life with my whole self – mind, body, and heart. I’ve found that my camera helps me to do this. While sometimes the camera can serve to distance ourselves from the world, and it’s important to know when this is happening, it can also help us to be more courageous – visit new places, meet new people, and connect in new ways.”
In other words, it’s not about the photograph so much as it is about the experience and the connection. It’s more even than being mindful. It’s actively engaging with the world around me, exactly as it is.
Maybe I should stop calling myself a photographer. What then? Can you relate?