The Power of Doubt
I made these images last week while in Salt Lake City on business. There was little intent here, just a few spare moments to walk the streets. A few days after I showed these images to someone I walked with and he said “I like these, and they make me wonder why I didn’t shoot that moment or space?” I told him that was the beauty of photography, that there is no right and wrong, and each of us sees the world in a strange and unique way. This is something I’ve written about many times here on Smogranch, about how each photographer has a view on things and the real task is to find that view, polish it and to be able to call upon it when needed, sometimes at a moments notice. It has never been easy and the same applies today, even when we have so much new at our fingertips, a new that promises to make everything effortless. It never does. In fact, it has no effect on this pursuit at all. None.
But that is not what I want to talk about. I don’t particularly like these images. In fact, they don’t even feel like they are mine. But they brought up something very important in my mind; doubt. There is a detachment with these images, and rightly so. I wasn’t particularly interested in the subject matter and I was walking and talking with someone else, a practice that is enjoyable but one that also forces me to balance looking with the act of interacting with another human being. I can’t really do both. I’m simply not good enough at the moment, or perhaps I never was.
What these images made me realize was I have not been excited about images for a long, long while. My own images I should say. I’ve not made a single image, for a considerable amount of time, that I feel truly connected with. And now the doubt has begun to emerge. Am I still capable of making great work? Was I ever? Have I ever? Now I have certain bodies of work I feel are stronger than others, and some of these bodies did acquire accolades over the years, so I feel it’s not home team bias to think they might be good work. But they were done years ago, and frankly I don’t know if I’m still capable of making work like this. Doubt.
All of my good work was people based, and this specific style of image requires time, access, trust and connection. Time. There is simply no way around it. I look back on the good work and see the YEARS flip by on the calendar. I see the film piled up, the long flights, the complete, selfish deep dive into ONLY the project. Nothing else mattered or even breached the edges of my radar. In fact, other than my wife, I HAD nothing else. Nothing. Only photography, which is something I look back on now and cringe. I should have never let it go this far, but I did, and the one upside is the work. But now I live a different life where photography lives on the same street but in a different house. She is a friendly neighbor but I hardly see her, and when I do it’s only a quick “hello” and “goodbye.”
But a part of me wonders if it’s still possible, and if I could resurrect something good if given the chance. Yesterday, as a test, I made a decision to take the first step in the required direction, which for me is all about mental space. Meditation as disconnect. I was in treatment for my Lyme Disease, and I have the option of watching a television connected to cable, not something I usually have access to seeing as my house is void of TV. Normally, I use this treatment time to zone out and forget, but yesterday I turned the television off, crossed my legs and just let my mind wander. Suddenly I was inside a book. A white book with only a faint trace of content, pulled back and faded to the edge of nothing. It took a moment to understand where I was and what I was looking at, but then I realized it was the future book I had thought about but had yet to formulate. Physically I was in a small cubicle of treatment but my mind was somewhere else, completely and utterly at peace and working with precise and uncluttered focus, eyes open, hands moving and handling the book that was yet to be. The title came to me, the cover design and the copy required for the introduction. All of it. Word by word, image by image.
And then suddenly I was back. Soaked in sweat. Like coming up from the depths of isolation and back into this world. I wasn’t sure how much time had passed, but I knew it was a considerable amount. It was like I had ceased to exist, in a physical sense, while “away” and doing “work.” I began to retrace my route and the things I had discovered. I had no pen or paper, so I tried to file the list away for a future retrieval. I was pleased because I knew I still had what I required, at least mentally, to do work I want to do. I still had the REM sleep of focus required to really connect.
In London a few weeks back I had a conversation with an Instagram photographer and admitted that IG was the first social network I decided to delete. I explained why I needed to do this. This person listened patiently then asked if there wasn’t another way for me to work around this. I said I didn’t think so. I’m sure others can do it, but I’m entirely sure I cannot. In fact, what these fractional things did to me was ensure I was never truly connected to what was around me because they were a constant distraction, or filter, of my true thoughts at any given time. If I’m staring at a phone, or television for that matter, how can I NOT be distracted.
My doubt still remains. I’m not sure I can see the way I need to, but I now know I can still find the focus required. These images are a reminder to me that there are real photographs and there are phantoms, crisscrossing our eyes, distracting our brain, or deflecting reality just a bit longer. Filler. They keep the fluids moving and the parts greased just enough that the machine does not falter or grind to a halt. At some point in the near future I will need to face this doubt, make a stand or learn to ignore, and this is when the real fun will begin.