I woke up the other morning and felt a nudge to get myself to the kitchen table and start doing something – anything. I didn’t quite make it. I scrolled through Facebook for longer than I wanted, and then I made it to the kitchen. I put the kettle on the stove to get the coffee process started and then pulled out my notebook and pencil.
I stared at ruled pages and had nothing to write.
Last night before bed and after watching episode-after-episode of the 9th season of The Office, I peered over my husband’s shoulder and saw a book on henna art that had been sitting on a shelf of our sideboard for I don’t know how long. In fact, I had forgotten we had that book. We probably bought it thinking that it would inspire us one day, in some way. Lo, and behold, this morning, it did just that.
The last few months has brought on a tidal wave of activity and non-activity. I started and completed the 8 Weeks to Badass Coaching Program guided via videos and audio by Jen Sincero. I am happy to say that I achieved my goal within the 8 weeks. My goal was to get my photography shown at a local coffee shop. By week 3 I was able to secure a location and will be hanging my work up next month. There is still much work to be done before I hang my work up, but I’m set for this one goal.
Since then, I’ve been working on my online image and social media activity. I even have a friend working on my brand. It sounds artsy fartsy and hoity toity, but I was struggling to do it myself. I bit the bullet and hired my friend to come up with ideas and we’re getting close to something I think I’ll really love that will speak to my personality and style.
With all this in the works, it’s been a challenge for me to produce more work. I find myself to be creative in a general sense. I don’t think I’m all that profound or very original, but I do think I see things differently from others, and have an aesthetic people can appreciate. What I’ve come to realize is that my creativity comes in waves. For someone who can be really impatient with herself, it is hard for me to accept this reality. I’m probably more likely to come up with work I really like on a quarterly basis than daily or weekly. But it is amazing how I think I need to produce something spectacular every time I pick up a camera. My brain says this is silly and unrealistic. Of course I’m not going to produce something amazing every single time. The monkey on my back, on the other hand, likes to piss me off and judge me, asking things like “Why can’t you be like [name famous artist here]?” So I’ve been carrying this silly monkey on my back for a long time. I couldn’t name it. I couldn’t explain what it was. I just knew it was on my back and I didn’t know how to shake him off. Or even bribe it off. What I found out this morning was that the monkey on my back was questioning my creative process. “Why do you do what you do? Why aren’t you more prolific or active? Why is it so hard to be around other people? What are you afraid of?” I did not have an answer. So instead, I started to read.
Back to that book on henna. Henna. It’s pretty. I remember getting a henna design on my hand when my good friend was getting ready to marry. It was the one part of the week-long celebration I was most looking forward to. It was the only time I had done it. I flipped through the book and thought I’d go straight to looking at the designs, thought “I wonder how the paste was made? Then, I thought I should read about how henna became what it is. Where did it come from? Why is it used the way it is? I read about animals eating the plant that henna comes from which made their mouths look bloody. The shepherds who tended to them freaked out, thinking their animals were bleeding from the mouth. But after removing the plant from their mouths, they realized the red stained their hands like a pigment. It wasn’t blood. I read about how henna markings were used for celebrations and how it spread from country to country by the migration path of birds. Henna has a history. It has an origin. There is is a story behind it.
It’s easy for some to set a schedule, write down a plan, and do that plan. To take a walk everyday might be easy for some, but for others it is not. I get so much advice about going for walks and taking pictures. About meeting up with people to get creative juices flowing. Unfortunately, for me, these activities can cause me to freeze up. How can it be that trying to do the one thing I’m fairly good at can cause anxiety in me?
I think I found part of the answer to my question when I stopped to read this henna book. I want photography to be more than pretty images. I want it to speak to me. I want it to tell me a story. What I have found is that art tends to be more provocative and of greater substance when it comes from a place of meaning. Art is powerful when there is a story to tell. Simple quick snaps of my food might have some meaning and will cause pleasure for some to see. They’ll respond that it looks delicious or makes them hungry. But the meaning pretty much stops there. Now, think about a photo taken of a table filled with dishes left behind by a family in an empty restaurant. Where did that family go? Was it a family? Who is going to clean that up? Why didn’t they eat the bread rolls? Why are we only seeing one table? Why isn’t anyone else in the frame? Why is this a picture of an empty table of plates?
For me, photos have a greater impact when they can tell a story. I forgot that. It’s probably the one thing that people will tell you. That photos tell a story. That they’re worth a thousand words. But I forgot that. It isn’t always just about being aesthetically pleasing. It’s about telling a story. Not just any story, but a story that I can care about. A story that speaks to me that I really want to share with other people. I know it won’t be something everyone cares about, but that’s not the point, nor do I want it to be. The point is having a connection with a subject or situation, and how I can interpret the image I see to be able to tell a story. And the more I can connect with those instances and be authentic about my story the better.
My last blog entry about my nieces is an example of this very finding. I didn’t intend to write about my nieces. I knew when I took their pictures that I wanted the same vantage point, but that’s about it. I didn’t think much about how to process them. I hadn’t thought about how I had actually spent time with each of them. I hadn’t thought about how they inspired me enough to write about them. But each photo of their little faces did something to me, and the memories I had of them flooded back, so I wrote those down. I had to tell a story. So I did.
That is the photography I want to do. I know I won’t please everyone. I just want to be okay with my work and feel good about the work I do. I want to have greater intention when taking photos. I want to slow down. I want to understand the meanings behind the moments behind my camera. I want to use my camera as a means to meditate and connect. I want to tell stories.