I had just parked at a trail by a river near my house. It was a crisp late fall day. As I was getting my equipment out of the car a woman passed me coming back from the trail. She asked if I was going to take pictures. (Seemed obvious to me, but people are funny) She then gave the pronouncement “I don’t see anything interesting here.” I was stunned and probably said something non-committal like “I’ll take a look anyway”.
That has stuck with me. I’m still trying to figure it out. Sometimes it seems deep; sometimes it seems just silly. But it intrigues me.
I must confess that I have the same problem at times. Sometimes I set out with the idea that I am looking for a certain “thing”. I don’t advocate that and I have written against it, but I fall into the trap sometimes. Our marvelous, adaptive brains do amazing things to “help” us achieve our goals.
A funny thing happens when you go looking for something. It seems that that’s all you find. It is just human nature and it can hardly be avoided. If you go out looking to take a picture of a monkey then all you will see are monkeys or non-monkeys. Your focus and perception are tuned to reject anything that is not a monkey. You are often throwing away wonderful scenes because of your mental blinders.
But to take it a step deeper, it raises some interesting questions that I have to ask myself. Things like, is everything interesting? What does it take to be worthwhile to take a picture? How much of a picture’s interest is based on our perception at the instant? Is it a failed outing if I don’t get a good picture? Who says if an image is interesting?
It is my position that many things are interesting in the right conditions. I believe this to be generally true. I don’t agree with some post-modernists who seek out intentionally bland and uninteresting subjects, but I believe many things can be interesting. But on this day, in this light, in this weather it may not be interesting. So don’t force it.
What makes it worthwhile to press the shutter? When I’m in doubt I usually ask myself “is this actually an interesting picture? Will I actually use this?”. If I can answer that it is or might be, I press the shutter. I also need to follow up and ask if this is the best time, location, atmosphere, lighting, etc.
Ah, but how much of the interest is based on our perception at the time? A lot of it, I think. I trust my perception, my instinct, when it is calling to me. But I tend to err on the side of taking too many images. Sometimes when I’m editing later I ask myself “what I was thinking?” as I delete blocks of images. But sometimes there is a rewarding payoff. Those happy times when I discover my intuition was really on to something and I have a gem there. Of course, since I only had a vague idea of the worth at the time I might only have a sketch that I need to go back and work in more detail. But still, my subconscious is sometimes more perceptive than my conscious mind. Some say perception is reality. I don’t know, but perception certainly guides our view of reality.
And one of the painful questions, is it a failed outing if I don’t come back with a good picture? I have come to the conclusion that there are seldom failed shooting outings. They are all useful, if only for practice. Being out, with your senses sharp and searching, getting to take pictures – how can this be bad? You don’t hit a home run every time at bat.
Then there is the existential question of who gets to say if it is interesting? My answer is, the audience I am trying to please. In my case, that is me. Of course, I hope some other people will like it, even occasionally buy it. I will be the judge, though, of worth or success of an image. I may be wrong and I may change my mind over time, but it’s my call.
So how about that day. After she “challenged” me about no interesting pictures I was determined to prove her wrong. That is the wrong attitude. I regret it. Following my normal process would have helped. I allowed her to throw me off. So I don’t like much of what I got that day. But it wasn’t a total waste. I hope you like the image at the top of this article.