The Eternal Frustration of Being THIS Close

One of the things, and there are a few, I hate about photography (like I said, “a few.” Well, OK, really not all that many, but work with me here) is the external frustration that stems from being *this* close. What do I mean by that? Allow me to explain. Often, when we shoot, we come back with a pile of “almosts.” Shots that were “almost” good enough, but don’t quite make the cut. You know what I’m talking about here. This close. If only I had moved just a smidgen to the left or, gosh, had I watched that corner, filled in that blank spot over there, if only I had a little bit better of a sky to work with here…It’s very, almost way too, easy to generate a pile of shots that are almost but not quite good enough. This can be maddening at times.

Unfortunately, this feeling is not isolated to the single frame either. Just the other day, I was looking over some work that had been submitted to an opportunity: 22,000 images, all really good. I looked at the best ones, of course, and I thought to myself, “Damn. I’m so close but not quite that good. My work just isn’t good enough!” It’s frustrating as all get up, that feeling is.

You hear about this a lot in the arts. There are places like American Idol where you can watch it play out in real time. Yes, they have people who audition dressed up like chickens and, frankly, you can tell before they even open their mouths to sing how they are going to blow the audition. I don’t feel sorry for those people, as most people don’t, no we just sort of laugh them off all the while thinking, “Get the hook!” as they used in the old vaudeville days to quite literally drag people off stage. That’s all well and good, everybody gets a laugh and it’s entertainment. Once in a while though, a singer comes along and, why I actually feel sorry for him or her. They are not horrible, not chicken costume material by any stretch of the imagination, but they aren’t the best either. Still working the craft, maybe could use a few more lessons, that sort of a thing. They are the “almosts.” And, I really do feel sorry for them. They want it so bad. They’ve worked for it. They’ve tried. They made an effort. You can’t help but feel sorry for them, on some level, I mean they are being honest and giving it the old college try, right? Unfortunately, they sometimes just don’t make the cut. Life is cruel like this, in some ways. The arts are a cruel mistress and, why, sometimes, it seems like she takes more than she gives. It’s almost enough to make me want to wave my fists in the air and curse the universe, that is.

I talk a lot about the “myth of talent” and I do firmly believe that the entire concept of talent can be a myth if you let it. There is really a lot to be said for hard work and tenacity. It goes a long way. Unfortunately, for the “almosts” it doesn’t always go all the way. A lot of times success in the arts is working hard, yes, but it’s also finding opportunities that are right for you, for where you are at in whatever stage of the game you are in your artistic development. It might mean opening up a door that just reveals more hard work is needed. It might mean you have to stand there before some judge in California who bites his lower lip and says, “I’m sorry. It’s just not working for me.” Art is a wonderful thing. I love being an artist, making things with my hands, sharing my stories with the world but, I’d be the first to admit here, that kind of rejection can be hard to take. On some levels, it takes a thick skin to do what we do. A really very thick skin to hear that kind of rejection over and over and over again. It can be hard to swallow. It’s especially hard to hear this over and over again and just try to press on, to keep going, to keep practicing the craft, after all of the rejections.

There is an old saying that “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.” I suppose that is true. I’ve always felt that there is not really a market for mediocre art and that, while our work may look glamorous, there is a lot of hard work that goes into being an artist, any kind of artist, be it a contestant on a singing competition or an exhibiting photographer. We have to work hard just to make it, then we have to work hard to stay there, and opportunities sometimes only bestow upon us more demands. It’s a vicious cycle and one they don’t always prepare you for in art school. (There’s a reason Georgia O’Keeffe went mad and had to be institutionalized at one point, and she’s not the only artist out there to suffer this fate.)

Some nights I sit, looking over my pile of “almosts” and just force myself to think about how I can craft them from “maybes” or “could have beens” into “yeses.” On some level, the only thing you can do is to focus on the work, keep going, keep driving yourself, pressing yourself to do new and better work. Always improve, I believe that’s the key. And, respect that fact that, a lot of times, this sort of frustration comes just before a breakthrough.

Gosh, I know I sure could use a breakthrough right about now, couldn’t you? Man, I’m so overdue for a piece of that action. Here’s hoping, right?

Until next time…

This image shot at the water gardens. Canon 5dS with a Canon 100mm macro lens. I love the bright linear feel to it and hope you like it too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *