Vårløsning i elven ned fra Tarlebø, innerst i Isdalen

Yesterday I received the latest book written by the photographer David duChemin called The Print and the Process. As the title indicates it’s about the whole process from the very first moment of conceiving an idea of what will one day become a finalized artistic work or expression, to exactly that day, when the work is completed and ready to be displayed and shown to the audience. For photographers that will often mean what is stated in the title; a print, either hanging on a wall, printed in a magazine, smaller, glossy prints given to friends or relatives or even shared on social media and platforms. Or maybe; ought to I should say. Because in reality with today’s digital world most photos never get out of the computer, we check them when we download them – if we even do that, I know for a fact that too many pictures are kept on the memory cards and never leave the camera – and then we mostly forget about them.

They really deserve better. What is the use of all those images if nobody ever gets to see them? I am guilty of this myself too often, too, although since photography is my profession my work is often printed in magazine. And I think most of you are probably guilty too, even though, like me, you at least have an outlet through your blogs. But I think anyone creating or taking photographs should think more consciously of the completion of one’s work – as should any artist.

Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work. It’s a mental transition between old and new, which makes us ready to embark on new creative tasks. Photographer Minor White likened the process of the artistic production to the phases of the moon. In the waxing phase, we are building, creating, forming and shaping the world towards its completion. The full moon represents the completion phase. And the waning moon symbolizes a new phase of the cycle: The need for release, to cut the umbilical cord and give the work its own life. For some, until they send their offspring into the world, they are not ready for a new phase of work.

In order to reach this completion and mental readiness for a new cycle, we must pay attention to the finalizing stage of the creative process. For photographers it means we need to get our work printed and displayed. It doesn’t necessarily mean a hard print on the wall, just as duChemin notes in his latest book: «I use the word “print” here in the broadest sense, in the sense that Adobe Lightroom, for example, allows us to print to JPG or PDF». As he points out, the important thing is to get our work out there, whether it’s presented on a wall or on our website. He continues: «Ansel Adams called the print the final symphony, though he was referring to actual prints. How we get that symphony is a process and we all have to have our own ways of getting there».

The completion is also strongly connected to detachment, which I have written about before (Engaged and Detached at the Same Time). With completion we are more easily able to detach from our work, and leave it to itself. Thus we should do the best work we can do in the creative phase up until completion, and then let the rest take care of itself. Or as David Ulrich says in The Widening Stream: «When your works, founded on inner necessity, are completed, release them. Take responsibility for their passage into the world. Put them out there in whatever manner is possible, reasonable and realistic. This stage is important to move on. We must prepare the ground for new actions and fresh insights».

75 thoughts on “Completion

  1. I find it strange that photographers keep some images on their memory cards as I always download the whole day’s shooting onto my computer via the cable that came with my DSLR and erase/reformat the memory card at the same time.

  2. So true! Yes, this process can be likened to birthing and raising our children and then letting them go when they are grown. It is generally considered to be a developmental problem if parents tried to hold on fast to their children beyond adulthood. When I first started to make art, I thought I would never be able to let go of my pieces. Meanwhile, I have come to welcome it if I can release them into the world. That’s healthy and how it should be.

  3. “Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work.” Rich and inspiring insights my friend. I always learn something new and amazing everytime I visit your site. Beautiful picture as well.

  4. There has been nothing more satisfying for me than some of my photos that I’ve printed and framed for myself, but even more so, to give as gifts. That has taught me what you speak of here…completion, and letting go.

  5. An excellent article, Otto, and precise in pointing out that simply “taking pictures” is only a step along the way. While not all of my photos are worth putting out there in front of the public (if any of them actually are), the ones that I choose to display are there for a reason whether that might be the significance of a person or an event or simply because I liked that photo. Seeing that photo through to some readiness to display gives a sense of completion–just as you have said. I haven’t been project oriented, but, after reading your article, perhaps I should start being more intentional about that. I appreciate reading your insight on this subject.

    1. Thank you for your poignant comment. And yes, only a handful of all the pictures I take are worth sharing with others, but those few I feel very happy when I do share with others.

  6. It’s always amazed me at how many great pictures don’t make the cut, when one spectacular image stands out. Down the road, taking a second look can definitely be worthwhile. You are so talented that I can’t imagine you have many that aren’t worthy of standing alone.

    1. You would be surprised how many pictures don’t make it down the road. If I say one out of hundred I would probably be nice to myself. The fact is that even the best photographers will only get a small amount really worth saving. The rest is not useless, but can be seen as sketches towards the end photos.

  7. oh yes, in the end, after all is said and done, i need a witness to my ‘creation’…. i need someone to say ‘i see you, and i don’t know what it is, but i like it’ lol…. though starting out in film, i just bought a wee polaroid type camera so that i could have that something tangible and yet more private in my hands… something i can stick in a photo album and know it’s there, just for me…

    ps thank you for the blogroll mention 🙂

    1. To be able to have something tangible to share with others, isn’t that why we are doing what we are doing? Polaroid cameras were great, particularly before the digital era when sharing has become something totally different.

  8. Guilty as charged! I still have to figure out the best way to download and categorize photos whether they are about trips, events, or just random images of scenes and things that were of interest. I also remember my daughter saving everything she had into an external hard drive only to drop it accidentally and irreversibly ruining it. She thought it was the best way to go after her laptop crashed.

    Completion. The final symphony. Detachment. Great concepts on a process culmination.

    1. I would definitely not trust the pictures to be save on the memory card only. At least download them to a harddisk and then also make a backup for instance to an external disk. Thanks for your comment.

  9. This really strikes a chord! I don’t keep the photos on my memory cards, and I back them up on multiple external drives for preservation, but you’re so right, what’s the point if I don’t enjoy them? I think I lack the confidence it takes to do any photo editing, and although many of the photos, particularly family ones that are personal and pleasing just as they are, I don’t know why I procrastinate. I like the analogy of the moon phases, and I really want to seriously move myself forward. Thank you, Otto. I’m going to set a different kind of schedule that includes some editing and printing time! I think that would work best for me! 🙂

  10. If you’ve never done it before, it can take real courage to frame your work (framing makes it a lot more “official”) and put it up on the wall. Even if it’s only YOUR wall, not necessarily a public one. But the creative process isn’t truly complete, and you can’t call your work truly artistic, until you take the leap to share it. A lot of what I see in people just discovering the creative process is a fear of criticism if they share. You can liberate yourself from that fear by simply sticking your stuff up on the wall, whether it’s solid one or a digital one!

  11. “Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work.” – very well said, sir. this is one of your most insightful posts, really appreciate it. we must put a period to our compositions, our works, so we could commence on another creative endeavor, how true… 🙂

  12. Completion is an important aspect of any creation whether it is photographic, written, painted, etc.
    Simplistically, I like to think that when we create it is like giving birth…sooner or later that baby has to be finished and come out.

    1. It is like giving birth – and even more so; one day that baby will have to stand on its own feet – the completion. Thanks for commenting, Michelle.

  13. Really well put, and doubtless applicable not only to other arts but attachments in life generally. Thanks!

  14. As always a well-composed and “framed” commentary. It is a strange and wondrous time to be immersed in the photographic process, which in some ways never changes and in others is light years in its movement on the continuum.

    1. Yes, isn’t it a fantastic process to be pursuing? And of course you are right, the technical side of photography may change, but the creative process doesn’t really change.

  15. Hi Otto,

    I loved the analogy of doing creative work to the waxing and waning of the moon… it’s a great image of something that flows with time. Sometimes we are in the creative phase, and sometimes we are even at rest… a moment to stop and consider before we begin anew. I’ve talked about this on my blog too… sometimes the “completion” of something (in my case, writing…) isn’t really completed, we just have to make the decision that it’s done and that we’re ready to show others the work.

    I really enjoy your blog and your photographs are sublime.


  16. I agree, Otto, (most of) our pictures deserve so much better than remaining “incomplete” on our memory cards or in computer files…it’s a good thing you are so good at putting them up for all of us to appreciate because you do such wonderful work 🙂

  17. I love the comparison to the phases of the moon. While I’m good at moving the files from my camera to my computer, I have so many images that I’ve never returned to, despite good intentions. For me it’s a time issue…the same with my books and stories in progress. I need to see them to completion as well!

    1. We all fight time, and we can’t always see all to its end. But completion is important to really feel we have accomplished something. Thank you for your comment, Barbara.

    1. There is no reason to feel guilty, Inge. We all find the way that works for us, and I can only encourage anyone else to experience the feeling of completion.

  18. “I know for a fact that too many pictures are kept on the memory cards and never leave the camera – and then we mostly forget about them.” So true! Now I read your article and think to release more as to be part of my process and progress to move on. Great article sir, and greetings again 🙂

      1. It is sir, finding the right words sometimes not easy, but when comes to hearts and minds even meaningless for someone can be worth it for so many people! 🙂

  19. So true Otto, like giving birth in a sense. Excellent post as always, another facet examined beautifully.

  20. Well said. Detachment can be difficult for some but releasing the completed work is such a gift that the feeling of inner freedom it creates is palpable. 🙂

  21. Very interesting, Otto, and a good reminder for all to get those images out there to be seen. As you say, in this digital age, it is just so easy to take tons of photos, and then leave them on the hard drive. The plus side, though, is that like never before, we can now have our work seen across the entire world via our sites, with the resulting interchange being so enriching.

    1. It is indeed a good thing that it’s easier as ever to share one’s work across the world. Thank you for your comment, Andrew.

  22. In retrospect this why I keep going back to the same place to make photographs the story isn’t completely shared. Thank you for your insights.

  23. This is a post I need to come back and read again when my life settles down a bit. Too many of my images are buried on my computer and I think it’s true what you wrote about completion being a part of detachment. Thank you, Otto. 🙂

    1. There is time for creating and there is time for completing. We don’t necessarily have time for everything at any given point. Thank you for the comment, Robin.

  24. A most encouraging piece, thank you Otto! Now if only my printer would stop jamming, running out of ink and other such problems peculiar to the beast – when I have the energy and where-with-all to confront it!

    1. Well, isn’t that often the case. The world surrounding us try to challenge us as much as it is able to. We then just have to push on… Good luck with your printer, Patti! 🙂

  25. I transfer photos from my memory card to my computer, then make a backup on my external hard drive. I have LOTS of photos, but I find myself reviewing past photos regularly to see what creative ideas arise.

  26. Sometime back we stopped printing our photos and therefore there are no new albums. We are proud of the huge collection of pictures we clicked (away). But we rarely have the time and patience to go through them and even if we do they don’t seem as real as the printed ones of those days. We are turning too virtual. How sad!

    1. You are so right, Bindu, and exactly for that reason I believe we should keep printing at least some of our pictures. Thanks for the comment.

  27. An excellent post and one I needed to see today. “The need for release, to cut the umbilical cord and give the work its own life. For some, until they send their offspring into the world, they are not ready for a new phase of work.” Posting a photo a day on one blog and twice a week on another has taught me how to detach-no matter how I feel about a photograph once it goes out in the universe it is there to do what it needs or wants for the viewer. Detachment is so important in this process–at least for me, as it does allow me to move on. Thank you!

    1. Quite impressive that you are able to post a picture a day and keep another blog alive as well. Not much of a change to get attached, I would believe.

  28. Another thought-provoking article, Otto. I too have far too many of my photos saved on my computer, without ever showing them to anyone else, uploading them to my blog, writing a little story about them, or printing copies to be framed and hung on the wall, or stuck into a proper photo album. Mind you, very few of my pics make me go “Oh!! Stunning!! I’m happy with that one.” I feel like I have such a backlog of unfinished projects that I haven’t done justice to, because ‘life’ (I mean the responsibilities of work and house and earning money, and all of that) got in the way. You’ve made me think about those unfinished projects…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s