«Try again, fail again. Fail better.» – Samuel Beckett
Learn by you own mistakes is pretty much what Beckett encourage us to do. And so it is. Failure is not failure if you are able to lift yourself above the feeling of misery and look upon it as an opportunity to improve. I do so with my photography. Every so often, for instance, I take stock of my last period of photography and search for my weak spots. Some mistakes are imminent and obvious – and easy to remedy on the spot, while others sneak up upon you from behind and will only disclose themselves in a retrospective view. These go to the bottom of your creative self and are the most important inadequacies to discern. They hold the biggest potential for improvements, because they are what could be called systemic. More than anything they show what is limiting us from developing and growing. If I am able to decipher these weak spots in my photography I have found a base to jump further from.
When I take stock of my photography, I look for elements that can be improved, not only with the images themselves, but with my choice of subject matter and my shooting process. I look at the work and ask myself questions. Did I work the image enough? Did I vary my coverage enough? How about lens-to-subject distance? Ultimately the big question is: How can I make things better? And really; how can I become a better photographer?
Unless we are willing to evaluate our work with a critical eye, we may be destined to make the same pictures over and over. Even if you are a prolific photographer; if you stay put on the same spot, your creativity starts to crumble. By figuring out where our weaknesses lie, we can take steps to eliminate them – and thus lift ourselves to a next level.
When did you last evaluate your work? Do you know what your photographic weaknesses are?
When I look at my work over the summer and the last couple of months I see plenty of potentials for improvement. To be honest I am not very satisfied with my images taken the last five months or so. Looking through the files in retrospective I see I have gone into automatic mode – and most importantly I have been lazy, simply not been shooting enough. Besides playing with fun apps for my cell phone, I have not really experimented much; instead I have gone down the familiar and beloved road. Not good at all. But now that my weaknesses clearly are exposed to myself, I can start lifting myself above the mediocrities.
The thing is once you have identified and listed areas with room for improvements, you can target remedies to deal with whatever is ailing your shooting. It’s not such a mysterious process. When it comes to technical issues, answers can often be found on internet in a few keyword searches; you will find many free and comprehensive websites devoted to specific areas of photography. But that’s just part of the answer. The main remedy lies in going out with your camera and addressing those weaknesses head-on.
In her book Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, Kathryn Schulz talks about how wrongness is a vital part of how we learn and change our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. As a photographer, making mistakes can be a good thing; I have made perhaps more than my share, but I try to learn from them. So hopefully my next shoot will be better than the last one – or as Jan Saudek, Czech art photographer and painter, says: «I believe all artists, if they are not lying to themselves, must believe that the best part of their work, or even their life, is in front of them. To look only to the past and to say `those were the best years, when I was young´ is to say that in the future there is nothing.»