The Disparaging Gap

En eldre mann i flyktningleiren Tierkidi

Have you ever felt frustrated because the result of your creative endeavour didn’t live up to your expectations? Of course you have – it’s a rhetorical question. Everybody does. Ever so often we all feel we are not able to express strongly enough or good enough what we have on our mind or seeing for our eyes. Whether you are a photographer, like me, or expressing yourself through any other media, we all hit this disparity between what we want to achieve and what we actually manage to create. We have this great idea, but can’t get it out, can’t make it materialize in a satisfying way. Particularly when we start out as beginners we are often encountering this feeling of not being good enough.

There is a gap.

There is a gap between the result and what we set out to create in the first place. Particularly in the first couple of years as we try to figure out our way into becoming a photographer, or a painter, or a designer, or a writer – or whatever it is we are getting into – the stuff we make isn’t quite good enough, it’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambitions to be good, but it’s not quite that good.

I surely remember when I (a very long time ago) slowly switched from photographing nature to become more documentary orientated and trying to photograph people in their various ways of living. It was a very frustrating period of time. I didn’t get the pictures I saw other photographers were able to capture much better than me in similar situations. I certainly wasn’t happy with most of my photos back then. They just didn’t capture some essence of life or were expressive in a way that could talk to others who hadn’t experienced the occasion I was trying to photograph. In retrospect, one reason was the inability to dare getting close enough, but it was also just getting around understanding the way these kinds of photos work in general. It took me many years to get around to the other side.

It has happened later, too. That I feel I am in a rut and not able to create anything worth keeping. As I said in the beginning; it happens to everyone. It’s part of the creative path. On and off we all feel we are banging your head against the wall and don’t get any further. That’s when we have to remind ourselves that it’s just a phase. Especially if we are beginners we will have to accept that it takes time, a long period of time, yes, years to get anywhere close to where we feel this gap between what we set out to create and what we actually end of with making, is diminishing.

The frustrating part when you encounter this gap is that your taste is good enough to tell that what you are making is a disappointment to you, but you just aren’t able to do anything about it. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get passed that point. They quit. But remember, then, all those who you think do the most interesting work, have been through these phases as well. All of them. They have just not given up, but kept working even when they felt that disappointment for their art work. They went through a face of years when they knew that the work they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it felt short. But they didn’t give up. If you go through a phase like that right now, you got to know that is totally normal. The best thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. And eventually you will come out on the other side. It’s only by doing a huge volume of work you will be able to close up that before mentioned gap, when your work will be as good as your ambitions.

You just have to fight your way through that phase. I know it’s easy to say. I know it is discouraging to stand with your legs stretched out across that gap. But if you know that you eventually will be able to create something that feels completely right, that in itself will hopefully be an encouragement enough to keep up with the hard work even when it feels less than satisfying in the moment.

How has you encounter with this gap been? And how did you get around it? Please share we us your experience.

On a different note, I want to apologize to all of you who follow my blog and faithfully comment on my posts for not having returned your visits. Since before Christmas I have been on the road and simply haven’t been able to follow up. However, I do appreciate every visit, every like and every comment. How no doubt about that. And now that life is slowly getting back to normal again, I promise I will start revisiting your blogs again. I will get back to you all.

55 thoughts on “The Disparaging Gap

  1. This is a very encouraging piece, Otto. I know that many of us get discouraged and give up on something we truly love because it just isn’t good enough. To have someone as talented as you admit that you go through the same thing. It’s wonderful that you can offer a way to work through it. Well done.

  2. Karate. Seriously! I rely on many things that I was raised on but mainly it’s my training in karate that keeps me remembering that achieving personal goals in my illustration, photography, writing, anything takes time, patience, practice and an unyielding passion for it.

  3. Thank you for the words of encouragement. I am a relatively new blogger (2 years) So I am still trying to find my “place”
    I love writing and over the past year I’ve found a new love for photography…but I feel like I am bouncing around with no firm footing….
    your words of encouragement remind me to be patient – thank you!

  4. It’s great to be reminded that everyone goes through this. Even if we know it, it’s easy to forget when we’re in the middle of it. I’ve experienced it in writing, photography, blogging, and even real estate! As you said, the key is to not give up, but keep at it, keep working.

  5. I must say that the ‘huge volume of work’ had been my way for a long time… but the rut that i’m in right now is prohibiting me from doing that… to me it seems these ‘gaps’ are getting closer and closer together and are threatening to make it all impossible…

    As you know, i set myself the challenge to overcome the barrier of not being good enough, EVER, to take baaaaad pictures and somehow overcome it in post processing… this has worked, but now i’m bored with it. and boredom is the most dangerous of all emotions when it comes to continuing past the frustration.

    1. I think in many ways you are right. Boredom is a danger to creativity. But on the other hand it may push you into new ways of expressing yourself. The baaaaad approach has been a very interesting path, I think and you have come up with some fantastic pictures. 🙂

  6. This is such a perfect piece and, for me, perfectly timed. I laughed all the way through, in amused recognition.

    My new year’s resolution is to really learn my camera, using manual rather than automatic settings. Have I found some gaps? Of course.

    Here are some concrete examples. First, I discovered I’d been setting aperture and shutter speed with the camera set to “automatic.” Then, I figured out that the rotating ring at the front of the lens — the one they call the “focusing ring” — is for manual focusing. (Who knew?) Then, I managed to take about 200 photos with an ISO of 6400, and added the word “overexposed” to my vocabulary.

    Have I been chagrined? A little. Confused? For a while. Embarassed? Not at all. As I began to understand the various things I’d been doing wrong, it was exciting: and every bit of understanding helps to build a bridge across those gaps. Eventually, there will be enough of a bridge to walk across — surely much easier than taking a flying leap!

    1. The only way to overcome that gap is to learn along the way – as you do and have done. You approach is an example for others who struggle, whether technically or otherwise. Keep up with the good work, Linda!

  7. With the days becoming longer again, it seems more bearable to struggle. In the end, looking forward is the only way out, and seeing positive role models certainly does help, at least me. Thanks for the encouraging words, Otto!

  8. I might be encountering this gap right now. About 2 months ago, I quit my job in chemical consulting to take some time off, make art and see where it leads me to next. I was very excited about making this step and am still not regretting it but even though I’m having many ideas of what I would like to do, I’m currently not getting much done. And sometimes I’m thinking that there is no point, that I will never be able to make money or a living from my art. Because it’s difficult and there are so many other photographers out there. My get around is that I didn’t make that change without a plan and some beforehand calculations which will allow me to just do whatever I want without having to worry whether it will pay my bills. I just wanted to do what makes me happy, if only for a while.

    Oh and yes, our own standards are often the highest but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing as it forces us to slow down sometimes, to take the time for finding our very own path in the (art) world.

    1. Making a living out of art is and has always been difficult, particularly when starting out. But with persistence and perseverance it will eventually work out. So just hang in there and keep up with the good work” 🙂 When I started out as a photojournalist I went on travelling for half a year and thought I would be sending reports and articles from wherever I went. I did sell a few stories, but not enough to call it a living. Nevertheless, that’s where it all started for me.

  9. I found I was taking photos to please others …impossible of course! and now I have taught myself to take photos I truly like and instead of competitions enjoy this , non competitive blog instead. Sleep easier that way!!

  10. The ancient Israelites let their fields lie fallow every seven years to give them a rest, to avoid depleting the soil of its nutrients by the constant growing. I find that this is what works best for me when I come to a brick wall: just back away for a while and let my creative energy recharge itself. If I lived in an area where it’s easy to walk out the door or go on a very short drive to take some nice pictures it might be different; but living in a place where only a major snowstorm, such as we had this past weekend, can transform (obscure?) its soul-destroying boringness, if I forced myself to go out and try to photograph it the ugliness of the resulting images would completely discourage me. But that’s just me. We each have to get to know ourselves and what works best for us.

    1. Yes, each of us do have to find the way that works. For some – as you – it’s stepping back and recharge your batteries. For others it’s hitting the wall with full speed and breaking through. I use both approaches depending on my mood and what feels to be the way to go. Thanks for sharing your experience, Nancy.

  11. I am always reassured by the thought that if I ever completely “mastered” something the only thing left would be to become completely bored with it. Pushing on through to that never-to-be-completely-achieved goal keeps the journey interesting.

    1. This is a good point – and I totally agree. If I one day think I have learned and mastered what can be mastered, the travel is done. Time to find something else to do, then. Thank you for your poignant comment, Alli.

  12. I often have something in my mind that the finished work falls short of. One thing that encourages me is going back to work I created years ago and seeing how far I have progressed. Often, I can go back to work I thought was decent a few years ago and vastly improve it now with my current skill level. If something isn’t turning out well, I set it aside and come back to it later when my skill level has improved.

    1. This is a great approach. I have never tried it myself, but would like to do so. It’s should be a good indicator of how much one has grown and gotten better over time. Thanks for sharing this great idea, Claire.

  13. I found last year that I felt my photography had stagnated, I was keeping an even keel but not improving, so I decided to challenge myself to do a 366 this year, but with the provisor that every shot had to be thought about, and had to be of a quality I could live with, even be proud of. I have given each month a theme, and studied other photographers who specialise in the theme’s I’ve chosen, to really look at what they’ve done that I like so much, and then recreate it in my own way. I feel like I’m learning a lot, I’m enjoying the process, and I think,hope, the gap is decreasing a tiny bit.

    1. The gap will certainly have decreased after having pursued such a project. A 365 (or 366 as it is this year) is a great project to undertake for many reasons, and certainly one of them is to advance one’s photographic skills and creativity. And you have found your own approach which only will make you benefit even more. I look forward to seeing and following the project. Thank you for sharing you thoughts.

  14. Thank you for this amazing and inspiring text Otto. Your photography is outstanding. I often experience ‘the gap”, some day I will write something remarkable, until then I will keep trying. My best to you!

  15. Great post – true words, Otto.
    When you – like me – are just casual photographer, the pressure from not being able to deliver what you have ambitions of, is not as great as for a professional photographer.
    Usually I keep a long break …. and do all sorts of other tasks ……
    Travelling often gives me inspiration to move forward and overcome the gap between what I want and what I actually am making.
    But it is also true that one must struggle and work hard to constantly evolve:
    To follow others work on the web, blogs, exhibitions, books, movies etc. – I spend a lot of time doing this.
    And there are two major projects that I hope soon to do:
    – A week photography course at a Danish Folk High School
    and the most ambitious:
    A workshop abroad – I know there are many options here. You even have some exciting opportunities Otto 🙂 !!!

    1. It’s is indeed a special challenge for professionals that they need to come up with good photos every time (when shooting for clients at least). But that in many ways is just part of the craft and we learn to deal with it. As for jumping that gap between ambitions and results, I think you show some excellent approaches. Good luck with your projects – and hope to see you soon in a workshop. 🙂

  16. I think you nailed it when you said you just have to work a lot to get through the blocks and self-criticism. To capture the “essence of life”, we’ve got to quit thinking so much and feel the experience. That’s hard to do when we’re being critical with ourselves. I like that phrase as a viewer too. It explains a lot of what really speaks to us. Thanks!

  17. Thanks for this post and all the responses it generated. I’m now sitting just slightly taller in my chair with thoughts of breaking down that wall tomorrow 🙂

  18. Often we find this gap to be a reflection of our distance from the subject, not just at the physical level but also at the emotional level. When you have a deep connect with your subject (which could be a place or an individual), that intensity is bound to spill over(literally!) into your photographs. But yes, mastering ones craft is also extremely important..for most of us, it’s a journey that knows no end 🙂

    1. And isn’t that what makes it all so exciting, that it’s a life long journey?! And, yes, the gap is often due to a combination of this distance to the subject and the skill level. Thanks once again for a great comment, Uday.

  19. This is a gap that I think we all experience is it not Otto. That desire to create something in your mind’s eye that in reality just doesn’t match that vision. As with all things, I think it comes down to try, try again and if it doesn’t work, take a step back and start the process of trying again. Only then can we begin to create work that we can feel proud of. A smashing article as every Otto!

  20. It happens all the time! But, it’s that very disappointment that eggs me on to make a new piece, with the never ending hope that maybe THIS time, I’ll get it right. Great post, and I love your photo.

  21. You cover this part of life so very well, especially in photography. The newness and infatuation with the thing you are just taking up makes for a great time until that moment you describe so well: ” your taste is good enough to tell that what you are making is a disappointment to you, but you just aren’t able to do anything about it” and it is frustrating. If ever there were a moment to epitomize the words “practice makes perfect” it is this feeling, so as frustrating as it is – continuing to get out and shoot is the only place I assume I can get better 🙂

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