If Only

Sometimes when I am down and feeling miserable, I wish that my life would be different. We all do, don’t we? How often have I not thought; imagine if only I had been one of the big stars in the photography world. How would my life not have been then?! If only…

Some time ago, I proposed a photo story for a weekend edition of a major newspaper. It was a story about the drug scene in my hometown, which had changed after a park where drug addicts and dealers had been gathering, was closed down. To my dismay, the proposal was turned down. I had been sure I would get the assignment.

When the idea was rejected, I felt as if my creativity had been belittled and discredited. I started to think what if the former editor who knew me had not just been replaced with a younger yuppie? If only I was a renowned photograph, surely he wouldn’t have turned me down, replaced or not?

Craving for success and acceptance for our creativity is a very human reaction. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily. However, the trap is falling in under us when we don’t see the difference between our creative abilities and the world’s reaction to it. When we don’t get the acceptance we crave, that is when we start to think if only… True creative people, though, don’t use “if only” as an excuse.

Creativity has always been about making the most of what you have. Sometimes creativity thrives when you are having fun, and other times it flourishes when you have your back against the wall. The latter was the case with a young man named Johannes who lived in medieval times.

Johannes was ambitious but short of funding. He got help to make what he called “holy mirrors” for religious pilgrims to buy. When the mirror was held up to a relic, it supposedly captured and reflected the glory of God. However, Johannes business idea flawed, among other factors because a severe flood delayed the pilgrimage until the following year. Johannes didn’t give up after this failure. Living in a wine producing region he was acquainted with the process. Suddenly he saw a different use for the traditional wine press. With a few modifications, he transformed the press from making juice to printing words. In so doing, Johannes Gutenberg had invented the printing press that changed the course of the word. The press was first used to print the bible and thus Gutenberg was able to provide people with a way to experience the glory of God, even if his “holy mirrors” had failed miserably at first.

Creativity is never about wishing things would be better or different or disasters wouldn’t happen to you. Creatives don’t use “if only” as an excuse. “If only” focuses on what might have been. Creatives focus on making the most of the raw materials that they have and under the circumstances that surrounds them. Taking these materials and combining them into something new is where creativity becomes art.

We should never forget that the creative path itself—creating—is what makes photography, or any creative endeavour you may embark on, such a fulfilling undertaking. Too often, we forget this simple truth as our desires for mastery, for recognition or even monetary gain possesses us.

Yes, we all dream of getting worldwide recognition, to become the next Richard Avedon, W. Eugene Smith or Ansel Adams. However, do not let this desire get in the way of your photography. Enjoy the process, move down the creative path with open senses and an open mind, breath, live, be one with your art, and do not get caught up with desires that may well turn you away from the path. And don’t use “if only” as an excuse.

I reworked my story proposal of the drug scene, sent it to a different magazine where it finally got accepted. These days a new issue of the magazine is out, with my story spread over 14 pages.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 10.9 mm (the equivalent of a 24 mm for a full format canera). Shutter speed: 1/60 s. Aperture: f/1.7. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do you need some ideas to improve your photography and not having to spend a lot of money on new equipment? My eBook 10 Great Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Point-and-Shoot Camera might be what you are looking for. It’s an inexpensive eBook full of inspiration, and it’s available on my website http://www.munchow.no.


79 thoughts on “If Only

  1. Otto, we are a self-indulgent species. Your commentary reminds me that those of us who have discovered their passion are the lucky ones. Wherever we are on the creativity continuum is a good place, because there is always more to explore, to grow, and to evolve within that creative endeavor.

  2. Perfect!
    Words fail to express how your “words” excite that dogged need to keep going, to feed the passion…whether in photography…or, as you so aptly wrote…”any creative endeavor.”
    Thank you, Otto.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing from the heart Otto. I was recently rejected from a second show in a row and became very down. I stopped painting for a couple weeks and felt like I never wanted to paint again, only to start again yesterday and re-discover the joy of creativity that does, indeed, supersede acceptance by others. I’m so glad you persevered with your project – the photos are powerful. Is there a way to see the project on-line?

    1. Unfortunately not. The site for the magazine is only for subscribers. I am happy the rejections didn’t discourage you completely. It is initially always a blow to our self confidence, but hopefully, like you, we get our head up again and find the joy of creating.

  4. I could not say it better than Sally. To be gifted and passionate about that gift, using it in your daily life is a rare blessing. You are truly fortunate dear Otto. I admire your tenacity and the genius that drives it.

  5. Your words are so important – to all the young out there, and to us a bit aged as well of course. We are mostly the same…I do not think mankind will change ….the inner core will stay put. So, thank you for the reminder, and let us set our minds straight in this. I also wonder if there is a way to see your project on line?

    1. Yes, mankind will most likely not change, we all feel left behind when circumstance goes against us. It’s very human. But all the more important to encourage and help everyone to get back on his or her feet. As for the project and as I mentioned in another comment, unfortunately it’s not available online except for subscribers of the magazine. I will probably at some point get back to it, though.

  6. Wise words indeed Otto and congratulations on your story. That’s quite a spread.
    I consider myself predominantly a landscape photography but here in Fuerteventura, a whole new avenue has opened up and I’m enjoying telling a new story with my photographs. The landscape photography doesn’t stop but my creativity has expanded to embrace what was put before me.
    We certainly can’t let the very natural desire for our work to be recognised to get in the way of the work that we do. Clearly, you don’t let it. I try very hard not to let it. Once again, congratulations on telling a story with your photography that very obviously needed to be told.

    1. Thank you, Adrian. Of course, I do get my desires in the way of my creativity. But being conscious about what is what and that the two are not related, makes it easier to get over rejections or disappointments. Sometimes at least. As to your work, I am happy that you have been able to expand you approach to photography, and I very much look forward to seeing your new work. 🙂

  7. Inspiring post Otto!

    “If Only” is indeed a downward spiral with no bottom. For myself it’s a continual learning process to see making my art and selling my art as two different things. Mixing them up just makes a mess that has to be cleaned up .

    Congratulations on having the work published!

    PS. Loved the printing press story! I had never heard about the wine press being the inspiration and will be sure to be sharing it.

  8. Very wise words in your interesting article, Otto. Never knew that the book press was based upon the idea of the wine press. And you are so right, if only is not the way to go in what ever you would like to do or become. Congratulation with your publication!

      1. I just took my very first photography class today to learn how to use my camera off auto. It was overwhelming. Now to practice! That is the tough part. Finding the time and learning how to use the different settings. I wish there was some kind of online tool that would guide you through it. I found one simulator but it only has one photo to play with but it helps you learn how to use the settings and what happens when you adjust them.

  9. Our craving for success and recognition can be so strong, however , the need to create no matter what HAS to take precedence and the rest will follow if one is lucky. It is important to stay tuned to yourself. Very good post, Otto, as so many testify.

  10. It is an easy trap or even natural trap that every one (or nearly) falls into. I think it is good to have some reminder to pull yourself out of the trap. This is a good reminding post. It also reminds me of reading one photographer (I do not recall her name now) says you shoot to please yourself not other. I think that also helps with this trap.

  11. Congratulations on being published. I’m not crazy about the phrase “if only” I’m more a “what if” kind of person. Not that it’s translated into some huge income in terms of my creative life, but am more happy in that mindset.

  12. Hello Otto,
    Not only are you a gifted photographer, but also a gifted writer.
    I am so very much enjoying reading your thoughts about being creative or in fact ‘a creative’ person. There is so much kind wisdom in this post that will carry me into my next projects.
    I’m so glad your article has been accepted too now. Congratulations to you.
    Thank you for an excellent read,
    Di 💐✨✨✨

      1. You’re very welcome Otto. I just tend to write what I’m feeling straight after reading a post…this was it, so I meant every word. Glad it meant something to you 🙋🏻💐

  13. sometimes, and this may or may not relate to creativity, i wish that i had never gotten sick and lost my career… i do think ‘if only’ but then i snap out of it. Because if I had not gotten sick, soooo many things that are soooo important to me, would not have happened…
    I don’t enjoy being sick, and i’m not sure i enjoy the trade off… i’m just saying that there are sometimes things that are more important, and that were my destiny wouldn’t be in my life…
    Though i enjoyed being a computer programmer, i took a misstep in my education, and DO think, if only i had taken the other fork in the road, instead of listening to a counsellor, i would have been able to have it all. and that makes me sad.
    i loved your talk on ‘if only’ and i will take it under advisement 🙂

    1. I most humbly read your story that you tell here. Some “if only”‘s are have without doubt more serious consequences. And I understand that thinking what could have been then, can hurt. Still, I see you move forward and do the best of the present situation. That takes courage. Thank you for sharing your story, Elaine.

  14. That was a very interesting read thank you for posting that. Please check out my blog I believe you would be interested

  15. I’m lucky in that “if only” doesn’t apply to my creative life. My photography has always been only for myself, and I’ve never desired for it to be anything other or “more” than that. As for life in general, I could write a book about “if only…” going all the way back to my birth! Honestly, I don’t dwell on such thoughts, since there’s nothing that can be done to change the past. We do the best we can with what we know at the moment. Unfortunately, regret only reveals itself in hindsight. Otto, I am glad you resubmitted your proposal and your story was published. Proving that persistence is more effective than “if only”!

  16. You touch on such an interesting piece of the human psyche ~ ” When we don’t get the acceptance we crave, that is when we start to think if only…” The crutch of “if only” is something that I think we all do, but in the right way it can be inspirational to make it “happen” and those are the stories to admire and be grateful for. Congratulations 🙂

  17. I’m glad you had a good outcome for your idea. I really appreciate your thought about “the difference between our creative abilities and the world’s reaction to it”. Words to live by!

  18. “Enjoy the process….and don’t get caught up in desires that may lead you from the path.” That sums it up perfectly. And don’t give up, too! Thanks for your encouraging words, Otto.

  19. It is interesting to reflect on the number of great artists, composers and writers who were not appreciated (and in some cases, rejected) in their own lifetime. No doubt they too had their ‘if only’ moments!

  20. As always, a great post, Otto. For me, my photography is something I do just for me, and I’ve never wanted it to be anything more than that. However, I DO understand your words here, and I believe you are truly an inspiration to so many.
    Thank you!!

  21. I did not know the fascinating back story about Gutenberg. You crafted a wonderful motivational piece based upon the disappointing rejection of your photo journalism idea. I can feel the sour bitterness that must have assaulted you at first. Good thing you are creative enough to crawl out of the pit of If Only.

  22. Et virkelig flott og ærlig innlegg som berører og er til ettertanke, Otto! Omsider har jeg såvidt begynt å børste støv av bloggen, som har ligget nede sååå lenge! Fikk bare stopp på alle plan hva motivasjon, kreativitet, og selvtillitt angår.
    Så kommer man til et punkt hvor man tenker at enten er det bare å kvitte seg med alt av utstyr, alle er jo så mye bedre i alt, eller så må man begynne på nytt,- og for min del ikke skule så mye på hva andre gjør og av den grunn gi opp, men heller kanskje bruke andres bilder som inspirasjon til fortsatt skape øyeblikk for meg selv, som gir MEG en glede… tanker kanskje litt på siden av dette innlegg,- men jeg er glad jeg leste det akkurat idag.
    Og gratulerer med publikasjonen, Otto,- det handler om å ikke gi opp, men kanskje finne andre veier inn til målet!
    God helg til deg 🙂

    1. Du har så rett i at vi ikke bør skule så mye til de andre, men gjøre det som kjennes riktig ut for oss selv og som gir oss glede. Men det er lett for, ikke sant? Uansett, er det kjekt å høre at du er i gang igjen. God helg til deg og.

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