Vårløsning i elven ned fra Tarlebø, innerst i Isdalen

Too often I don’t reach completion with my photo projects: That last step that makes photos shine. Why? Well, laziness maybe, it’s just so much easier not to make that final stage—and anyway, the photos look beautiful on my screen. I know most photographers are prone to the same shortcoming.

What am I talking about? Printing, of course—or at least showing your work to an audience. In the idea of a print lies the concept of 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. That is, 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 should I said ought to be. Because in reality with today’s digital world most photos never get out of the computer, we check them when we download them, and process some of 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.

Our photos 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 book The Print and the Process: «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».

54 thoughts on “Completion

  1. Occasionally I print a photo for a competition at the camera club, but am always surprised what shows up that I didn’t see on the computer. I show my photos on my blog and occasionally on Flickr but dropped FB, because the more time I spend on FB, the less time I spend with people in person. There are photos waiting to be hung on my wall.

  2. I have a problem releasing my work into the world. Partly because I want to keep them for myself for a while, partly because I hate the process of selling things. I like that quote though. Thanks for nudging me in the right direction 🙂

  3. This is very true. Last week I started printing out photos I thought were quite good. I printed little 4″ × 6″ on my home printer. It was interesting see that some that looked ok on the screen really didn’t work as printed photographs. Others surprised by looking better than I expected. I am putting them in an album for now but will eventually get the best of the best printed at a photo store. Not sure what I’ll do with them then but the project is giving me a sense of completion.

    1. This is exactly why printing make sense. Particularly for those who aspire to make books with their photographs, nothing is like having physical prints in the editing process.

  4. I’m guilty of not sharing. I do usually process any photos I take, but as you point out, I often close the file and move on. Sometimes in going back through my stuff looking for something in particular I’m pleasantly surprised by how good some of the past images look. But for me, I think photography serves mostly as a way of slowing me down and sharpening my senses so that I can appreciate the beauty all around me. Interesting topic.

    1. Even if you use photography for other purposes than itself, it would still make sense to see the best work on print. I know you have excellent photographs that would come to their right on a wall.

  5. I tend to re-share old favourite photos now I can’t get outdoors walking so much, but the reality is that I should share more of the photos I’m not so keen on to get some constructive criticism.

    When it comes to blogging online, one tends to get too many lovely positive comments as people don’t like to cause offence. I find starting a comment on someone’s post with a positive, and then a constructive criticism, and finally ending on a positive note selecting an image in a series which I love, a good way to offer criticism.

    I used to print off many photos early in my 8-9 year photography hobby, but it was costing a fortune in ink cartridges on my 3-in-one printer, so I don’t do it any more. I DID find my images didn’t look so good printed though. It’s almost as though printing them shows up all their flaws and poor focus.

    I really would like to see more of your own photos, Otto. I really learn a lot from the images of professional photographers who actually make a living from their craft. I think I may have mentioned this last year. Perhaps you might consider my request and make one post per month with just a series of images and a brief sentence under each stating why you took that image OR what drew your eyes to that scene (or subject)?

    1. Thank you for the last lovely words. I am considering your suggestion (and did already when you mentioned it first time). But this last half year or so have just been to busy, so much that I have hardly been able to keep with my regular blogging, as you may have notice. Nevertheless, I do like your idea – and want to put it into life as soon as I get a chance.

      As for printing your own work, yes, it can be revealing, but that is also part of why it’s so valuable – for better and worse. By the way, yes, printing on your own printer is expensive. I find that consumer printing facilities often can do it much cheaper and even better on real photo paper.

  6. I began Lagniappe, my photo blog, precisely in order to share photos with others. It’s quite satisfying to offer them for others’ inspection, and to see what appeals, and to whom. Just last week, I finally took the plunge and sent a few in to a photo contest. Now that I’ve done that, and know the rules, I’ll be looking throughout the year for other photos that will meet the quite specific criteria. It’s rather fun, really — and at this point the winning isn’t the point. Getting the work out there is.

    1. Blogging is an excellent way to get your photos out to an audience, as you point out. Photo contests as well. I wish you all the best in your first try entering a contest.

  7. I understand, Otto…I therefore send my stuff to FaceBook and local FB groups with local interest. Printing, has been of interest for me for a long time but I have given up…as it is very expensive and hiring a gallery even more so…competitions are a no, no..who is to say that one photo is better than another..ludicrous.

  8. Great article, Otto, and I agree with you . Although besides blogging I do print my photo’s ever so often to hang in my house. I decorated the main entrance hall next to my front door as well, because I thought it does not so look cheerful and bright. Sometimes I make postcards and a local stores sells them for me. But that’s all in fact no contests , magazine’s or so. Why you may ask , I think when I look for instance at your photographs I do realize I am a hobbyist.

    Thank you for sharing,

    1. You know what I think about comparing with others… Just go with your own work – and I think it’s great that you are able to display it on your walls at home as well as using your photographs to print postcards.

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  9. Right. I can’t print everything anymore but I do have a book printed every year (usually after Thanksgiving) that contains 40-60 images. I have several copies made for certain friends and family and one for myself. My walls are full of prints so I’m not looking to make large format prints but the hard copy book is the best compromise, at least for me.

  10. i have to take it all the way to getting COMMENTS on my pictures, or it’s not ‘completion’… i’m kinda bad that way in fact

  11. Wonderful points! I realize this with my paintings and sketches too. Time to hang them up or give them away… do something other than leaving them in a stack in the closet.

  12. The photo is absolutely gorgeous. Some of my favorite photos have never left the file on the computer. You have given me something to think about, Otto. You always inspire.

  13. An interesting and stimulating post Otto. I would like to suggest that the term ‘audience’ might include an audience of one – the photographer – and not necessarily intended for a wider public. ‘Purpose’ is a factor both when considering both audience and completion

  14. Would you believe I don’t have a single one of my pictures printed and hung on my walls? I did have some back in the day when pictures on computer screens weren’t really a thing, but now? [Sigh] With as many shots as we can easily and cheaply take in this digital age I think it’s also tougher to pick favorites to print. Guess sharing on the blog will have to suffice.

  15. I agree with your thoughts about finishing the job, developing the concept, etc. I did have to laugh at myself, though, because I have a ton of photos that only sit quietly on hard drives because they refuse to “finish” in a way that matched what I envisioned. I’d bet that is the case for a lot of photographers. Maybe. As always, your writing is thoughtful and challenging. Thank you!

  16. It seems you wrote this article just for me ! I like editing (make a selection) and printing as well. But I should do more to have my photos seen from other people, not only my friends. Next november I’ll have an exhibition at my club only of my Polaroids, some will be presented as they are, other will be scanned and printed larger on cotton paper, I’m already working on this project. The fact to have a deadline is very useful not to disperse my energies!
    But some of my works always stay in am undefined state, partially edited, partially printed…
    I do not make resolutions at the beginning of the year: I usually make (sometimes) after summer holidays as when I was at school, so next resolutions will be, is to work more on this stage of my photography!
    Thanks for the prompt Otto!

    1. Sounds great with the exhibition of your Polaroids. I wish I could be there for the opening. At least you are one of maybe few photographers I know do make prints, but I still think your summer resolution is a good one (I might have to adopt it myself).

  17. This is an important point, and it’s so true that our images can get lost in the haste of everyday life. For me, I think I’m getting a lot of them “out there” via the blog, and Flickr too, but the printing part! I need to do that, I keep telling myself but I never get to it. So thanks for the reminder. (I too like Ken’s idea of the annual book).

    1. Yes, the annual book is a great idea. Like you I do get my images out there on the blog and Instagram (as well is publications I am hired to shoot for ), but I still need to make more regular prints, too. 🙂

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