Imagine yourself standing on the edge of a canyon, preparing to hike to the other side. Below you can see trees, rivers flowing through the canyon, and the beauty of the landscape surrounding it. From your privileged position, you can see the entirety of the terrain, the path down and back up the other wall of the chasm, and the ending point of your journey.
It seems so simple, and you have plenty of energy for the hike. You’re excited about the possibility of reaching the other side, and you set out on an aggressive pace. However, as you descend into the canyon, you become less certain about your position. The tall trees make it difficult to navigate, and the steepness of the decline is taking a toll on your knees.
In the midst of your hike, you can no longer see the end objective. The path that was so clear at the top is now difficult to discern. At the bottom of the canyon, you suddenly realize that you have a long, uphill climb in order to complete your hike by sundown. However, this is where you training kicks in, those long hours of practice beforehand, and you find some new energy. Finally, that is if you haven’t given up, just before the sun slips over the horizon, you step onto the ledge of the opposite site. As you turn around and glance back, you have a newfound respect for the canyon that seemed so simple and traversable at the outset.
The journey through the canyon is similar to how every creative endeavour takes shape. In his book Lourder than Words, Todd Henry tells that artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon once shared with him a bit of advice she received from an art teacher who had greatly impacted her life. The teacher told her that every creative project, regardless of what kind, has a U shape. You begin the project with a clear plan and great enthusiasm, but as you engage in the work your energy for the project begins to fade. Things that once seemed simply when you were at the top of the curve are now complex, muddy, and unclear. What appeared clearly in your mind is no longer so straightforward. This is the point where many give up.
However, if you stick with the project through the deepest part of the U, your passion begins to swell again, patterns form, you eventually find the path, and your energy level returns, perhaps even in greater measure. When this happens, the resulting work is better than ever seemed possible in the valley of despair.
Every creative project—writing a book, making a painting, doing a photo project, building a blog—follows the same U shape. If you rely solely on your emotions to guide you, it’s likely you’ll give up just as you are on the uptick again. Instead, you must be guided by a larger vision for your work, and keep the goal in sight, even when it’s obscured by complications and frustration.
The key is to remain focused on your vision and embrace the journey. As famed sculptor Auguste Rodian remarked, “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely”. The peaks, the valleys, and the struggles in between are all useful in pointing you towards the brilliance that’s being called out for you.
Talking about canyons, earlier this month I put together a monograph of photos from one of the many canyons I have visited. I have for a long time thought about making it but finally, I got around to do. I got through the U shape of this project. The photos were taken on a backpacking trip I made a few years ago with my partner. We went with tent and sleeping bags into Canyonlands National Park in Utah, USA, in one of the most spectacular landscapes I have ever experienced.
You can get the eBook for free here: The Colours of the Earth.
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Photo Workshops and Tours in 2023
These are the photo workshops I and Blue Hour Photo Workshops plan for this year.
“The Personal Expression”—a weekend in Bergen, Norway with focus on how to develop your personal, photographic expression. June 9th to 11th 2023.
”Along the Streets of Prague”—five days in the beautiful city of Prague, The Czech Republic. This is a jewel in the middle of Europe with its historical, cultural and human melting pot. September 7th to 10th 2023.
”Photo Tour in Granada”—a week in Nicaragua for the adventures. We will explore the colonial city and its extraordinary countryside. October 23rd to 31st 2023.
”On the Tracks of Che Guevara”—ten days in eastern Bolivia. This is a great opportunity to discover one of the most beautiful countries in South America. October 23rd to 31st 2023.
Are you interested in developing your photographic skills? Do you like to travel? Do you want to make your photos tell a story in a much stronger vocabulary? Find your own expression? Develop your vision and become more creative? Any of these workshops would take your photography to the next level. I promise you, you will be in for an amazing experience. Click any of the links for more info.
21 thoughts on “Getting Across to the Other Side”
What an interesting post, Otto! I have never before heard of an U shape project. Many thanks and all the best:)
And thank you for the comment Martina. I hope you are doing well.
I can relate, though sometimes it’s easy to get stuck at the bottom of the U! Anyway I heartily recommend to all your readers to download the monograph, beautiful photography on display!
It’s very easy to get stuck at the bottom. Thank you for the recommendation. Much appreciate, Jane.
Once you’ve reached the bottom of the canyon, giving up would mean climbing back up to your starting point, which would be as difficult as continuing and climbing up to the opposite side, so you might as well go forward.
That is of course one way to say it. And I like the thought pattern. However, there might be other ways out of the canyon…
We absolutely agree with Steve.
We like your metaphor of hiking. It seems to us that this U-shape is one way to describe life as a process. It’s like the seasons, without autumn and winter no spring and summer.
The Fab Four of Cley
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
It is like seasons—or the stages of life. All the best to both of you.
great advice and a wonderful way to look at life, with all of its challenges and triumphs over them
Thank you for commenting, Beth.
Going /sliding down it one thing!!! Getting back up another in many phases and situations in life.. What incredible places these canyons are. I burst into tears at my first site of the G Canyon.
Canyons are spectacular, aren’t they. And yes, it’s a different story going down into them than getting up again.
Off topic, but I have been meaning to ask you about something. My niece earned a scholarship to the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) and has been making weekend trips to other countries while she is there. She is headed to the Netherlands soon and wants to see the fjords. Do you have any recommendations for the best place she should go see?
Hi Michelle. Sorry for the late response. I have just been all over lately. How nice for your niece to have been granted this scholarship. As for the Netherlands, there aren’t many fjords. However, in Norway, on the west coast, there are plenty of fjords. She could fly into Trondheim, Stavanger or Bergen. I would maybe recommend the latter (incidentally where I live). From here you can reach a bunch of fjords. One of the classical tours is taking a train up in the mountains, change to another train, that goes down a deep valley, out to a fjord steeped by mountains, and then head out with a boat through the fjord and back to Bergen (More info here: https://www.norwaynutshell.com/original-tour/)
I’m not sure why I wrote Netherlands. I did mean Norway. Thanks for taking the time to respond, Otto. Can’t tell you how much it means.
By the way, if your niece decided to visit Bergen—and I am in town—she is welcome to contact me.
Thank you Otto, that is very kind and I will let you know.
I meant I will let her know. Thank you.
Utah definitely has some of the most spectacular landscapes in the world. You could spend a good portion of your active life exploring them all! My favorite is Bryce Canyon.
I love Bryce Canyon as well. And yes, Utah is quite spectacular, in general.