My background is science. Microbiology to be specific. Now I spend my professional life listening to complex problems and trying to help people navigate their way through to an acceptable computer solution to those problems. Although the problems can be messy and ill defined, success (and failure) usually is a little easier to tie down. You know when a job is done well, when a customer is happy. You complete a project and tie it up with a nice little bow and move on.
But what about photography? How do you know when you are doing well? How do you measure success? What is success?
When I approach a technical problem I usually start from the end. I imagine what the end state will look like and then work back to where we currently are. It’s like doing a maze on a paper. If you start from the end all the options fall away and you are left with a clear path back to the start. My wife calls this cheating. I don’t know if I agree with that.
So let’s start there. What is success with photography? Riches? World renown? A little positive feedback?
Actually I haven’t got a clue. Maybe a little bit of all? Maybe none of the above. And if I don’t know I can’t use my normal process. I’m an analyst at sea, no starting point.
In this case it is easy to try and think of your whole life as an end point and forget there is the slight matter of living life. Even if I could say my end goal is to be a famous photographer, I’d have to get there. And to do that my photos would have to not only be good, but they’d have to have value. No paintings of dogs playing cards please!
So then what about another problem solving technique? Find different but similar problem space and look for solutions there? This is a bit of a hackneyed example, but let’s talk about Mozart and Beethoven for a moment. Both produced transcendent works of art. Both look impressive in brass statues. Both have inspired countless humans since their times. But they were remarkably different as artists.
By all accounts Mozart was a truly unique individual. The music flowed effortlessly, intuitively. A stone cold child prodigy. Enough to make mere mortals weep. It makes me sad to say, I’m no Mozart.
But what of Beethoven? Someone who wrestled huge gorillas of self doubt and torment. Someone who had to make endless mistakes to move forward an inch. Now there is someone to take inspiration from.
Maybe an artist is really a process. Not an end state but (trying not to sound like a pretentious fool here) the progression and development of a set of skills. Maybe it is not grandiose delusions of fame but small incremental steps. Slow improvement and investigation into technique and history. Maybe art is not the product but the steps the work that go into creating it.