Recently I found some wonderful old fairground equipment and other discarded objects in the woods, and shot a roll of beautiful photographs of it.
The sun was low, and the combination of long shadows, watery light, melting frost and decaying machines were a tantalising and breathtaking combination.
Except when I got home I realised the film hadn’t wound on.
So every time I had clicked the shutter, it took the photograph on the exact same piece of film – the first frame.
Meaning there was no physical evidence of my 36 captures, no film to develop and make photographs from, no record of those dreamy long shadows, watery sunlight and decaying machines…
At first I was annoyed and frustrated. What a waste of time!
But very soon after I considered the experience again.
I might not have the photographs to show for my unexpected adventure in the woods. But I still went there.
It wasn’t a dream (though it felt like one – a wonderful one), I still saw what I saw.
I still carefully composed each of those 36 shots in the viewfinder and captured them with my eyes before pressing the shutter.
I still took the photographs, I was there, in the act of creating, making the artwork.
And because I tend to be able to absorb my surroundings pretty vividly – with or without camera – I can close my eyes and recall most of the compositions I saw before me that morning in great detail.
Added to this, when we consistently show up and create, the days and the dates all blur together anyway.
Already I can’t remember if this was last weekend or the one before, because I’ve taken many photographs since, and had many others back from the lab, from before and after that time.
Having physical, material evidence of our work is of course valuable.
It means we can present and share our work with others, as well as collect and archive it ourselves.
We then have the opportunity to review our work, notice themes and patterns and progressions, and it helps us keep evolving, keep becoming better artists.
But it’s vital that we immerse ourselves in the process of actually making the art so much that it becomes almost irrelevant how much or how little we have to show for it afterwards.
I would rather take a camera with no film in it and shoot the best and most beautiful photographs I could find in the most interesting and stimulating places, than use a camera with film in to shoot a thousand mediocre photographs in a half hearted way.
We cannot create amazing work – we cannot create our best work – unless we first show up, and second, create with all we have.
Beyond that, the physical evidence of our work is icing and cherries – a bonus that is precious, but one that cannot be precious unless the experience of creating was there in the first place.
That icing is only delicious in combination with the cake it adorns, you wouldn’t want to eat it by the spoonful on its own.
How often are you creating with so much focus and immersion that it would almost irrelevant afterwards whether you had anything to show for it or not?
Or are you more often creating just for the sake of creating, going through the motions, churning out the same work over and over, an artist on autopilot, with plenty of evidence to show, but little worth looking at?
These are questions we need to ask. I encourage you to do so too.
Let me know what you come up with.
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