The Inner Path of Photography

We yearn for the taste of the sacred…and through our cameras discover it, the world, and ourselves.

Tag: anxiety

How You Define Yourself: Do You Limit Your Creativity? Your Life?

Taos Mountain, snowstorm break

I’ve recently been musing about the changes I’ve gone through in my photography practice over the last few years.

From seeing myself primarily as a “black and white, natural light, fine art portrait photographer,” I’ve transformed into the woman who photographs fog at the beach…to one who’s addicted to capturing the subtleties of the ocean at its stillness and turbulence…to one who drops everything to run out and take pictures of the blizzard coming from over the mountain.

It surprises me a bit. Years back I had little interest in “landscape photography.” After all, with a psychotherapist background, it was natural for me to be interested in people. And the fascination of translating a person’s spirit into a visual image was compelling.

I’m still well along in my addiction to black and white photography and portrait taking. I continue to do it, both professionally and personally…and I’m still fascinated.

But I don’t define myself by it anymore.

I don’t limit my creative focus to only people and black and white photography, which at one point photographically was my one and only love.

And I’m happy with what has happened since.

By stretching and shooting what’s been in front of me, and being open to resonance with all kinds of subjects and circumstances, I’ve had unique experiences and captured images I never dreamt of. I look back at the body of work I’ve created so far, and I’m grateful and a bit awed by the magic and the beauty it represents.

But not defining oneself in the usual way can have its challenges.

I have to admit that when someone asks, “What kind of photographer are you?” it throws me off a bit. I don’t have the neat, tidy answer that I used to have: a phrase that was simple for me to say, and was easily understood and imagined by others.

And on a bad day, that question can also trigger my own insecurity.

“Good question,” I might immediately think. “What in the world kind of photographer am I?” For a moment I buy into the whole assumption that I should be able to define myself and my work in clear, simple language that anyone can grasp in a 5 second sound bite.

And my mind goes blank…for how can anyone really express their whole inner and outer work in one simple phrase?

The challenge of how we define ourselves is not unique to photographers, of course.
It happens to all of us in our daily lives.

People ask “What do you do?”

To answer truthfully, the person who has any interests or lifestyle other than going to one job with a definable title and then coming home and doing nothing else is in trouble. They have to scan all the things that they “do” and then, on the spot, make a choice of which interest they want to be defined by.

OK, practically speaking, I know that when someone asks, “What kind of photographer are you?” (or any other work or life defining question), they’re usually just trying to find a starting place for connection, have to check a box on an application, or have a host of other practical reasons for boggling your mind.

But I believe that many of us unconsciously take the question literally…and anxiously scramble for a “good” (reflecting that we are smart, together, worthy of having our work on your walls) answer.

Because deep down inside we believe that we should be able to label ourselves and our work.

Wow. Danger here. We’ve now stepped into the realm of shutting ourselves into boxes without even realizing it. I can hear the lids snapping shut now.

When we hold too rigid of a definition of ourselves, or try to fit, without reflection, into a specific category of photography, work or life, already labeled and described, we run the risk of shutting out creative possibilities. We leave no room for the unknown, which is where much of our inspiration springs from.

By focusing and working only in the usual, known framework, we may miss the opportunity to discover other, unexplored aspects of our being, and the amazing experiences (and images) that come along with those discoveries.

What if I had insisted on doing only portrait photography?

I wouldn’t have experienced the magic of trying to capture the beauty and stillness of fog. I would have missed the peace and satisfaction I feel when I look at those mystical images.

What if I had accepted the traditional way of being a psychotherapist, and not allowed myself to combine both interests of photography and counseling?

I wouldn’t have the inner knowing that comes from working more deeply in the “Honoring Inner, Creating Outer” aspects that I’m so drawn to. I wouldn’t have experienced the creative satisfaction and challenge of designing my Inner Path of Photography services, nor felt the joy of seeing my students’ eyes light up as they, too,  discover new ways to explore and express their innermost vision.

Some of my clients, when faced with a new way of shooting photographs, an unusual feeling, or different idea of living, exclaim, “I don’t do that. I’m not that kind of person!”

And my response to them is, “Are you going to define yourself the same way for the rest of your life? Is there no room for change?”

What different way of seeing yourself or your work have you been resisting that, if invited in, could possibly change the course of your photography? (Or at least re-inspire and make it more interesting!)

What new definition of who you are and who you can be, could enliven and enhance your life?

When we relax our self-definition and expand the way we see ourselves, we honor the complexity and mystery of life.

We celebrate the unseen and unknown wonders that wait for us around every corner.

In your photographic practice, dropping the label, tapping into the resonance you feel, and going with it creatively leads to experiences and images you cannot plan for.

In your life practice, being more open to change and letting go of out-dated self-definitions brings you the gift of an unforeseen richer reality.

Don’t limit your creative spirit. Don’t keep your life in a box.

Yes, the challenges are there. The fear of the unknown is real.
But what else do you have to do with your art?
How else do you want to live your life?

We all start somewhere…David Bowie’s demo recording, 1969

I was listening to mvyradio this morning as I was working, and a cut by David Bowie caught my attention. It was a version of “Space Oddity” I had never heard before…acoustic…and very personal. Before he even started playing, you heard him quietly say “I’m a little nervous.”

What? David Bowie nervous?

Turns out it was a demo from 1969, when he was first recording. Having to convince radio stations to play his music.

The DJ commented on the song after playing it. She, too was touched by the vulnerability in his voice, and shared my thoughts:

We forget that all talented people have to start somewhere….

That we all have our moments (often more or longer than we’d like) of vulnerability, insecurity, nervousness about our art.

I need to hear about other artist’s challenges, struggles, insecurity…as well as seeing how they persevere, trust their talent, and carry on with their work.

It gives me support in doing the same.

Too often we’re shown the obvious successes, and led to believe that that’s the only story…while in reality, we know that’s only part of the story. We want the highs, of course, but we also want to know that others know the lows are a part of it too. And then the successes become even more thrilling.

There’s a beauty in David Bowie’s vulnerabilty, and in the sound of his voice as he shares that he’s nervous. It makes his singing and talent even more beautiful to me.

Coincidentally, I also found this article today about David Bowie’s first fan fan letter and his response. Same beginner’s vulnerability.

May we all retain that pure innocence of simply enjoying our art, and appreciating someone else’s recognition and pleasure in it too.

What Happened? Follow up to “Photographer’s Anxiety: Making Choices”

I realized this morning that I posted some of the photographs that I finally printed after my anxiety jag (see postings on August 18), but didn’t share how I actually got to those images.

Curious? Have been in the same situation yourself? Here’s a short recap, to the best of my recollection:

I did go make myself lunch. Food is always good for me, it’s grounding, makes me take a break, away from my brain. Also I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten anxious, depressed, tired, etc. and then after spending far too much time psycho-analyzing myself and trying to figure out why I’m feeling bad (what am I supposed to learn from this? what am I blocking? what is this issue? etc etc)….I realize that I haven’t eaten and 90% of the mental distress is because I haven’t eaten and my body’s out of balance. Hungry body = Heidi’s wacko brain, emotions out of balance.

I’m not suggesting food as the answer to all inner angst, of course…but sometimes the basics (healthy food, sleep, exercise, and yes…sex!) go a long way as a first line of healing.

OK, so I’m well fed and happier.

Went back to the computer to browse the images again. Decided that I wanted to print images from my Martha’s Vineyard trip, because I haven’t spent much time with them, it’s been almost 2 months now, I already started a blog that I posted very little to,  and people keep asking me where my MV pictures are.

Plus some “icing on the cake” motivation is that I’d like to do some work in Martha’s Vineyard this fall or next spring/summer, things like retreats, workshops, Inner Path of Photography classes…and it would be nice to have something simple and visual to jazz up my project proposals and use in marketing.

Great, a decision has been made! Martha’s Vineyard it is.

But which images? I was there for 7 days, and have a folder for each day with about 100 images each. Here we go again.

So what did I do? I went with the energy, with my curiosity, with what turns me on.

As I browsed through the images, I realized that there were some that I thought I “should” print…because the woman I rented my cottage from would like to have those that I took of her place, because people who’ve never been to the Cape and Islands have never seen the type of houses/architecture that is there and I could show them that…on and on…all of the reasons to do what will make other people happy.

Yes, I would still like to do that. But as I mentioned before, I want to do fine art prints, and the images above felt like snapshots…I could print those out on my little HP printer in minutes, or throw them up onto a Google website, and people would be happy.

Some could eventually be printed as fine art prints…but they weren’t where my energy was drawn to, so I passed.

I’ve been very intrigued with beach photos in the past year, especially taking them at the end of the day in near darkness, or on rainy or foggy days. Remembered that I had some nice foggy shots, so went searching for them.

And finally found ones that felt good to look at, remember the experience, and want to express the magic, charm, joy, mysticism in them.

I’ve posted some of the results. Some rolled easily off the printer; others took more work at printing skills that I am learning.

I’ll post more as I work through them…

But the point I want to share here is that my decision making became clearer, and my anxiety decreased when I got in alignment with what personally gave me energy. Not what would give others energy, what I “should” print, or what was technically the best, most impressive image.

I followed my curiosity and willingness to be different. I printed what made me feel expansive. I allowed myself to re-engage with the feelings I had when I was shooting, and to celebrate the whole experience through feeling, printing, completing.

I also threw away my need for each image to be the ultimate shot. There were  some images that I wasn’t sure I liked, that felt potentially “boring,” but that were still calling to me. I played with them anyway, realizing the gift of my photo group that evening: What better place to take images I was unsure of and see what others made of them? I basked in the enjoyment of printing what I loved, and in the richness of anticipating the group support and creative exchange.

So that’s my story. More angst and anxiety to come, I’m sure…but getting back in the flow was great…and I’m still riding the wave 🙂

P.S. Photo group was great…lots of discussion, interesting work by all, great camaraderie, pizza, and wine!

Photographer’s Anxiety: Making choices

Today I finally have a whole afternoon that I can print photos. I scheduled it that way, and have been looking forward to it, particularly because a group of my photographer friends are coming over tonight to share our work.

“This will be great!” I thought, “I’ll have so many (wonderful, of course) images to show!”


I’ve been sitting here for the last 45 minutes, browsing through photo shoots with hundreds of images, trying to decide which ones to print.

And feeling totally anxious, truly,  physically anxious…my chest tight, hard to breathe, body tense.

What’s that about?! This is supposed to be fun!

I’m looking…looking…trying to choose…

I have photos from Martha’s Vineyard in June, photos from my brother’s visit and our trip to Galveston in July, photos from my niece and family’s visit to my mother’s in Connecticut. Photos from my latest move, images of my latest storage home :), images from the first day I moved into this beautiful housesit, squirrel images, rain images……aaaack!!

And I want to print them all…RIGHT NOW.

But I can’t print them all this afternoon. Why not? Because I’m not just printing snapshots, I’m printing fine art prints. Which involves making light and color decisions, choosing the best image among similar ones, making paper decisions, trying out prints, seeing what works best, coming up with the ultimate version that makes me happy.

And that takes time. And now I’m already running out of it. And I feel like I have to choose “the most important” images in order to use my time well. Plus, ok, honestly, I want to have something wonderful to show my friends tonight.

What else? Ahem…a little deeper: There’s a whole emotional piece here,  the proverbial elephant in the room.

I  can’t decide whether I want to go the family portraits route and get into that emotional connection, go the landscape direction and be in expanded ocean feeling, or go play with artsy documentation of the moving transition I’ve been making.

They all sound good! They’re all different feelings! I want them all! Now!

And any one of those directions also has the potential to make me feel…conflicted. Not as talented as I’d like to be. Bored. Wishing my life were different.

Crazy-making, right? No wonder artists get such a reputation for being neurotic! I guess we are 🙂

But “neurotic” in a good way.

I like my standards of excellence. I like seeing that I have many choices of artistic direction.

I like the feeling of creation and finally getting into the flow and seeing magic happen as the photos emerge on paper.

And I realize that there’s also the flip side of the creative process: the resistance, the fear of failure, the feeling that it must come out right as soon as possible, the not wanting to “waste” time even though you know that “wasting” time is actually part of the process.

The wanting to have it all, express it all, share the urgency of feeling/seeing all of this beauty and spirit with others, yet knowing that others may not appreciate it.

Hmm, another life theme  as well as a creative challenge. Wanting to do it all, resisting making choices, wanting to know the “right” one, afraid of wasting time. Wanting others to appreciate my efforts. Forgetting that my life’s path is not a rational, straight line, and that any choice will make things unfold, and the adventure will continue.

Enough! Here’s what I’m going to do.

Stop writing this blog.

Embrace my anxiety and delight in my artist’s dilemma (this anxiety must mean I’m a true artist, right? 🙂

Go in the kitchen and eat lunch.

And return ready…

…to be an amazing photographer, in the flow, listening to my inner knowing.

Ready to make some choices, let go of perfectionism,  see what my spirit finds to play with, find the magic, and enjoy the process.

Ready to share the outcome, whatever it may be, with others.

Stay tuned…

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