Monday, December 24, 2007

You will fail, get over it

Christmas Eve is probably as good a day as any to consider what lessons Christ can teach us about photography.

Since I am not a Christian this should be considered speculative but if I have it right, Christianity is about coming to terms with imperfection. Everyone has failures. No one is perfect, so G-d sent Christ down to lead a perfect life to atone for our imperfections. Christianity teaches us, "you will fail, get over it."

"You will fail, get over it." This should be the mantra of all photographers. Failure is integral to photography. The vast majority of all photos taken are unsuccessful. It has always been that way and it always will be. As I write this I am surrounded by several hundred thousand negatives that didn't work out, that I will never print. Embedded in them are the few hundred or so that I consider my successes, maybe one in a thousand. Why do I keep the others? Because they seem essential somehow, because photography is about failure, and to keep the winners and throw out the losers would somehow disrupt that relationship. Failure is integral.

I have a simple test to decide if a photo is successful or not. When I'm looking at the photo I imagine I am omnipotent and can go back in time to rearrange elements in the frame. If the photo would be improved by rearranging or removing any elements, the photo is a failure. As you might guess most images can be improved somehow, and are thus failures. That's why painters have it easy. If they don't like something they paint over it. Photographers can't. Photographers fail over and over and over again day in and day out.

Once in a while I shoot one that can't be improved.

The feeling these photographs give me can't be improved.

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