Monday, April 27, 2009

Dirty Inspiration

I love Mike Rowe. Don't know him? He hosts Dirty Jobs on Discovery. It's a fascinating series about the dirty jobs that help make this world run. (Kind of obvious based on the title, eh?). Mike talks about the episode he did surrounding the job of a sheep herder. It's a captivating and animated story that he tells.

A few things are impressed upon me from this video: the ideas of anagnorisis and peripeteia and the notion that your preconceptions are wrong.

Now, anagnorisis and peripeteia don't necessarily apply directly to photography, but work with me. Anagnorisis and peripeteia are literary devices. Wikipedia, the source everyone loves to hate, notes that anagnorisis means discovery in Greek. It's the sudden realization of a situation. In Greek tragedies, it was often preceded by a peripatetic event, a sudden reversal or turning point in the story.

With me so far? Good.

In the journey to become a photographer, one makes mistakes. A lot of mistakes. You forget to focus. You forget your batteries. You forget that larger f-stops give you smaller depth of field. You know, simple mistakes that affect how you achieve the photo you're going for. If you're paying attention, you learn from these mistakes. You have your "ahha!" moment. The lightbulb flicks on just above your furrowed brow right as you make the mistake and you think, "I shouldn't have done that!"

It's that realization that you've made the mistake that's important. But, not everything is a mistake. Many times it's understanding that what you just did failed for some particular reason outside of your control and figuring out why. Another "ahha!" moment. Discovery. Sounds so simple, right?

Yes and no.

When I started shooting, I had a brand new camera in my hands, a bunch of book learning in my head, and my personal experience amounted to a photographic hill of beans. In other words, I was fresh off the boat and I knew it all. All I had to do was get the camera off automatic, twist a few dials, and my inner magician would appear, flashing the scene with The Light Fantastic, and I'd have amazing and emotionally charged photos.

Great concept. Reality left a little bit to be desired. Ok. That's the understatement of the day. Blast! That's when I begun to realize that there was something more to this than whacking the Easy Button and waiting for the benjamins to roll in. As Mike put it, I had a bit of anagnorisis and peripeteia on my chin.

Mike touches upon this idea of challenging your preconceptions. He's right: what if it really is "Safety Third"? Think about that. It goes against your nature to even consider that. Right or wrong, what's important here is that you make the leap between what you know is correct and true to what is sheer crazy talk. It's this leap where the interesting ideas come from. I've often heard this as: when shooting with other photographers, if they start shooting something to their left, you start shooting to their right ... because something interesting is being missed over there.

In the end, what it comes down to is this: we spend our moments looking at what we're doing and testing ourselves in order figure out a better way to do it. If you're good, you question yourself and your routines. If you're better, you listen to those questions and do something with the answers.

Me? I'm going to go wipe these bloody bits of anagnorisis and peripeteia off my chin and find something right to shoot.

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