Where’s my head at?

Personal 28 Nov 09

Its that time of year again. I’ve lost my self confidence. I’ve lost the ability to see where I’m going with photography. I feel like I’m not doing what I should be. I look at what I want to be doing and something prevents me doing that. I don’t know what it is really, at least I can’t pin it down. Maybe it is simply a lack of self confidence. I tell myself I can’t do it so I don’t. Maybe…

I have two rather good projects to explore on my doorstep. One is a very personal project and the other is simply a documentary. I can go out and take ok photos. I’m sure people will tell me they’re good but they’re not. They’re safe shots. I want to be on a level above what I am now getting the real shots. I don’t mean photographing people dying in a war zone. I just want to feel like I’ve got the shots I want and not to feel like this. They put a new wheel up in Liverpool so I waited for dusk and photographed it without issue. I grabbed my gear, walked down the road and took photos. Nothing stopped me doing that. I want to be able to do the same for documentary work. I want to pick up my camera and take photos without issue, without my head holding me back.

Its all so absurdly stupid really. I’ve been doing street photography off and on for 4 years now. I find it just as hard now as when I first started. Aren’t you supposed to face fears, build confidence and grow from that? It hasn’t happened with me. I guess I understand things more now. I know that I’m not just photographing people walking around. I’m looking for moments. But when they happen I can’t lift my camera and they’re gone. Its so hard for me to go up to someone and ask to take their photo even after 4 years of practicing. Why?!

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I took this photo over 4 years ago. I walked past her initially but returned to ask for her photo as I felt it was worth it. Its a good shot. 4 years on and I’m still that same shy person. It makes no sense.

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I took this photo a few months ago in Southport. I wasn’t talking to her so I could sit there and take the photo. I was surrounded by friends and in a relaxed state of mind so I guess that helped. She was also willing to be photographed and at no point said otherwise so I didn’t even have to ask. I love this shot and I’d like to do more of this sort of thing.  Its 4 years since the other shot and these portraits are few and far between. Surely 4 years of progress would have given me the ability to do this all the time?  I should be able to go out and just shoot. Every single person I see is a potential photo, potential story.

I’m reminded of a quote by Richard Avedon. “I hate cameras. They interfere, they’re always in the way. I wish: if I could just work with my eyes alone.” I feel like the camera is holding me back. I have to lift it up to take a photo. Its like putting on a rainbow dress and jumping around waving rainbow flags while blowing a whistle. It feels like I stop engaging with the moment and try to photograph it. The moment is of course aware of this and changes into a zebra preventing me photographing what I just saw. I’m tempted to shoot docu work with just the 50mm. Partly to remove gear from the equation but also to make my camera smaller. I am tempted to even shoot with my AE-1 & 50mm as thats even smaller. I just feel like the camera is hindering things. I want the photograph but to get that I have to take the photo. Thats where things get tricky. I have to disengage from the moment and photograph it before its over…

You know I have no idea what I’m actually trying to do here. Writing this has just made me think. I know how to take the photo. See the moment, shoot. I know that damn it! See this is why I’m so frustrated and angry with myself.

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I took this photo at the 20th Anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. I saw what was happening, lifted my camera and took the photo. My head was clear. I knew I had to take that photo because it was important. This single moment said everything about the event. All I would have to say is that its 2 people at Anfield 20 years after Hillsborough and everyone would understand. So I can take the shots I want, the important ones. I can bend my camera to my will. So why am I so stuck? Do I need to be doing this every single day so the stuff in my head is beaten down?

In my heart I know that this is what I do best. Cityscapes, buildings, sunsets, etc are all nice but they’re safe. Outside of buying a new lens, trying a new processing style or finding a new building I’m not being pushed. Its all safe. Wait for nice light. Take photo. Easy. I want more than that. I want to see moments and photograph them. They’re right on my doorstep but I can’t.

Every year I get this and I’ve got no answers or resolution outside of keep going. I had this in 2007 and in 2008 and in 2009 on this blog. I guess all I really want is the confidence to take any photo I want and not feel this way every few months.

I’ll try and make my next post a happy one :)

by

Photographer and part time Spider-man.

Comments 13

  1. Todd Nichols says on 28 Nov 09

    Wonderful pictures! The third one has so much depth and sorrow! Great capture!

  2. Norbert Avaya says on 2 Dec 09

    Do you worry that you over-think and take this all too seriously? I like your work, but this post makes me feel that you are going round and round in circles. Self pity is the photographers worst enemy. If you want to do somethign differently then do it – or in 12 months time you will be posting another blog bemoaning your luck/how hard it is. Only you can make the changes, you can’t expect other people to make them for you.

    So what is your excuse? Just do it or stop moaning.

  3. Pete says on 3 Dec 09

    I don’t have an excuse. Its a simple thing of why after 4-5 yrs of this don’t I believe in myself as I should? Will I never? I do get out there and do things differently as I mentioned in the post. I just don’t know why my head makes things so complicated after all this time. Maybe its simply my way of pushing myself if I never feel like I’m doing good work. All I know is some days it really depresses me and I wanted to put it in writing… again.

  4. Mara Salami says on 3 Dec 09

    A litlle bit of self-doubt is never a bad thing. It means that you are never complacent. Yes tomorrow you will kick yourself for not taking that shot, capturing the moment. But you will remember how you felt today and it will push you to try further and you will strive harder for something better.

    You know you do good work. I am pretty sure you have people around that would tell you something was crap if they thought so. Trust them to tell you when you are slipping.

    And maybe consider if you have another day like this to stop looking to capture the moment and allow yourself to just enjoy them every once in a while. You do realise you are allowed a life away from behind the camera lens every now and then?

  5. Roar Lochar Ramberg says on 8 Dec 09

    I understand what you feel like and I have to a certain degree the same anxiety that you have because I feel that I am intruding when taking pictures, but still I love it. Don’t care, get some books from your favourite authors, read, learn, get their perspective and just go out and take pictures without giving a damn. Stand up for yourself and motivate yourself, set goals and pursue them with vigor and intent, and before you know it you’ll forget about the so-called bad times.

  6. Caza says on 11 Dec 09

    I think Todd and Norbert have missed the point slightly (no offence chaps!). I cringed slightly when I read Pete’s comment “Cityscapes, buildings, sunsets, etc are all nice but they’re safe. Outside of buying a new lens, trying a new processing style or finding a new building I’m not being pushed.” as this sums me up perfectly. I know exactly how you feel Pete. To shove a camera in someones face (telephoto or not) is extremely daunting. I tried a bit of street portraiture in London, to break out of the ‘easy stuff’, whilst there on business and the first person I approached said “if I take their picture they’ll knock me out and shove my camera up my ass”. I turned the camera off and went to the pub instead. I’ve spent so much time googling new post processing techniques that I’ve now realised I’ve missed the point of having a camera. It is tough Pete. If it was easy then …blah blah blah you know the rest. I really liked the street portraiture stuff you did in Liverpool and it has inspired me to do something similar in Warrington in the next couple of weeks. I’m hoping to tap into the droves of Xmas shoppers and hope they’ll approach me instead of me having to face my fear and stop and ask people!?!?!? (this is the point)

  7. Iain Woodside says on 12 Dec 09

    Having spoke to you the other day at St Georges Hall, it was obvious you need a new challenge,have the self belief in yourself as you have inspired sooooooo many, and not just in hdr or photos of Liverpool, you dont need the baggage you are heaping on yourself. Its like a sports star who has a dip in form or a comedian who thinks he isnt funny ( mind most of them are miserable tbh) ride it out. Cream will always come to the top.

    Instead of trying to go for different angles try new places,pop on the train or on a bike travel throughout Merseyside/Chester you know it makes sense : )

    keep inspiring and have a great Christmas

  8. Paul Buttle says on 21 Dec 09

    Hey Pete,
    Been following your work since I first saw it on TalkPhotography, you and I suffer very much from the same thing – self-doubt and a lack of confidence, I’ve walked past so many people and said to my girlfriend “they would make such an awesome photo”, she pushes me, telling me to ask them, I don’t, I’m a chicken, moment passes!!!
    The difference is, you have the natural god-given ability to make an image special, your work is truly an inspiration to ME, I love looking at it, I love the thoughts behind it and I enjoy looking through all your shots.
    Please keep it up, I would struggle to give you ideas to inspire you. But maybe, just maybe, the knowledge that I love your work and YOU inspire ME, might be enough…
    I wish you a very merry christmas and an awesome new year.
    Kind regards
    Paul

  9. dragos says on 21 Dec 09

    Just found out your blog. Lovely photos. You have a great style in post processing besides the HDR.
    I will come back, for sure!
    Greetings from Romania,
    Dragos

  10. Adam Bestwick says on 22 Jan 10

    To use a sports analogy, form is temporary – class is permanent.
    You may feel you’re treading familiar territory photographically, but, as far as I can see, you’re still doing great things.
    I enjoy all of your shots, and find them engaging and interesting, and as Iain says above, maybe you need to surround yourself with new people and environments and see what happens!
    ATB.

  11. G says on 29 Jan 10

    Strange though it may seem, you should cherish the fact that you worry about this, because so many in the people in the world have no idea what it’s like to have that need to create something. That need for artistry and output. Most people don’t know what it’s like to have a head bursting with ideas which need crystallisation, whether it’s in paint, in words, in a photograph.

    Every other person I meet claims to be a budding photographer, many of them buy an expensive camera, some even take some photos. But almost none of them have that need to. Almost none of them have that burning thing inside which you have – that which makes you stress out about not creating the images you want to create, and worrying about what stops you. It’s the side-effect of creative genius.

    As for your fears – it’s never about overcoming them – because that suggests they’ll go away when you get your head straight – it’s about overriding them with stronger emotions. If, at the moment you want to press the button, all you can feel is the fear of the situation and the anxiety of that moment, then you can’t move forward.

    You’ll probably never lose that feeling which rises up and wants to block you the moment you want to act on the impulse, but you have to drown it in the feeling of success you’ll have from taking the shot. The retrospective pleasure you’ll have for years to come on the picture you take, just as you have with those stunning images above.

    Instead of beating yourself up about it afterwards, you need to learn to beat yourself up at the time. In that instant when you need to make a decision to take a photograph, and every fibre of your being is making you chicken out, you need to jump forward in time to tomorrow and think about how annoyed you’ll be that you didn’t bother.

    You have to harness that feeling of regret from the future, and tell yourself not to live a life of missed opportunity. There are far, far harder things in life than taking a photograph, and far, far more risky things to do. You’ll feel fantastic afterwards, and you’ll be able to use that to make the next photo ever so slightly easier.

    Good luck.

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