Saturday, March 12, 2011

Mediocrity (and the Pressure to be Great)

The hardest thing is taking mediocre photographs. The bad ones are easily discarded, and the good ones are eagerly displayed. But those in the middle - it's always hardest for me to decide what to do with them. I'm talking about the ones that aren't great photographs, but have something in them, maybe just a single isolated quality, that I have a hard time tossing aside. I want to share that quality, but I don't want to devalue my photography by producing a lot of subpar material.

And yet, if I think about it, I've already made the decision. There are other photographers that produce only high quality work (although the truth of it is that they only share their high quality work), and as much as I envy those photographers for being so talented and so professional, they're not me.

I'm still only learning - honing my craft, if you will - and I'm probably not at a level where I can pump out a heavy concentration of high quality material. Although admitting that - and each time I share a mediocre photograph, I am admitting that to myself and the world - still makes me feel uncomfortable.

But additionally, I've already decided that the photographs I share with the world - at least through the venue of my flickr photostream - are not to be considered the best selection of my work. This is not a portfolio to show off my skills. It is more like a scrapbook, where all of my work goes (all of it worth holding onto, anyway). And there is value in that, despite the complaints you'll hear from people who feel they are drowning in a deluge of amateurs producing quantity over quality.

My work is not just about the end results (the good photographs); it is a process, and a document of my progress through the years - both as an artist, and as a human being. So the near-misses that merely hint at something of interest are important, because they point the way toward future successes. And while many artists undergo this process in the dark - behind closed doors, as it were - keeping their failures and their mediocrities to themselves, I have chosen the path of transparency, sharing my humanity and my fallibility with the world.

Because one thing I resent is the image of the "professional" - the talented laborer who produces only works of great ability, who never fails. And the fact that the process from amateur to professional is so frequently hidden. It promotes the idea that we are not allowed to learn, and we are not allowed to be amateurs. We must toil in the dark until we are perfect, and only then can we show ourselves to the world. Otherwise we risk the ridicule of being compared to the greats, and coming up short beside them.

And that is exactly the trepidation I feel every time I share a work of mediocrity, because I couldn't bring myself to destroy it simply because it wasn't great. But I'll make that sacrifice in the hope that it will inspire other future artists and professionals not to be afraid to make mistakes - because they must be made if one is to learn from them. And maybe someday, the climate will change, and people won't be so afraid of failure. Because you cannot succeed once without failing many more times first.

And furthermore, if there is something in a work of mediocrity worth saving it from the trash bin, then others may see that, and may benefit from it, even though the work is not great. They may be inspired towards greatness as a result. Or it may simply be enough to brighten their day. Not everything in the world is great, nor can it be.

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