(No risk. No reward.)
About this post:
This week I was the victim of extreme cyber bullying. I had a very difficult time with it. My Professor strongly urged me to write a post articulating the devastating effects of this type of negative, non-constructive commentary. In the interest of transparency, I am receiving extra credit for this essay; thank you for reading anyway.
Bridging The Gap
Whenever I was set to begin a new chapter of my life, or undertake a difficult project, or face a scary health issue, my Dad always said, Put your best foot forward. You can do anything you set your mind to, my pet. Or, as he inscribed in the cover of my first bible:
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might;”
It seems as if I am perpetually figuring out who I am capable of being and then trying hard to become that person because I feel that only then will I be living up to my potential and accomplishing all those things of which I am capable. I hope I am making this effort with all my might. At the moment, the work my hand findeth is my quest is to become a better photographer. I am halfway through a year-long photography course, the curriculum of which has violently knocked me out of my comfort zone and into what is, for me, both unknown and uncomfortable territory a lot of the time. First is the diversity of subject matter. I am not quite sure of my genre as yet, I only know it involves nature and agriculture – animals, birds, bugs and creepy-crawlies – almost all living things.
Not, NEVER people, and not usually architecture or indoor photography and yet, for this course, all are regularly on the menu. The second stressful element is showing my work and facing criticism, both of which are frightening and intimidating to me.
On Ansel Adams:
“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
This class is meant to bridge the gaps in my knowledge, skills, artistry, design, confidence, and product/brand management. The main tool utilized by the professor is “Show Your Work” in all it’s stages. Or, in the words of Ansel Adams, how you make your photographs. The art of designing – making – a photograph, of creating an image that is superior to a mere snapshot, is one of the gaps I am seeking to bridge with the help of my teachers and mentors.
Our forum for showing is Flickr, the social media site preferred by my Professor and by most professional photographers. I currently have a few thousand images on display; some straight from the camera, some partially edited and some that are finished with post production. This has, for the most part, been a pleasant experience. I’ve enjoyed reading the comments and suggestions made by my prof, my TA and my class members. None of that feedback would have been possible without showing my work.
On Eleanor Roosevelt:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
In a social media world abounding with opinions, there exists a culture devoted to shame and humiliation through criticism, ridicule and hatred using rude, cruel, personal, misogynistic and crude commentary. Flickr is no different. Some of these comments are absolutely devastating. Thin skin is embedded deeply within my DNA and in situations like this, all my insecurities, all my self-doubts rear their ugly heads, each clamouring for attention. Comparison is my nemesis; my fear is of not measuring up, of not being good enough, of not having learned enough or tried hard enough. Of always, falling short. Of being less than, then. In short, I consented. My professor responded to this line of thought: Do not always assume you are being measured. But regarding the insulting narrative that was posted to my account, he advised me to look upon feedback (not his, of course) as nothing more than idle observations – not insults, just a casual interpretation that will be a mere footnote to my story. Just an observation. I’ll try.
On risk and reward:
Nullum periculum, nullum praemium.
Thankfully, some of the comments are the opposite; are not vitriol-fuelled and are indeed complimentary. Some are made by fellow photographers, expressing admiration of a wildlife “get” or of good lighting or composition or kindly suggesting ways to improve a shot based upon their own previous failures and successes. Having been down that road, they hope their experiences might be of use to me. Some compliments are from my professor and, as he is very stingy with those, they are feathers in my cap. Some sweet comments are made by my friends, offering their praise for shots that have appealed to their senses. In many ways these are my favourites because it means I’ve perhaps captured the emotion of the moment for others to see. Particularly exciting for me is that three famous wildlife photographers have, exclusive of the course, begun following me and their comments are invaluable because they are exactly who I want to become one day. Despite the obvious risks, these are the splendid rewards.
Whilst most critiques are offered in an artistic and instructional forum, cyber bullying does happen – very publicly – on all social media sites. In my case I was unprepared and shocked by the degree of hatred expressed. It hurt. I cried. But…
I’d like to believe that my skin is now a little thicker and that I’ve gained a fresh and informed perspective. I plan to continue showing my work just as before, stretching to reach my capabilities and potential; putting my best foot forward, with all my might, trying to bridge my creative gaps.
In Cornelius Ryan’s oh-so-famous words, I only hope this adventure is not a bridge too far for me.
‘Til next time, y’all…