week sixty-one — failure

note: this week’s shot comes from a photo walk through Lincoln Square. the full series can be found here.

i think artists (full disclosure: i’m not an artist — i just play one on the internet) have to have an intimate relationship with failure. progress is made through an iterative cycle of trying something, looking at/listening to it and realizing it’s godawful, making adjustments, trying again, and so forth… this feedback cycle is particularly obvious in digital photography. the time between creation and evaluating the result is extremely small compared to most other forms of art.

i’m honing in on ten thousand shots taken since buying my first digital camera about two and a half years ago, and i feel that i’m starting to hit my stride as a photographer. i have far more ideas and i have a far better understanding of how to execute those ideas. and it’s more than just a feeling…i can see a dramatic improvement in my shots now vs. two years ago. but this improvement hasn’t come without a cost…

when you start to have success (or, stop sucking), your expectations of yourself rise. you start to adopt a mindset of subtle arrogance. when you’re still in the sucking-at-something stage, screw-ups are welcomed because you see them as opportunities to learn. when you think you’re good at something, though, those same screw-ups are met with disgust. it’s easy to think you’re better than the screw-ups and just get down on yourself when they happen. i’m worried that i’m flirting with this stage in my photography.

a big warning shot came in the last 24 hours. i posted one of my shots from last week’s Fulton Market photo walk on 500px.com, and it did very well. it was my eighth straight photo to reach “Popular” status on the site and it climbed all the way to the top 1% — a humbling achievement for a hobbyist amongst professionals. but as the likes and favorites flooded in, i was alarmed by the rush i was getting from refreshing the page and waiting for the next notification. if i’m not careful, i’ll get addicted to that success and get down on myself when the next image inevitably fails to do as well in the internet popularity contest. i need to remember why i started photography in the first place…i need to fail more.

2 Comments

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  1. I like where you are going Kyle..I often have an unrealistic assumption that master/professionals/hobbyists get their final product in one try. Ironically, effortless work has an undisclosed amount of time and hard work put into it. When results start being of the desired quality and is recognized by peers it’s starts to be expected….this can lead to being "comfortable" or better put, safe. Why would I try anything new when I know this works? If not making mistakes is the goal, then being safe is a good place to be but to grow and improve the mindset needs to be, as you said Kyle, I need to fail more.

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    • it’s so true. a little bit of success is a dangerous thing. it has a way of subduing your hunger without really satiating it. i saw Whiplash this weekend, and JK Simmons has a line in there that’s something along the lines of: "the two most dangerous words in the English language are ‘good job’."

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