Profound wisdom is generally simple and always widely applicable. Consider the 2,500+ year old proverb of King Solomon, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."
I've recently discovered another profound wisdom relevant to us all. Ironically, I've lived it out for years without ever articulating it. This one simple belief has protected me from discouragement and despair. It has fueled improvement in everything from my relationships to my photography.
Have you ever noticed that an image you once prized slowly gets demoted from portfolio to gallery, down to a sentimental "keeper" that takes up hard drive space? On the flip side, have you ever gone out photographing one week and then the next week improved by 5,000%? I mean you go from doubting your images to confidently submitting to National Geographic's "Best of". If you answer "yes", sorry, you're delusional. We don't improve like that in one week.
For example, look at this image below from 2004. Eight years ago I snapped this photo in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. I rated it 4 stars. What?!? Today, when reviewing images I'd pass right over this one. I'm not moved by the geometry, the gestures, colors, nor the distractingly bright dirt hill. 4 stars was relative to me, to where I was at then. I worked with Matt Brandon in 2004. If I were comparing myself to the images he produced at the same time I would have given this a 1 star or zero. Nothing I could do would transform me into a photographer at Matt Brandon's level in a week's time.
Now 8 years later consider this image below from last week. Remarkably a more powerful image. And I rated it only 3 stars. Nonetheless, I'm drawn to it's color, texture, contrast, geometry and gesture. Also, the story behind this image is sweet. This woman is the aunt of a new friend I made. We talked and shared tea together. She was genuinely interested to know about us "outsiders" and we truly valued her "old school" way of life. Despite the social distance often maintained between male and females in Turkey, especially in a remote village, Mehmet's aunty trusted me. This opened up the opportunity to make this image when she wasn't necessarily expecting it. Instead of being startled, she chuckled at me and wanted to see the image. She loved it.
The transition to making better images--which never ends--came not by waking up one morning determining that I'd improve 5,000% or by following some gimmicky method. Not through positive thinking, meditation, or a $20,000 workshop. It came through Consistent, Unceasing Commitment to Small Improvements Over Time.
I heard a pastor once say that young people expect too much too soon and don't expect enough in the long run. Put me in the "guilty" crowd for that one. In the short run we get discouraged and then don't live to our potential.
If you believe firmly in the wisdom of Consistent, Unceasing Commitment to Small Improvements Over Time then you'll rarely get discouraged. The belief produces action and endurance as you affirm minuscule progressions. These progressions compound into deeper and deeper fulfillment in your work, relationships, and so on.
The next time you photograph or produce a story, be intentional about learning one new thing and making one new improvement each shoot. You might learn something about people as you interact with them, about what the eye communicates if you wait long enough to listen to its glimmer. You might improve your ability--just a smidgen--to predict moments. Or you may simply improve how strategically you pack your bag. Or figure out that Eneloop batteries are better than Energizer and therefore NOT miss that moment next time!
Your improvement is like an hour glass, one granule a day. Relax, be patient, don't be so hard on yourself… but be very intentional about Consistent, Unceasing Commitment to Small Improvements Over Time.
Disclaimer: While IGVP strives for unity and clarity of vision, each blog author is responsible for his or her own words, links, and references. They do not necessarily represent the many voices and opinions of individuals within the visual peacemakers movement, the Guild, or the IGVP Founders.