Photography and vulnerability
Over the nine months that I’ve been in the Arcanum as a member of Martin Bailey’s cohort, I have learned a great deal and have become quite knowledgeable in certain niche areas of photography, but I need to learn much more, and within the cacophony of tantrums spurned by the ever-present and pesky low photographic self-esteem, perhaps still too much to learn to feel worthy of being on this path. However, a key to becoming a master is to wait for that whiny low self-esteem imp to mature into the more constructive and useful older sibling called vulnerability.
Low self-esteem is being afraid of becoming wounded or hurt by others to the point of inflicting it upon oneself instead; it’s easier. Vulnerability, on the other hand, is being open to being wounded or hurt and taking those wounds and having the patience and will power to let them hurt; and hurt they should, but to have the foresight that they will scab over and become less painful over a surprisingly short time to become part of your skin; a new skin; an addition to you. It is difficult to be vulnerable, and being an apprentice in the Arcanum has allowed me to be a more vulnerable artist and person in general.
Case in point. Over the course of my first 20 levels, the numerical scores of my four critiques progressively declined to the point that at the last critique at Level 19, I did not earn much above the required score to move on. Boy, did my low photographic self-esteem kick in with a vengeance! I can’t lie nor should I; I felt horrible, not because I felt I didn’t deserve the low-ish score – not at all, but that I was getting such low scores and still consider myself a photographer. Why was I on it by deservedly earning such non-stellar scores? I took several deep breaths and forced myself to fight back the self-pity, the incorrigible bratty doppelgänger of low self-esteem, with my newfound skill of vulnerability. I let it hurt for a day by letting this little brat have its tantrum until it tired itself out. I had to be patient, to know that it would end – not fight with it and, more importantly, not coddle it. I knew my vulnerability would eventually take over to help force a pacifier filled with much needed logic into the brat’s gaping maw.
I came to realize that to become a better photographer, artist, human, it is essential to become a sort of logical machine to counter the initial though important tantrums. It allows me to take a step out of myself and logically determine what triggered the tantrums in the first place and find out how to fix or improve upon the practical do-able issues. That the “oh, OK, if I just do this particular thing next time or re-do that in post-processing” mentality nurtured by this being open to wounds and hurt will mature that brat into a productive learner. This is what’s important, not the scores, negative feedback, or even positive feedback. It is what you end up doing with them after successfully navigating the adolescence of your valid feelings.
This now gets me thinking about perfectionism. Being a perfectionist can be detrimental to nurturing vulnerability. If one expects to have perfectly positive critiques (which are actually just praises) every time and have photos that please everyone; that are perfect (which most likely means boring), then that brat of low self-esteem/self pity has a lot of junk food on which to grow fat and lazy. Striving to improve and knowing that perfectionism is only an intangible goal; and nothing more, is a kind of health food. So, “improvement-ism” is a more practical “ism” to adhere to.