September 9, 2012

Unwatched Space

Creativity abounds in an unwatched space.

From the time we are very young we are taught that someone is almost always watching our every move.  When a toddler trips and falls, their first reaction is not to cry, but to look around to see if anyone was watching (as long as it was a minor fall!).  If no one saw, the toddler typically gets up, dusts himself off, and continues on, but if someone is watching, he cries.  Whether he is crying out of embarrassment or pain, it is hard to know, but the reaction is markedly different.  We are trained from our early days to be aware who is watching and how we appear in their eyes.  As we grow up, we spend a great deal of conscious and unconscious energy managing our appearance.

As a photographer, the need to manage my appearance is even more pronounced.  In the presence of other photographers, I am overly conscious of what I am using, how I handle my gear, and I try very hard to look like I know what I am doing.  I am self-conscious that I do not have a professional-level camera and I make up for it by acting like I have everything under control.  That is sometimes hard to do when I leave the lens cap on or my tripod almost falls over!

Until recently, I did not realize how much this self-consciousness limits my photography.  Not long ago I was talking with other photographers about using a telephoto lens to get different views on wide landscapes.  My first thought was how crazy I would look to others if I pulled out a 400mm at an iconic wide-angle location like the Grand Canyon.  I could hear the hushed conversation between other photographers: “Hey, look at that chick with the telephoto.  Doesn’t she know the Grand Canyon is a wide shot?  What an idiot…” I have never actually overheard that conversation, but I it is loud and clear in my imagination.  Consequently, my telephoto lens stays safe in my camera bag and I take the shot everyone else is taking.  How boring.

When I know no one is watching, I am liberated from their expectations and judgments.  In an unwatched space, I am allowed to feel emotions and react to my surroundings to the fullest extent; there is no need for restraint.  I am free to truly be the nerdy, weird, and quirky true version of myself.  I ask the clouds to move, I curse the dead tree branch in the corner of my shot image, I cheer when the sun lights up, and I apologize for stepping on flowers out loud.  I play with different exposures, lenses, and compositions.  In general, I have more fun! 

My new goal is to create the feeling of an unwatched space wherever I go.  If I can focus my energy on enjoying the scenery as I would if I were alone, I will have more fun and, most likely, create better and more creative images.  When I am free to play with my photography and interact more fully with my surroundings, my creativity expands and I come home with more than good images, I have a memorable experience.