On the edge of a lake a man sits at a bench with a camera on his lap. His expression is satisfied, the look of someone who has aimed at retirement and hit the bullseye a decade ahead of schedule. His life now has room for a hobby, he can become the wildlife photographer he has always wanted to be. He splurged on the camera, was sure to buy the exact model recommended by the professionals. Now all there is left to do is wait. At any moment, nature will explode in front of him. He is alert, ready to click the button at that exact moment.
The sun will set, the man will take the short walk back to his apartment and he will be confronted with a question as he reviews his photos. “Where is the art?” His photos are blurry, dull, lifeless — nothing like the beautiful landscape he thought he was seeing. He lists the possibilities of why his first day as a wildlife photographer resulted in oatmeal.
Possibility 1: He bought the wrong camera. The internet is full of scammers and he got suckered.
Possibility 2: He doesn’t have talent. It’s not his fault, maybe the talent fairies simply didn’t bless him.
Possibility 3: It was just a bad day. Nature’s beauty failed to reveal itself today, but maybe tomorrow the conditions will be better.
Tomorrow he will repeat his routine. Another day on the bench patiently waiting for nature’s glory will be followed by another disappointing assortment of geese photos, cattail images, and puffy clouds in blue skies. Where is the art?
This is the story I project onto the innocent photographer as I pass his bench on my run around the lake. My imaginary storyline is unfair and I wonder why I invent such a tragic plot for a man who seems to be genuinely enjoying his evening. Why do I have the urge to shake him, to push him into the lake, to scream, “that’s not how you do it!” And then I remember a quote from one of my artistic heroes.
“You have to work at seeing. It must be an aggressive act of visual curiosity.” — Reinhold Marxhausen
It’s the word “aggressive” in that quote that it is easy to balk at. The word is macho, dangerous, confrontational, intense in a way that is uncomfortable to our modern sensibilities. But how else can we transcend the gravitational pull of mediocrity?
Passive participation leaves us stuck on a bench waiting for art to randomly jump in front of our eyes. Rather than creating art, rather than accepting the weight of our calling, we blame talent fairies. Rather than working at seeing we blame our expensive equipment.
Art doesn’t just wander in front of your lens. You have to be obsessed by it, invested totally in the process, willing to work harder than any reasonable person would think is healthy.
Thanks for reading. I project my aggressive ideas onto innocent bystanders every Saturday so consider following me if my writing has triggered your curiosity. Stay creative.