I love the mindset that Ansel Adams lived by in his professional career. He was a true pioneer of photography as art. Being a forward thinking innovator, he endlessly explored the world of the unknown, seeking to predict and understand the outcome of his experimentation. Then taking that information and creating a set of guidelines that allowed all that practiced those guidelines to push their art forward.
He often said the most valuable tool in his darkroom was his trash can.
I like to think of this process as Failing Up. It is the idea that we push our vision and technique into the unknown. Failure happens in the realm of the unknown. It happens a lot. From that failure comes the notion and desire to overcome that failure. Solutions are discovered, new techniques and workflows are developed and magic happens.
I believe, as artists, we must take risks. We must openly embrace the idea of continually venturing into the unknown. It takes a thick skin, resilience, passion and effort. I believe that the most fruitful way to connect with this idea of failing up is to shoot self assignments. Assignments that challenge you, your skill level and your vision. Photographers that continually shoot self assignments explore subject matter and challenges that may not come from client work.
By shooting challenging self assignments we create the opportunity to delve into ideas, problems, solutions and outcomes that are all ours. All self generated and that are tremendously rewarding.
If you have been feeling that you work is in neutral and you seem to be coasting creatively, please schedule some time to work on a project that means something to you. Put yourself out on a limb. Really challenge yourself, be your own worst critic, take risks, learn something new and watch your art flourish.
The pleasure you feel by creating new exciting work will far outshine the pain of the process. I promise.