It’s a word often associated with moody teens. It’s a word that implies deep anxiety, nervousness and disquiet. It’s also the only word I can think of to describe my current relationship with photography.
And like any proper angsty teen, I’ve done plenty of navel-gazing recently to try and determine how I got to this place. What I realized, after much contemplation, is that my arc into photography has followed the growth of my own children.
Like so many of us, I’ve always had an interest in photography, but it wasn’t until the birth of my children that this tiny seed of desire, to capture the moments and details of my sweet babies, grew into something larger than I could contain, and was realized in the birth of an actual, bonafide hobby.
As the babies grew, so did I. They cooed and babbled with new language. Thrilled at the sounds they could make like “da-da” (always first of course), and “ma-ma”, and I learned too the language of photography; what aperture was, and ISO, and shutter speed. They learned to sit, and crawl and stand, and I learned alongside them how to take an image that was almost properly exposed, and sometimes in focus. Then came the baby-steps, sweet and faltering, like tiny drunk people, they cruised along furniture until they could muster up enough courage to take a step on their own into the big world. I did the same, practicing each component of picture-making over and over again until soon, I could produce an intentionally composed image with a blurry background. Boy, did shallow-depth-of-field ever make me feel like a big girl!
We were excited… me and them. Discovering big new worlds together. Feeling mesmerized, dazzled and yes sometimes overwhelmed by all the colours and sounds and possibilities that lay before us. Often when it was too much, and they and I were on the verge of melt-down, thisclose to tantruming, frustrated byskills we couldn’t conquer, we did the only thing I knew could help and rested. A self-imposed time-out, vital space to recharge and feel ready and brave enough to try again.
It didn’t take long though, as all mothers learn, forthose sweet babies to outgrow diapers, nursing and potty-training, and move on towards big kid challenges. I watched as they learned to navigate their world with unbridled enthusiasm and confidence. Every new friend was their best one. Every tree was for climbing, and I grew right along with them… feeling unstoppable, like I could conquer every obstacle the way they did the playground.
Following this period of magical childhood comes the dreaded teenage years. The innocent, beautiful faces of our children become obscured by a moody sullen mask. We see the surety about who they are begin to change and take on new shape, trying to fit into molds created by their peers and media those voices easily eclipsing all others. These are the days of wavering self-confidence, where young people question their identity, self-worth and what their place is in the world. We watch our teens mimic the celebrities they idolize, trying on and shedding personas as easily as the discarded outfits that litter their floor. Comparing themselves, with often painful results, to those that have perceived popularity and recognition in their world.
It is here that I recognize myself too. Still trying to suss out who I am in terms of photography. Most often found looking to sources outside myself to guide me into something that feels comfortable and familiar. Trying on editing styles and genres, and hoping something sticks. I know too well the angst that comes of not feeling good enough, of losing inspiration and wondering if it will ever return. The confusion of trying to fit in, and wondering if there is anything in us to contribute. If we are worthy.
Luckily, I’ve been witness to the calm after the storm. I’ve observed the renewed confidence and wisdom that comes with growth and time. With maturity comes solidarity in who we are, and pride in whatever path our journey has taken. We start to care less about what others think of us, and more about living in our truth, whatever that is. We surround ourselves with those that support our honesty. And we continue to learn. Always.