Success Through Failure: How Shame and Fear Made Me A Better Photographer
February 6th, 2015 I made a run at completing a 365 portrait project. Once a day for a year I would take a photo of a new face, no repeats, no backlogging.
*deep breath* I didn’t finish.
*exhale* Okay, so I made it to somewhere past 300. Honestly I’m proud of myself for sticking with it for that long, but for the last few months I’ve been silent because well… I’ve been ashamed of myself.
To answer the question, “Why Casey, why did you quit?! YOU WERE SO CLOOOOOSE!!!” I sure was, but when I started to see a decline in my work life, my social life and most importantly my homelife, I knew something had to change.
Here’s what I want to say about the stop. I still learned a lot. I learned a shit ton! Here’s a few pieces of what those are:
“Everyone is interesting. Everyone has a story.”
VII Photographer and CreativeLive instructor, Ashley Gilbertson, said exactly this in his class Street Photography: The Art of Photographing Strangers and when I heard it, I swear there was an audible click in my head. The funny thing was that while Ashley was among the last portraits for the project prior to quitting, it gave me an insight as to why I found so much joy and expression when I meet a new person and make a portrait for them.
To fail is to learn.
This was an incredibly hard lesson for me to internalize and part of the reason I haven’t wanted to talk about my portrait project until now. With failure (at least for me) there tends to be a feeling of shame that is coupled with it. What has helped me (heck it could help you too) was to realize that if I hadn’t taken those 300+ portraits I wouldn’t have nearly the amount of knowledge about things important to me regarding photography: light, composition, how to show emotion and personality through an image, how to give the perfect high five. I learned all these things through my failure.
People kick ass. Seriously.
There was not a single person I met through this project that I didn’t enjoy taking their photo. I can tell you a story about how I chased down @whatsupturtle on the street while he was skateboarding and while jogging backwards asked him, “Can I take a photo?” Or after watching artist @tenhun add some finishing touches to a mural (watch him paint the damn thing because wow) and then just being a general badass. It’s cliche to say out loud, but I am thankful to him and all the other strangers I feel, although for a brief for a moment, shared part of their life with me.
“I’m a good photographer.”
Ew, okay. Even typing that out feels gross, but it’s true and I the reason why I’m a finally can say with certainty that I am a good photographer (still feels weird though) is because of how hard I work to make my images. Through the process of this project I can in a very tangible way see my progress and you know what? It doesn’t matter if other people don’t like my photos. I, me, myself, Casey-freaking-Cosley, like my photos. It is NOT because of ability and the memorization of a technical spreadsheet (*disclamer. I do have those memorized because I love them, but that’s not what makes me good). I know I’m a good photographer because I have passion and drive and the willingness to learn and grow and, and, and, and etc.
Quitting is painful.
When I quit and put down the camera for a few months it became INCREDIBLY DIFFICULT to pick up my camera again. Yes it was always with me, but my desire to create had burned up like a bathroom after eating at chipotle for the 3rd time in a week. It hurt. And there. That. Exactly that. Poop joke aside, it hurt to create.
So what was the 5th point mean? That it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to take a break. It’s okay.
I feel like Robin Williams from Good Will Hunting repeating to myself the iconic, “It’s not your fault“.
I’m not done. I’m not defeated. I’m done with shame. Yes, #caseycosley365 is over and a HUGE thank you to everyone who participated and joined me for that hell of a ride.
What’s next? Good question.
Here they are in no particular order.
3 Photoshop Retouching Tips for Awesome Environmental Portraits
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