Dichotomies (1 of 6)

Over the next few editions of Two Mann, Two Sense, I’m going to introduce some dichotomies (opposites, but not quite) that exist in the world of creative photography. Things that theoretically exist on opposite ends of the spectrum.

I want you to imagine this spectrum as vertically (not horizontally) oriented. Gravity is pushing us down on this vertical spectrum. Although gravity is important, it keeps us grounded (literally and figuratively in this case), we want to be pulled into a higher way of thinking, towards the top of this vertical spectrum. We want to be pulled into a space that’s not determined by F=Gm1m2/r2  — Newton’s law of gravity. A space that can’t be figured out by solving any formula. A space that’s full of uncertainty.

After consulting the internet, there’s no real opposite of gravity, or at least no consensus. If there are some physics teachers reading this, you might disagree. But, the truth is I don’t really care what the opposite of gravity is, because we don’t want the opposite of gravity. We just want something that’s going to make us a little lighter on our feet. Think of gravity as pushing us down towards the bottom of the spectrum, and the top of the spectrum pulling us up, making us stand taller and brighter. In the words of my dad, it’s better to be pulled by where we’re going, than to be pushed by where we’ve been.

The first of these six dichotomies I’m going to unpack is Logic vs Imagination.

Logic is the gravitational force pushing us down; Imagination will pull us up and make us lighter on our feet.

As photographers, logic is important. Knowing how to operate our cameras. Knowing how and when and why to adjust our aperture. Knowing the “rules” of composition. Knowing the most flattering poses for our couples. Logic plays a BIG role in the craft of photography. And, it should. Most photography education is centered around logic.

But, at some point the logical part of photography, once we’ve learned it, needs to take the back seat. That’s IF we want to create more soulful work that’s unique to us. Learning the logical part of photography is easy. It’s measurable. It’s gradable.

Let’s go to the opposite end of the spectrum: Imagination. (I see those eyes rolling. Stay with me.)

How does imagination come into play when we’re documentary photographers? When I refer to imagination, I do not mean imagining things that don’t exist. Instead, I want you (and me) to use our imagination to imagine ourselves if we didn’t judge the way we currently judge. Imagine if we looked at the scene in front of us differently than we view it now. Becoming a better photographer, artist, and human, requires that we ask ourselves, “Who is the type of person I want to continue to become?” And the very act of asking this question, requires imagination.

So what’s the antidote to get from being pushed by logic, to being pulled by imagination? The answer, IMHO, is non-judgemental curiosity. In the words of Walt Witman, and popularized by Ted Lasso: “Be curious, not judgemental.”

This is especially important when judging ourselves. “What if I actually had fun doing the list of 30 family photos at the next wedding I shoot?” “What if I finished the day and felt really proud of myself?” “What if I didn’t care about the shot list?” “What if I forgot everything I knew about ‘wedding photography’ and just focused on what I find interesting?” Asking and thinking about all these questions, requires imagination.

What we (as individuals) truly find interesting, is covered up by layers and layers of what we think (judge) we should find interesting. Every time we cruise Instagram, we pile more layers upon this judgment.

So, instead of judging a scene as right, wrong, hard, easy, frustrating or silly, try switching gears and judging it through the lens of curiosity. It will almost always enlighten the moment for you and give you a new view on the seemingly boring side of photography.

Next week’s dichotomy will be Selfishness vs Generosity.

Love, Erika

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