For part 2 of theonlinephotographer’s Little Game, Mike instructs us to “prioritize your list. Put the things that are most important to you at the top and the ones that are least important at the bottom.” Is that all? “Be intuitive about it if need be; be logical about it if that appeals. Think only of yourself, not of an audience. Eschew thoughts of remuneration. Keep shuffling till you’re satisfied.”
This is a hard one for me.
A couple of years ago, Jeff Curto put out series of short lectures on his Camera Position podcast on photography projects, from conceptualizing, to shooting, to sharing, to archiving (Episodes 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 80, and 81). In episode 75, Curto instructs listeners to “make a list of at least 20 things that are really important to you.” Try as I might, I could never get to 20.
First of all, it just seems so heavy, and I couldn’t really think of things that are important to me, without drawing in things that are expected to be important to me, things that should be important to me. Not that those things aren’t important to me, but are they really in the top 20? Second, and related, to which “me” does this refer? “Me” has some different faces, hats, modes, whatever. “(I am large, I contain multitudes.) Admittedly, I’m overthinking this. Me means me, right? There’s only one of me, after all. Why is this so hard to do?
But still I sit, stagnant, staring blankly at my list of 25 things from step 1. Where do I even start?
Let’s begin with some analysis. Let’s see if I can count the different ways I look at, experience the world, and then maybe I can use those to subdivide and order the 25 categories.
First, there’s the Me that’s a son, husband, step-father, in-law, neighbor, coworker, etc. As a writer, I’m writing in relation to you, an albeit invisible, Schrödinger’s cat-like you, and since “you” are largely unknowable, there’s only so much I’m going to tell you, only so much we’re going to have in common or share. I share much more with my wife, parents, and other physical, nearby humans, but there are some things I won’t tell my mom or dad or wife, though I’ll tell all of them more than I’d tell you. This is Me in relation to others, the Relational Me.
Second, there’s the Me that thinks, the Cartesian Me (though I agree with Damásio that there would be no thinking me without the corporeal me, that these two “me” entities are coextensive). This “me” studies, thinks up things to write here, appreciates art and music in an intellectual sense, drawing on my extensive training in Art History and Aesthetics. I call this the Aesthetic Me.
Third, there’s the Me that breathes, eats, sleeps, that does the typing, that tastes the coffee, the corporeal, the embodied Me, the me that “feels,” that bleeds, the one whose hair stands on end when I hear certain chords, that has that feeling deep in the belly when I experience some things in nature. I call this the Synaesthetic* Me.
All of these are rolled into the one an only “me,” but all have somewhat different priorities. So when ordering my list (or creating one in the case of Curto’s Project thing), these different… entities, for lack of a better word, argue somewhat.
Of course, “Hana, Friends, Family” must come as the highest priority: this is true based on input from all of me. And even if I didn’t find Relational, Aesthetic, and Synaesthetic import in these people, what kind of jerk would I be if I ranked anything above my darling, adorable wife? Above my parents, in-laws, friends, neighbors, of all the people around me?
But the rest of it… I don’t know where to begin, really.
As I look further down the list, I have trouble seeing/feeling any import to any of it. My first impulse is to put me second… After all, with no me, there’s no list. But ranking selfies higher than, say Stephen Shore’s breakfast or Robert Frank’s window seems awfully arrogant. This isn’t a remunerative concern: I don’t sell work (currently, anyway) and don’t rank my photography up there with the masters, but still…
I’d like to say “but still, I’m more important to me than some photograph by some famous photographer,” but I’m not sure that’s true… If I really cared more about me than Stephen Shore, I’d think I’d spend more time taking care of my body, my finances, my mental health, than looking at (or unboxing) photobooks, but the plain fact of it is, I don’t, not really anyway.
Analysis paralysis, indeed.
Bah. Important, shmimportant. Instead of ranking by “important to me,” how about I rank by “I think I could do something with” or “I like to look at” or “I enjoy photographing” or “I shoot the most?” I think this way of thinking may get me somewhere…
And after an hour or so, here’s what I came up with, the Ranking, the Subject, the Me that reacts to these sorts of pictures, and why I photograph them:
- Hana, Friends, Family – Relational – Such people are important to me. And, anyway, what kind of jerk would I be if I ranked anything above my darling, adorable wife?
- Places I Remember (even if I don’t) – Synaesthetic – could play a role in a project
- Streetscapes in Older Towns – Aesthetic – could play a role in a project
- Empty/Quiet Spaces – Aesthetic – quiet is important to me
- Strangers Doing Things – Relational – could play a role in a project
- Out the Window/Through Dirty Windows – Aesthetic – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- The Back of Things – Synaesthetic – could play a role in a project
- Foreground Blur/Framing – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- Through Grids – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- Rain/Mist/Fog – Synaesthetic – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- Driving – Aesthetic – I’m often driving, and they’re easy
- Reflections – Aesthetic – such pictures suggest something maybe
- Clouds/Skyscapes – Synaesthetic – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- Close-Up – Aesthetic – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- Selfies – Relational – I am important to me
- Domesticated Animals – Relational – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- Sunlit Interiors – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- High Contrast (B/W) – Aesthetic – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- Landscapes – Aesthetic – such pictures suggest something, maybe
- Transparency – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- Errors – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- Meals – Aesthetic – could play a role in a project
- Defocused & Abstraction – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- Low Contrast (color) – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
- Negatives – Aesthetic – these make for pretty pictures
Now I’m well aware that much of the above is arbitrary. Feel free to object. I know the whole relational/aesthetic/synaesthetic self business is strange, sketchy, and highly absurd, but it helps me make sense of the different responses I have to things and the different reasons I photograph things.
This was much harder for me than part 1. Where that first part was a sorting task of sorts, this was a much more intellectual exercise. It was also, at bottom, deeply arbitrary, despite all the masticating I did over it.
Anyway. If you’re not following along with theonlinephotographer‘s Little Game, part 3 should come tomorrow (January 10, 2019) sometime. If you want to do it, don’t skip ahead: start with part 1 and spend a few days with it, then go on.
*I know this is not properly synaesthesia, but I like the word and think it gets some way towards encompassing the bodily relationship to some of my photography and photographing.