If you don’t do photography in series, you go out and photograph with a brand new plan every time, or maybe no plan at all. You get better a photography as time goes by because you learn what works and what doesn’t, but the only time you’re thinking about photographing is when you’re capturing or editing images.
Did I get that right? Since I nearly always work in series, I may not understand what it’s like if you don’t. The above is what it feels like to me when I’m not engrossed is a photographic series, as when I’m on a family vacation.
Hold that thought.
When I was working as an electrical engineer, I would occasionally find myself in a tough spot with a design. Engineering is all about dealing with constraints, and sometimes I would find myself seemingly unable to come up with a design that worked the way I wanted it to, as well as I wanted to, consumed as little power as I wanted to, and would cost as little to manufacturer as I wanted it to. When I painted myself into one of those boxes, I usually found my way out. And the way I found my way out came as a fully formed idea, and was usually so inventive that that surprised even me. That’s how you get patents, leapfrog the competition, and make the company – and hopefully you – a pile of money.
And here’s the interesting thing: those breakthrough ideas almost never happened while I was sitting at my desk. I would wake up in the middle of the night with an aha!, and record it with the Dictaphone that I kept by my bedside (I was afraid that I’d forget it, but I never forgot the big ones, and the Dictaphone was just so I could sleep soundly). I’d be taking a shower, or lying in the bathtub drifting, when the solution to the problem that I’ve been struggling with pop into my mind.
What that meant was brain was working on the problem all the time – when I was driving my commute, when I was sleeping, when I was going through all the routine, and not-so-routine tasks that make up your day. Then, when I was sufficiently relaxed, the unconscious part of my brain would deliver the solution to the conscious part.
It seemed too good to be true; there was a part of my brain that would work tirelessly and continuously — and with no conscious effort — to help me out of a jam.
If I hadn’t designed myself into a corner, there were no flashes of insight in the middle of the night. My unconscious assistant left the building. I continued to do solid design work, but the aha moments were fewer and farther between.
Okay, now back to photography.
When I’m working on a series, I get the ideas that move the series along at the same odd moments: I dream them, they pop into my head when I’m relaxed and least expect them. What that tells me is that working in the series, and struggling with the inevitable problems that arise, energizes my subconscious to move the project to the next step even when I’m not thinking about it. Instead of my photography advancing only when I’m explicitly doing it (capturing or editing), my subconscious is working on making my photography better 24/7.