Seeing & Looking
“No matter that we may mount on stilts. We still must walk on our own legs. And on the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.” de Montaigne
The older I get, the older I get, the more I appreciate humility.
This Spring, I taught an online photo course via Zoom called Better Pictures with your Camera. Becoming a teacher is a humbling experience for me. Teaching 9 faces that appeared on my laptop screen, I learned a lot. There were memorable moments. Trying to work the Zoom interface, and share examples and lessons, I stumbled. My students forgave me. Forgiveness was lesson 101 for this old photographer. Trying to learn from my failures, I discovered a way to smoothly share the slide I had on my screen to all students at once with no delay. Not taking these failures seriously, I got help from the students, and some mistakes nudged us into laughter, and seemed to generate a relaxed, harmonious group mood.
The students in the class were adults who were motivated to learn. Each one sent in photographs for review and offered feedback and insightful comments to others about their pictures. When we covered photo editors like Photoshop and Lightroom, one student told me about a editor new to me called Affinity. It is a Photoshop-like editor. I downloaded the free trial and got to work editing some images. The program was so well designed that recommended it to the entire class.
This was lesson 102 for me: assume that I will learn something interesting from each student about the world. Assume each student has something novel and interesting to offer.
If we get caught up in being “great” as photographers or teachers, we lose the ability to be humble. Now, I'm not talking about self-abasement. Here, humility is used in the sense of being un-selved, liberated from a sense of self, and prideless. Listening to pro photographers, I've learned from some that they picked up a specific ability over their careers. Learning how to shoot famous people who are stars of web and screen, these pros mastered ways of letting go of their own stuff to get the results they wanted, and get better images they might not have planned. Why? They knew how to collaborate. For example, Annie Liebovitz, a remarkable photographer, learned to work closely with the stars she photographed on film, when she worked for Vanity Fair.
Liebovitz's humility did not mean she lacked personality, in fact, she was able to take a humble approach to her subject and be personable. She grasped how to work with movie stars and those who, like Diane Keaton, truly disliked being photographed. To work with strong personalities, Annie Liebovitz learned to let go of controlling the situation. Working with teams of support talent, many of her better images emerged in the context of this collaboration. Yes, it truly matters with whom you surround yourself.
To join forces, a photographer must pick up the subtle art of humility. I photograph daily. Each time I wander out with camera in hand, I am acutely aware that I know only a little about photography. There is an infinite sky above, and photography is a vast ocean of knowledge. There are large areas of photograph to which I am unaware. So, there is a lot of room to grow.
THREE IDEAS for HUMILITY:
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages