Make it about the journey, not the destination

While I was out for my walk early this morning, I enjoyed the dulcet tones of David DuChemin and his ‘Beautiful Anarchy’ podcast. Ever the late adopter, I am at episode 40 of some hundred possible inspirational episodes to listen to. What he had to say this morning was something I struggle with all the time… How to get started and beat the blank page.

No matter whether you are a writer, painter, knitter, potter or in most of our cases a photographer, the first step on a new journey always has to be the hardest. I find so many thoughts racing around in my head, not least – ‘What if it doesn’t work’, and ‘What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations’. And if I let them, these thoughts alone could be the reason for never starting anything because I have found that negative thoughts beat up positive ones very easily if you let them! The fear of failure is IMMENSE!!!!

I’ve recently taken up painting, and the fear of placing that first mark on the paper is insane, I mean what have I got to lose for trying, right? But as any adult reading this will recognise, there is one thing we learn as we grow out of childhood – we lose the ability to play and experiment without expectation unless we bury all the negative possibilities of something going wrong. Now, as I write this, I’m battling with an empty page and wondering how on earth to illustrate this post with images! But I am sure they will come.

Starting any new photographic project is a bit like having a blank page – the possibilities are endless, but so are the failures. But if you can be brave enough to try and get started, that is normally all you need to do to start the ball rolling down the hill. Once it tips over the end it will gain momentum, and you will wonder why you didn’t start earlier.

One of my favourite quotes ever is the header image for this blog – and if I ever need reminding, I read this and try to turn negative thoughts into positive ones.

‘What if I fall? Oh, my darling what if you fly?’

Erin Hanson

A project that I started and completed last year ‘Wild’ a study of my neighbourhood verges and all their colour in ICM got started from a simple snapshot with my phone on a dog walk. Initially, I dismissed photographing the sides of my road as a bit silly with no purpose. But I started anyway just because I enjoyed it and had no idea of an end result. By the end of the year, my project grew to over 100 ICM images capturing the beauty of the humble roadside verge using the ICM technique. The lesson for me here was to make the images for the sheer love of doing it, not for the reason why.

I did blog about this project previously, you can read the posts here and here A selection of my images from the series are also on the creative galleries page of my website.

Over time with my photography, I have become aware of my love of the journey, rather than reaching the destination, and this is what I encourage all those I work with to embrace. As an example, completing my qualifications with the Guild of Photographers was an end aim, when I look back, it was the journey and learning that I did on the way to the achievement that is what I value. At the moment, I am heading towards publishing my first-ever book. I know that when it eventually makes it out into the world, I will be insanely proud, but what will stick with me will be the process by which it happened and all that I learned on the way.

So what can you do to combat the blank page procrastination?

The most important thing is to try and let go of any expectations. Forget the big picture and think about the small things that will generate excitement and enjoyment and help you believe you can do something. When you freeze on the edge of a busy road or the bungee jump platform (personally, I have never been there but I can imagine) – most of us move forward not by making the leap, but by shuffling little by little until we feel confidence build which propels us towards the goal with conviction.

I guess what I am saying is that if you have a project or idea in mind with your photography and the end point is scaring you from starting, try breaking it down into small steps, manageable chunks. Try taking the pressure off yourself and seeing what happens if you dare to play and experiment. See if you can take yourself away from expectation, back to enjoyment of just ‘having a go’.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of running a creative retreat with Ania Rolinska. It was during the first afternoon, when she encouraged participants to explore the first activity, that it struck me how much we all automatically work towards an end result – remove that from the equation and expectations are lifted and experimentation and play are released. It delighted me, that round the table were 7 adults (myself included) who were trying things we maybe had not done since we were kids, and the giggling and enjoyment at getting paint and glue all over our hands was shared.  She deliberately did not tell us what the next step of the process would be, so we embraced the here and now. Had we known that she would be expecting us all to tear up what we had created, I wonder how many of us would have started at all! But we trusted in her methods, and I was not the only one who felt an immense personal achievement at ‘letting go’.

From the blank canvas of the empty table, everyone embraced the challenge and played, and the end results were unique to each individual.

No famous artist ever sat with a piece of blank paper and went straight and created a masterpiece. You can bet there were sketches and false starts behind the finished piece. I often find that using my phone camera can help me get started. I often use it as a tool to sketch ideas and see what is possible before I get started. It’s like collecting a scrapbook of ideas. I find when I use my phone for photography, the expectation is reduced. I never expect to put phone photos on my wall or enter them into competitions, so they are made for the enjoyment of creation and expression.

David DuChemin in his podcast suggests that we should all reignite the love of ‘scribbling’ – using a tool to draw with for the pleasure of the doing, not the expectation. Scribbling is a form of expression – the energy we use, the colours we choose, and the lines and shapes we draw are all a form of releasing what we hold inside, they may be completely ineligible to anyone else, but our ability to release and see it appear on a page or through our lens can be very exciting.

With sandy-coloured paint, a piece of charcoal, a turquoise pencil and some water this was what letting go of expectations looked like for me one day when I played!

I started with my ICM photography journey, some eight years ago. One of the wonderful things about the technique is the need to experiment to find out what happens when you change movement and speed. With early experiments, I never expect results, only a building of knowledge. I hear so many people say they find a freedom in practising ICM, because of the unexpected results. Whilst this may frustrate those who like to colour between the lines and stick to rules, I find more and more people enjoy the technique for its unpredictability and the ability to express one’s self. I believe that there is no right or wrong ICM image – only images that you love and connect with and those that maybe don’t speak to you so strongly.

The images below show the results of play and experimentation with a new movement to me in ICM. The single one below is my favourite.

So, in a roundabout waffly way, I hope I have given you a little food for thought. If the blank page or starting of a project scares you, understand you are not alone. This is a completely normal adult reaction to the expectations we place on ourselves every day. The key to getting started is breaking the end result down into achievable chunks. Making the first image should be about starting the journey, not worrying about how you will reach the destination.

A black and white photo of Charlotte Bellamy

Hi, I'm Charlotte

Creative Artist