No, don’t panic!
I’ve blogged a couple of times in the last year about the degenerative eye condition that I was diagnosed as having. It’s been an anxious few weeks recently, leading up to my first annual reassessment. That was a week or so ago now, and I’m rather happy to say that they found no change at all in my condition, compared to twelve months ago. No, it’s not gone away – that isn’t ever going to happen – but it has not got any worse. I’ll take that.
I said I’d not blog much about this thing, but that’s hard, because my eyesight is so central to everything I do as a working photographer, rather a lot of my waking hours are inevitably affected by thoughts of what the future might hold.
There was a fairly brief period when my reaction was “get out there, see everything, photograph it all”. My diary became a description of pandemonium. Had I tried to sustain that fantasy that I could ever have achieved those goals, I’d probably have damaged my physical and mental health more than my eyes! You might think that the next stage would be benign acceptance, and a gradual realisation of “che sera, sera” (whatever will be will be). Maybe that will come. It just hasn’t done yet.
No, in my case, my diagnosis remains a highly motivating factor. With Fuchs Dystrophy, I’m not suddenly going to wake up blind, and any “fade to grey” is going to be slow and progressive, I’m told. The false start in my reaction to it that I’ve already mentioned was motivated in the direction of quantity. More work, more photographs, new places, new topics, new techniques. And, in the way I was approaching it, it was unsustainable. Some of that will stuff still happen, I’m sure, but I’m increasingly being led by this thing to reassess a number of aspects of the quality of what I do, rather than the quantity. OK, sometimes the two overlap. Poor quality can occasionally be revealed by excessive quantity, just as good quality can come from holding back on the volume.
I’ve never been an out and out “art” photographer. I’m glad about that, because art trends change quite fast. I’d hate to be looking back at a whole load of past material that, even if it was ever in it, has now gone out of that elusive thing called fashion. No, my work, for business and for pleasure, is angled towards shooting what I see, and rendering it in a way that I’d like it to be remembered. A key task of anyone who takes photos for someone else is, of course, to ensure that how “I” want it to be remembered is also how “they” want it, too.
That’s actually quite a complex equation. That’s been brought home to me quite often as I prepare for my exhibition in a few months from now, of the very best of my photos of my local stretch of the River Medway. I’ve never had an exhibition just of my own landscape work. I’ve exhibited pieces alongside others, but my 2014 one-man show was a mixed bag of topics. Sitting down, often and for long periods, to try to distill something like five years of work along the river into around 35 images was tough, as I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog. My worry at the time was that I’d be wanting to de-select pieces when I’d been out and shot newer stuff. Well, that has happened (and is perhaps still happening even as deadlines loom!), but what has been more of an issue was something I’d not expected.
New material has made the cut for the show less by being, say, a view I’d not shot before, but by being of a quality that I couldn’t bring myself to leave out. I have finite wall space for the show, so if something is going to come in at this stage, something else is going to have to come out. Quality of one piece (measured against a number of factors) inevitably brings into question the quality of other pieces of work. Were this not so, I’d basically be adding and removing pieces at random. Chris, who does my printing, has been a really helpful part of the assessment process, because she’s been prepared to tell me when she doesn’t think something will print up in the way I imagined it, and she’s been good at gently spotting flaws that I’ve got too close to see.
So, is the quality of what I’m doing progressively getting better and better? I guess I’d want to hope so, but that’s just my own view. Will visitors to the exhibition be able to see the difference between early work and later work? I don’t know the answer to that, although my get-out is that I’m probably going to be the only person who knows which are the early works and which the later!
And there’s the point. I’ll only really be happy with an exhibition of work that is of the best quality I can achieve. Why would I want to be producing “just good enough” when I have 100% vision, and risk the regrets that might bring when, at some future point, I can’t even do as well as that? Perhaps that sounds a little morbid? Sorry if that’s the case. I’m still trying to work this thing through.