Most days, I will admit: I have little idea what I want to do for my self-portrait. There are only so many ways you can make a mirror shot or a turn-the-camera-on-yourself-and-make-your-arms-really-long shot interesting. I think I've worn those out. Yesterday was not one of those days: I had a very clear idea in my mind. I had the idea of exile in mind -- of portraying someone who was being cast out, asked to never come back. I wanted the viewers to wonder: What has she done? Who is offended? I knew what I was going to wear, where I was going to take it, and how it would look post-processing. What I saw in my mind was brilliant.
But things didn't go as planned. I dressed the way I had envisioned. I grabbed James's old tan hard-sided Samsonite suitcase. Yes, this was perfect! I went to the spot on the hill near our apartment where I knew I would have a backdrop of trees and mist, creating the somber mood and misty look I had envisioned (oh-so very Snow Falling on Cedars). So we set up the tripod, attached the lens to the camera, and affixed the remote trigger. I found my spot and was ready to go.
Every single shot was a disappointment. They looked prosaic and dull, not holding even the potential to be visually interesting. I was getting wet, and my fingers burned and ached with numbness. I wanted to go home. I would think of something else.
But then James suggested changing the zoom, the camera angle, the positioning of the suitcase. Why don't you lay down on it? he suggested.
Lay down? That wasn't what I had planned at all. This was all going so horribly, but I figured I had nothing to lose.
Frustrated and nearing the end of my rapidly-fraying self-portrait rope, I tried it. I took a few shots, tossing the remote to the side each time, fairly certain every frame would simply compound my disappointment.
But I was surprised at the result. My image wasn't at all telling the story I had originally borne in mind: this was completely different than my original plan. This was so much better.
Reflecting upon this experience, I can think of many other times in life where things didn't go as I had planned: I didn't get the job I wanted, I was forced to consider uprooting myself from my hometown, or I didn't get to enjoy the afternoon at the park as I intended. These unmet expectations were met with disappointment, and that is only natural. No one would say that there shouldn't be sadness or even anger in seeing reality deviate from our highest hopes and best imaginings for ourselves.
Where we can go wrong is if in passing through a place if disappointment, we decide we will set up camp there. We will kick off our shoes, set up our tent, and build a fire there. We will sit there with arms crossed and be good and disappointed for as long as it satisfies us because hey, we are justified. Things did not turn out at all as we had planned. This bitterness is a surprising temptation.
What yesterday's session taught me was this: my disappointment was an invitation to a new possibility. What would have happened if I had followed my initial inclination to pack my bags and go home after the first several rounds of disappointing photographs? What if I had not been at least a little bit open (and it really was only a little bit open) to trying something that was not in my plan? I wouldn't have ended up with the portrait that I can honestly say I think is one of my best to date, one that I find communicates something far more hopeful than the idea of exile.
My heart found its way home
5 January 2010
5 January 2010
What about you? Has there been a time when things did not turn out as you had planned or hoped for, but the result was better than you expected?
Blessings and peace to you this day.