06 January 2010

unmet expectation

One of the many benefits of participating in the 365-day Self Portrait Project on Flickr is that in addition to having a picture of myself every day for a year, it is an invitation to self-discovery. I'm not just talking about self-discovery from an artistic aspect, though that certainly is a part of it. It's a challenge to take pictures of yourself repeatedly in a way that will keep people interested and that will make them want to come back to visit your photostream so they can see what you will do next. What I'm getting at here is self-discovery in a deep knowing-yourself, spiritual sense.

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.

104/365: my heart found its way home
My heart found its way home
5 January 2010
Canon 40D

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.


  1. Oh, Kirsten, I needed this post. Thank you for reminding me to seek out the opportunity to create and invent rather than simmer. I like simmering.

  2. But simmering is so much easier . . . ok, done whining ;) It's true, though . . . finding the opportunity is much harder than simmering. I think that's why I can tend to stay. Thanks for the reminder that it's worth it to make the effort.

    I LOVE the photo, by the way. I'm glad you have James and didn't give up ;)

  3. "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"

    I love it when this happens - and this is the story God is writing in my life. Thanks for the reminder of this - i needed it as well.

  4. You are such a gifted photographer... AND WRITER.

    Simply, yes. I have planned and hope for lots of things that have not gone the way I planned and hoped... but the results have been better than I expected. One easy example is my daughter. I planned and hoped that God would heal her in my womb. He did not. She is infinitely better than what I expected.

    Infinitely better.

  5. Loved reading this post, girl. So fun to get a glimpse into your process and your heart. Great photo, too! xoxo

  6. Hi Kirsten,
    Sorry bout that. That would be my fault. I think, but I am not sure, that I sent you an e-mail when I deleted the poet's pen blog. If I did not, I meant to. I sent out mass e-mails and totally stopped blogging for a few months. Long story on that. So, when I started this new blog I didn't really blow a lot of whistles about it. I just let things flow.....

    I have been popping in on you quietly from time to time. Nate and I surfed your wedding photo's. Beautiful. I am continually amazed at the gift you have with a camera.

  7. I love the idea of taking a self portrait each day for a year. I'm not a photographer or anything, but it would be fun just for fun.

    Your picture is really good! :)

  8. @Heather
    I'm so glad this could meet you where you're at. Stewing is so much easier. Darnit.

    You're so right!! Simmering is so much easier, and sometimes it just feels so right to sit in that for awhile.

    Thanks for the compliments on the photo. It's awesome when something good comes out of all that hard work.

    I'm so glad you can relate, and glad to hear that living the life you did not plan on is turning out so well for you. ;o)

    Karin, it was hard not to think of Esther-Faith when I was writing this. I can't imagine that any parent would want her child to be born with challenges that so many other children don't have to engage with. But your portrayal of her: fierce, feisty, and funny -- makes me think that she will be a powerhouse for her generation. I'm so glad you shared that, and continue to share stories about your daughter. They really and truly bless me.

    Thanks, girlie!! It was a good lesson to learn, and it was fantastic to enjoy this result!!

    Hi girl!! It's good to hear from you. I'm not sure it's your fault -- I do remember getting an e-mail about deleting your original blog, but I guess I missed the part where you started a new one. I've missed hearing from you and am glad to see that you're still interacting in these online spaces. :o)

    It's a very fun project to undertake!! Your photos are beautiful and it would be awesome to see what you could come up with.

  9. I love this. Life is so fun! & being artistically minded makes it even more interesting!!

    I am definitely intrigued in seeing your self-portrait photographs!
    1. You are gorgeous, so I'm sure it's some loveliness goin' on
    2. Your graphs are beautiful!

    Love the suitcase shot...

    Is 'James' your husband?
    I love it when my husband has great artistic ideas that complete my thought.. :)

  10. "my disappointment was an invitation to a new possibility"

    that. just that.


    Totally different note... I would love for you to join http://highcallingblogs.com I would love to be able to feature your amazing photography, to bring your vision to a wider world.