The most common advice given by photographers (and creatives in general) is probably: “Get out of your comfort zone”. I’ve seen it countless times on blogs, books, interviews and articles. It’s difficult to disagree with this statement, whose implications are largely obvious. Nevertheless it may raise some issues.
This is how many of us would depict it:
Getting out of our circle of safety forces us to access unexplored areas and experiment with techniques, styles, tasks, interactions. To do so, we usually identify a specific goal and/or give ourselves a self-assignement. In my case for example, I identified the lack of the human figure in my photos as a limit and decided to experiment with street photography. I went out more, walked around the city, dared to shoot when I usually wouldn’t. It worked, for a bit. Then it didn’t work anymore: I felt less and less motivated and at some point I discovered I was photographing monuments more than people (in my defense, it’s easy to be distracted when you live in Rome).
The fact is, sometimes we think we are working as in picture 1, while this is how things are actually going:
While everyone is so prompt to push you out of your comfort zone, much fewer people remind that your task should also be sustainable. If you misplace your goal and underestimate the stress you are actually going through (which could be quite different from the stress you supposedly should be going through – and that is the tricky part) the result will be disappointing, your experience painful and your growth slower.
Again, in my case photography was starting to feel more like a tiresome job than an enjoiable side activity. I wouldn’t say it was entirely a failure: I had to re-think my approach to street photography and develop a more conscious criticism to what is intended nowadays with this particular “genre” (off topic now, but material for another post). Sticking to it, though, would have been nothing short of harmful.
In retrospective, the whole process has gone backwards: I identified something I perceived (and still perceive) as a limit, recognized it was beyond my comfort zone and planned a strategy. Unfortunately, this was very rational and didn’t take into account picture number 2.
Taking a bath
More or less a month ago I was lazily floating in my bath, something that can be easily identified with the triumph of the comfort zone. My eyes dropped on the partly disclosed door of a closet: the even warm artificial light, the simple design of the handle, the slight disclosure… something “clicked” and I felt the urge to take a picture. Apart from getting out of my bath (and get dry and dressed) it didn’t require any raid out of my comfort zone: still, I was taking an extremely unusual picture for one who spent his life photographing things outside of his own home and in black and white.I liked the picture and thought I would do something with it, but it didn’t fit into any “category” of photos I had done before: I had to start a new one. The result is a new project that I simply called “Project:Home” whose purpose is to explore some areas that are almost entirely new to me:
- Still life
- Not exactly macro, but definitely close-ups
- Abstract and/or conceptual images (towards which I’ve always had mixed feelings)
It began one month ago and it is still going. Each time I tell myself “Ok, this is the last one, then I’ll move to something else” I just find another picture. And I’m having fun.There is another reason for me to insist on this topic: in a time when I’m trying different things and deeply reflecting upon my own photographic experience, it makes sense to begin this exploration from my immediate surroundings. In other words, if my first question is: “Where do I start?”
“From what is right around me” seems quite a logical answer.