on over-thinking, staying grounded, and robert mapplethorpe

I am one of those people whose mind generally moves faster than she can keep up with it. I am constantly thinking, constantly cooking up ideas and projects and making lists of things to do and see and eat and listen to and achieve and so on into infinity and insomnia because I simply can’t turn my brain off. On any given day, I probably only voice about 5% of the things I think about. I’ve always lived partially (and at times, primarily) in a drifty little world inside my head and my books and my journals; partially it’s being an intense introvert, and partially it’s that I’m weird and spend a lot of time thinking at great length about things most people never think about for five minutes.

But that over-thinking, it’s one of the reasons that photography is something that, these days, keeps me deeply focused and grounded. When I wrote, I was constantly, mentally, six paragraphs ahead of what I was actually writing; when I shoot, though, all I can do is be there, in the moment, with the shot I’m trying to get immediate to the circumstance. I can’t over-think photography without fucking it up. I have to be there, right there, in that single second, and I have to be committed to it 100%, but I can’t push past that 100%, either. Photography requires perfect concentration but nothing extra from me — it’s meditative. Be here taking this photo now.

Taking photos keeps me from flying off into the ether, in some ways.

I am reading Just Kids, Patti Smith’s memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. It has been pretty much compelling and fascinating from the very first page, particularly for me as a photographer; I am not always engaged by all the subject material of Mapplethorpe’s photos but very few people could deny that he was tremendously talented at what he did, and what Smith’s book gave me was that it took him a long time — years — to come to a point where he was actively making his own images. For many years, he drew and painted but when he worked with photos, he worked with other people’s images in a collage style.

He came to photography late (he didn’t acquire his signature Hasselblad until his 30s), and he still did everything he managed in his lifetime; he’s an icon of American photography (of polarizing American photography). I find it moving, and I find it inspiring. Do I like his images? Not always. Do I find a huge amount of inspiration in the story of how he came to make them? I really, really do.

I don’t shoot like other people. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again, I will say it over and over until I stop being smacked like a naughty child for not doing it like other people do it. I hold my camera funny, I have gaping holes in my technical knowledge that I make up for with sheer tooth-grinding persistence and often bruises in weird places, and I see everything at a slightly tilted angle. I find photography grounding in a way that nothing else has ever kept me tethered to the world before this. I came to it late. I do it for reasons that are often hard for other people to comprehend.

But so did Robert Mapplethorpe, this book taught me, and I’m in good company there. I’m in supreme company. So.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Martha says:

    I am catching up on my feeds, and I totally requested that book at the library at about the same time you were posting this – I haven’t started it yet, but I love Patti Smith.

    And my version of the first part is, taking pictures is meditation for the short attention span – I don’t have to sit there breathing quietly (which makes me get anxious that I’m doing it wrong), I just have to concentrate on one thing for a few seconds.

    1. brandnewkindof says:

      it is WONDERFUL. i just found it super compelling and fascinating, and afterwards i started reading please kill me which has a lot about them in it, as well, and it’s sort of a nice companion. i’m glad i read smith’s book first, though, for sure.

      yes. that’s it exactly. meditation for those of us who can’t meditate like normal people. ♥

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