What does it mean to be jaded? As we all know, we’re jaded when nothing surprises us anymore. People grow up, become adults and automatically start to become jaded as life and reality strikes. Remember how excited you were to receive your first paycheck? By the thousandth paycheck, though, I’ll bet that excitement had begun to wear off. When the paycheck comes in, that means there are bills to pay, grocery shopping to do and all sorts of other related things that we’d all really rather not think about. The mundane tends to wear us down and we forget that excitement we once had for certain things or events.
Now apply that sense of jadedness to photography. Remember when you got your first camera and you ran around excitedly taking pictures of everything? This bug over here! That flower over there! Look at those pretty leaves! And when sunset came, doubtless you were busily snapping away, trying to capture all the pretty colors. Almost every photographer goes through this phase before the newness of the camera wears off. Sometimes we go through it again when we upgrade cameras because we can’t wait to test out our new gear.
But then, somewhere along the line, maybe after ten or twenty years of being a photographer, you become jaded. No longer do the pretty flowers and the interesting bugs amaze you. You’ve taken all those photos before, as have millions of other people. So now, you only bestir yourself when something truly amazing happens because otherwise, what’s the point? It becomes hard to function as an artist when this state of mind takes over because the things that we come in contact with every day stop holding value for us as potential photographic subjects.
Worse, it’s not just we photographers who become jaded. The industry as a whole is trending that way. What’s in demand right now aren’t photographs of mundane things, but photographs of inaccessible things. We’re not as impressed by a snowy landscape image taken in our own backyard. What impresses us are the images taken in Antarctica. The photographs of people that impress us most aren’t the skillfully captured candids of people expressing emotions as they go about their daily business, but the photographs taken of remote cultures in faraway lands. Perhaps this is something of an exaggeration, but the point remains: Stormy clouds have become commonplace in images. People crave images of lightning, tornadoes and other difficult to capture and dangerous phenomena.
More and more, we favor the inaccessible as the best photographic subjects. And that’s a problem. Not only is it a problem for the majority of photographers who simply can’t attain the inaccessible, but it’s also a problem for the art world at large. Why? Because in becoming jaded, we’re losing our ability to be amazed by ordinary things. Life is a wonder, every part of it, and when we begin eschewing all photographs except those that are most amazing, it’s a sign that we’re losing a vital spark that lets us take joy in the world immediately surrounding us.
So now that we’ve reached this point where so many photographers have become jaded, what can we do to correct our course? There’s a quote that comes to mind, one by author John Steinbeck:
“I wonder how many people I’ve looked at in my life and never seen.”
Such a simple statement, but it says so much. Not seeing, that’s really what is at the heart of the problem. We’ve become accustomed to those things that we consider mundane, so we pass them by without really looking. We pass by people each and every day that we won’t remember, and we pass by hundreds, thousands of objects, scenes, and other photographic opportunities. But, because we’ve lost our sense of wonder with these things, we simply don’t see them.
If we want to create extraordinary photographs from ordinary subjects, then that is the task before us: We must relearn to see. Remember all those times of excitement in your life — the first paycheck, the first time you saw snow, the sense of wonder that you experienced on a particularly beautiful autumn afternoon when the trees were blazing with color. Seek to recapture that feeling wherever possible. You’ll be surprised to find that if you open up to your immediate surroundings, there are many, many amazing things for the photographer to capture. It’s just that we’ve been missing them because we’re so used to seeing these things that we’ve tuned them out.
There is another quote that dovetails with this idea nicely. This one comes from Edward Weston and it’s a simple one.
“My own eyes are no more than scouts on a preliminary search, or the camera’s eye may entirely change my idea.”
To my mind, that is our purpose as photographers. To see, and to capture the things that we see. In order to do this in a world where billions upon billions of photographs are taken each year, to stand out from the crowd, we must have vision. We need the creativity to make the ordinary extraordinary. After all, someday, even the icebergs of Antarctica won’t be so inaccessible anymore.
If there is one last thought that I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: There is an amazing God and life is really miraculous. It’s an undeniable truth. Everything that we see and experience has value — not just the major, spectacular things, but the mundane things that we encounter every day, too. As photographers, it’s up to us to hone our vision so that we can see the extraordinary things in everyday life and just as importantly, it’s up to us to reveal those things for others to see. So if you ever find yourself bored with your surroundings, just think about how amazing it is to have the chance to experience those surroundings. It isn’t necessary to depart for exotic locales or chase nature’s greatest dangers. All that is needed is the ability to look at the world differently.