(This post originally appeared November 24, 2017, in my photography blog THE KICK.)
As an author, I'm very familiar with the idea of killing one's darlings--and I've certainly killed my fair share of them over the course of writing three novels. (And I'm sure I'll kill more darlings in my current manuscript.) For many authors, it's easy to forget the worlds we create and the characters who inhabit them aren't as real or meaningful to others as they may be to us. Enter the editor, who usually brings with them a more objective perspective and a much-needed reality check (and the dreaded red pen). Editors have a knack for finding the parts of a manuscript that simply don't work--even if you think the opposite is true. That chapter or character beat (or even that character) that you love so much may be dragging your entire story down.
The problem is, you're too close to your work; you'd just as soon cut off your hand as you'd cut something from your baby. Even if it means making the manuscript as a whole better. These editors tend to know their stuff, though. The onus is on us as writers to be more objective about the thousands of words we've poured onto the proverbial page. Letting go is hard. Killing your darlings, harder.
When it comes to photography however, I like to think I'm more self-aware about the quality of my work. I tend to prune my camera roll on the fly, deleting shots that are objectively terrible. Sometimes there are ways to redeem a middling shot, whether through creative cropping and editing (which obviously applies more to digital photography/editing). The editing process is not meant to do so much heavy lifting, though. Use it too much, and it becomes a crutch to prop up mediocre photography. Hence the importance (for me, at least) of deleting on the fly.
That being said, I do find myself becoming protective of certain shots. Sometimes it's the luck of capturing something at the right time and place that blinds me to the overall merits of certain images. The photo included here, "Conductor," is not my strongest, but I appreciate the simplicity of it. Plus the title is just too perfect—I couldn't imagine calling it anything else. When that happens, this marriage of images and words, I have an immediate urge to share, to see if anyone else appreciates the play on words as much as I do.
So it's odd that "Conductor" is making its debut in this blog almost a year after I captured it. Maybe because deep down I know it's one of my darlings, one that speaks to me on a sentimental level. I framed a moment, preserving it for all time, or not. Essentially, all that stands between posterity and obscurity is the delete button. Photography is not unlike writing in this way. Wishing thoughts into words and words into worlds does not automatically grant amnesty for possible deletion down the road. Where the two differ, though, is street photography's immediacy. As a writer, it's easy to fret over a single word or semicolon. The closest I come to this in my photography is fretting over cropping a shot one way versus another, or deciding between sharing an image in color versus black & white.
At the end of the day, creation is really an act of self-controlled destruction, of paring away the inessential so that what remains may flourish. Sometimes, though, amnesty wins out over practicality. When that happens, you get to share a moment like "Conductor." Hopefully someone will appreciate this moment in time for what it is: fleeting, ephemeral, a ghost of our collective imaginations.
These hoped-for connections are what drive me forward as an artist. And as an artist, I'll continue to self-edit, to be mindful of darlings, to give them their due, or not. To be true to what works, or doesn't work. To temper expectations. To create. To kill. And, to quote Tom Hardy's character from the film Inception, "You mustn't be afraid to dream bigger, darling."
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Documenting the world in words and photos.