Minimalism – An Opportunity For Growth

I was recently told that the following image was too minimal.

I had mixed feelings.  Although the criticism was about just one image, because I work hard to create minimal images I began to question my style.  Isolating the simple from the complex is one of the many challenges I am faced with when composing a photograph.  I am constantly looking around the frame, wondering what to include and exclude.  I want to include enough information to ensure the viewer recognizes the subject and the environment within which it resides, while at the same time exclude those elements that contribute to neither the subject nor its environment.  Isolating a subject from a complex scene is a skill that I have already invested a lot of time trying to perfect, and one that I want to keep on developing.

In analyzing my feelings:

  • A psychologist would tell me to take criticism as a gift.
  • The demons of self doubt could put me in a slump for weeks, or longer.
  • My life experiences growing up in the north-east of England were telling me to react in some means that would have undoubtedly landed me in trouble with the authorities.
  • The scientist and engineer in me was saying that for every action there should be an equal and opposite reaction.

There is truth in all of these individual feelings and therefore since criticism should be considered a catalyst for growth I decided not to respond to self doubt in a negative way but rather consider this as an opportunity to respond in a way that would help me grow as a photographer.  In an earlier post I talked about “thinking outside of the box” and how incrementally adapting what you already do well is often the best way to solve problems.  Since minimalism is an important part of my work I decided that the best way to solve this particular problem and grow is not to change my style, but rather to celebrate it.  I plan to spend some time in the coming weeks going through my images and create small folios of my work in which I have used minimalism to emphasize the subject and help describe what I felt when I took the photographs.

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9 comments

  1. The demons of self doubt have taken up permanent residence in my psyche.
    After wildly fluctuating mood swings in terms of liking my work, hating my work, comparing my work to others, etc, I’ve come to two realizations:
    1. My only competition is myself
    2. Bring in the mood extremes to a state of neutrality.

    We don’t define ourselves. That’s what others do. Our only job is to constantly work at getting better. Let everything else fall where it may.

  2. The demons of self doubt have taken up permanent residence in my psyche.
    After wildly fluctuating mood swings in terms of liking my work, hating my work, comparing my work to others, etc, I’ve come to two realizations:
    1. My only competition is myself
    2. Bring in the mood extremes to a state of neutrality.

    We don’t define ourselves. That’s what others do. Our only job is to constantly work at getting better. Let everything else fall where it may.

  3. If you don’t like what your doing, no one else will either! And who cares what “no one else” likes anyway! I always concider what comments I receive on an image, throw out what I don’t like and keep what I like. Not everyone will like an image but those that do will enjoy.

  4. Critical feedback is biased as well. It is biased by the critic in that he/she is bringing to the critique his/her world view, their likes, dislikes… So, it is critical that we take the critique for what it is… a biased view. I was just reviewing some images on a website last night. They were HORRIBLE…. but they are selling for $1,500.00 each and considered “FINE ART”… So who’s bias is right? Who’s critique valid? Obviously NOT MINE! 🙂 I echo the comments by Gary and Tony, worry not about what others think but rather work to create what you feel. Do your best to squelch the demons (easier said than done) and follow your heart. Now get busy with the folio, I can’t wait to see it!!

    As for the blog image. IT IS GREAT!!! Big time GREAT! For me it stirs up fond memories of the milk bottles that used to be delivered to my home as a child. Its minimalism a perfect choice as it allows me to focus on the subject and nothing else. To wander through my memories and FEEL them vividly…. Thank you!

  5. While discussing our career choice of sales some 30+ years ago a co-worker, mentor and lifetime friend gave me his description of a salesman as a “large jumble of self doubt bordering on the neurotic acutely tuned to the slightest cue of approval from his customer.” I’ve come to understand that self doubt is part of the price paid by everyone who performs. Artists certainly are performers. Great artists such as yourself are not exempted from paying this part of the tuition. That being said though I have to admit that I never ever got used to hearing “No.”

    Your work is inspirational, Arthur. I look forward to more of it. I personally admire minimalism and those like you who can pull it off.

  6. “We don’t define ourselves. That’s what others do….” Wow, that is very powerful Tony – I am going to lock this away in my mind for those occasions when I need to remember who I am…

    I consider myself very fortunate to not only have great photographer friends, but also friends that are able to share their own experiences and provide meaningful advice. Thank you to all.

  7. OK late to the comment party here as usual, but, Arthur, your work is fabulous and always meticulously crafted, both in the field and post. Don’t let the sons of “b” get ya down. Keep ’em coming!
    Heck I was sitting next to someone who said one of my shots looked like a real estate ad! Well from a distance maybe it did, but I doubt it would sell that old shack! Have fun don’t worry…and don’t take any of it too seriously! It’ll be over before you know it!

  8. Karen says…”it will be over before you know it”….. WOW, that is positive and uplifting YOU crack me up Karen. I agree, Arthur we are very blessed to have amazing artistic, thoughtful, caring, sharing, smart photography friends. Great photographers like you have had a profound impact on me as a person and photographer.

  9. @JB, I only speak the truth! 😉

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