Embrace Imperfection

A Pretty Bad Photo of Mike Doughty

I can’t even pretend that the photo at left is a great picture. I’m well aware that, as the caption indicates, it’s a pretty bad photo. And yet, for all its blur, it conveys a sense of motion that might’ve been lost in a photograph that was more technically correct. If I had a mind to, I could even pass it off as an abstract. In short, for all its flaws, I like it.

I didn’t always. The morning after the show in question, I went over the hundred or so shots I’d taken, and deemed every last one of ’em crap. I saved them in spite of that, though, because I learned a long time ago that I can be absolutely brutal with myself when I’m taking the first look over something I’ve just done (which, incidentally, I still tend to do).

I’m hardly alone in this. I think that most of us (not counting those who’ve downloaded Picnik and bought an SLR and so feel entitled to call themselves “professionals”) have, at some point,  convinced ourselves that our work — every last bit of it — sucks. The irony of it is, if you’re convinced your work is terrible, it probably isn’t as bad as you’ve convinced yourself. And even if it was (we’ve been there, too), it won’t stay that way as long as you keep working at it.

But I digress. There’s an expression that I come back to from time to time: “Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” As I told a friend not long ago, sometimes good enough really is good enough. And sometimes, the imperfections in something have a charm all their own, or communicate in a way that a more accomplished-looking result (or one that we’ve gone back and polished to a high gloss) wouldn’t. Rolling Stone won’t exactly be beating my door down or blowing up my phone looking for the rights to this photo (nor, I can safely assume, would Mr. Doughty). But you know what? I can live with the photo, so I can also live with that.

The best thing about your craft, whichever one you happen to practice, is that you can always revisit it later. Photography, like writing, allows for a certain amount of revision on top of the practice that any craft allows, and even encourages, you to put into it. Hang onto your work, because when you do that, you may be surprised to find out that it was better than you thought when you first made it. There’s a lot to be said for being comfortable in your own skin; there’s every bit as much to be said for being comfortable in your own craft.

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