The Weight of Worth
I’ve been lucky to have been a part of some interesting conversations lately - between new friends and old. Conversations about a photographer’s vision and voice – the two things that turn our technical hobby into an artistic pursuit. Conversations about authenticity, and honesty in our work. And conversations about the struggle – the desperate desire to be heard, seen, validated, and have our art and work and passion be found to have worth.
I, myself, struggle with that last piece daily. In a past life, I taught 12 year olds about the world – we explored far away cultures and unique lands, in an effort to teach them an understanding about their place in the world. I was given opportunities to travel, to explore many of the places I taught my students about first hand – I’ve seen the beauty of Europe, listened to gunfire across the border in Macedonia, eaten guinea pig with the locals in Peru, made uncomfortable crossings through checkpoints in Israel and the West Bank, bribed my way into Bolivia, even looked into the blank eyes of the North Korean guards at the DMZ. I used to dream about being able to capture those feelings, but lacked the skills to do so photographically. Now, I have the skills, but lack the time and ability to travel, now that I am “just” a stay at home mom.
People seem to give an automatic weight to photographs taken far from home. The more exotic the location, the more it seems to appeal to people. Does that mean that the work I am creating, in my home and simple daily life, holds no weight? Or worse, does it only have worth with those who live a similar life as mine?
Two years ago, I found myself in a juxtaposition of being in both the most boring, monotonous point in my life, and yet in the most insanely challenging and extraordinary point – I became a mother. Every day is almost exactly the same – diapers, nursing, changing shirts a million times, scrambling to make dinner, trying to find time to vacuum, looking for lost toys, and always being one sock shy – it’s monotonous. And it’s wonderful. The feeling of knowing a little being more intimately than you know yourself – the deep, profound connection between yourself and every other mother in the history of the world – it’s beyond anything I have ever experienced.
As someone who never particularly dreamed of being a mom, the day my oldest daughter was born, I was forever changed. The profound connection I have with my children is something that is in my work now. My sheer wonderment at motherhood is present. My vision is to capture these moments of being a mother to young children before they vanish forever. It is so fleeting, so precious, so necessarily hard – and something I feel I MUST hold onto.
And so I take pictures. I turn their childhood into something tangible.
I capture the moments I want to remember when I am old and gray. I try to capture the very essence of what being a mother is, of what being a young child is, and of what that relationship means.
But yet I worry - does it speak to anyone beyond myself, or other mothers? Does my voice and vision transcend the subject, and connect with people on a deeper level? Is the authentic voice in my work enough?
That, I don’t know. But I certainly hope so.
I hope that my technical skills and artistic vision is of such caliber that the moments I present in my photographs speak to those beyond my peer group. Many days I have the confidence (or am naive enough) to think that it does – but on the bad days, I find myself afraid to share my work beyond my safe circle of friends. I dismiss it as being what “only a mother” cares about.
Does it matter? If my work doesn’t have worth to someone else, does that diminish it? What if I am the ONLY person who sees worth in an image – the so-called “mommy goggles” effect – does a photograph’s worth only matter when multiplied by how many people across how many slices of life see the intent in your image and find it worthwhile?
How many people have to tell you an image is good before you believe it yourself? Wouldn’t it be great if you had the confidence to not need that validation?
Yeah… me too.
Here’s the thing – my work has worth. There, I said it – out loud. The moments that I capture of my own children, in the simplicity of my home – the moments I capture of a mother nursing her child – the moments I capture of the physical beauty and contrast of the natural elements in my own backyard – they have worth.
I believe they have worth, because I found them worthwhile to photograph. I found them worthwhile to capture, to edit, to work on, to ponder over, to gasp at. If I found them to have worth, then that should be all that matters.
A wise, new friend told me recently to have a stiff drink and “enjoy the struggle”. And so I am. And I am going to encourage you, reader, to find your own worth. Embrace your own vision, your own voice, the things in this world that you hold nearest and deepest, and capture those things. Photograph them every way you can, in every imaginable possibility – put your unique thumbprint on your images, and trust in the fact that if YOU see the worth, someone else will, too. Hold your head high, and your work higher - and enjoy every minute of it.