Loading Selected Work...
Menu

expectation

african sunset

Since my return from Kenya a few days ago I’ve been reconnecting with friends and family on Twitter, Facebook, and in person. It’s been a warm welcome home and everyone has expressed excitement at the prospect of seeing the images and hearing my stories. While I am very touched by the interest and enthusiasm, this has made today’s post particularly difficult for me to write. I thought about writing it at the end of my planned posts on Kenya but after some reflection, I feel I should begin with it so here goes.

Going to Kenya on a photographic safari, I had high hopes for amazing images and wonderful stories of animals and people. I’ve returned with stories for sure but really good images will be far and few between. There couldn’t be a worse time to hit the wall creatively, photographically, and personally than while on a trip of a lifetime but that’s exactly what happened to me. I could give a list of excuses and reasons. That wouldn’t help much; it certainly didn’t while I was there. I tried to work my way through it having long late night and early morning discussions with my roommate (God bless her!), spending time away from the maddening crowd, shooting only with my G9 (lasted about 10 minutes), and still I couldn’t let go of the weighty sense of dread that I’d return empty handed. I joked I would have been better off leaving behind the much heavier Safari Companion Guide in favour of Pressfield’s lighter, more useful The War of Art.

Now that I’m home, I’ve started to deal it. Distance and time have already given me some perspective and a label for it all. Expectation. Renown photographer Susan Meiselas said it best: “the expectations for a photograph are very great and it’s not just in the composition that a photographer might achieve all that they would hope for, it is just the beginning.” I believe we instinctively know this or at least feel it, whether or not anyone asks us about our images. It is part of being an artist and visual communicator. We want our photographs to carry the stories of what we’ve witnessed so that we can bring an understanding to those who were not there, in a sense to contribute to a new reality that the world is not as different as we might have believed it to be. To quote Susan Meiselas again: “photography is a lot about creating (a) bridge. People still have to walk over it. Photographers are the people who perceive the bridge is a possibility and that goes back to the hope that people will feel the connection and that connectivity is the opening of the door.”

These are tall expectations for anyone on this journey let alone someone so near the beginning of this road. I do not feel I have come close to meeting them and perhaps none of my photographs ever will. What I know is that I do not want to give up. Those small moments of joy when I discover that I’ve created something that stirs my heart are worth the 10 days in the wilderness.

I’ve been through this once before though I never shared it at the time early last year. What I realized then–and again now–is that these valleys are gifts. At a time when there is a fork in the road, they can serve as signposts for our journey and vision. As a sign on a church I passed today said: “Calm seas do not a skilled sailor make.” I am still in the process of trying to figure it all out but I sense the earth has shifted. I am being renewed and I am expecting more wonderful things on my creative journey.

Share

33 Comments

  1. Mark
    January 24, 2010

    I’m guessing this was a tough post for you to write. Don’t fret, keep shooting. It’s a long journey for all of us.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      Thanks Mark. One of the best parts of it are people like yourself who can relate and are along aside for the difficult parts of the journey.

  2. Beate
    January 24, 2010

    I know what you are feeling. I too had a lot of expectations and looking at my images now I am wishing that I might have done some things different. Sometimes I just got too caught up in the moment, the new experience. It made me realize just how difficult this is. Starting on this trip I knew I would have high expectations and throughout this trip I kept reminding myself to enjoy the experience even if it did not turn out to be a big photographic success. I got a few shots I really like and a lot of images where I wished I would have done something different. There is a lot to learn. It still was a wonderful experience and I am glad there were some great people on the trip (like you) to share it with.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      Definitely one of the best parts of the trip was the time spent with you and the gals. We were like a finely tuned machine the way we moved around the van and always in consideration of each other. I am sure that it was no coincidence that we all had a similar experience. One of the things I admired about you is that I could see when you were savouring the moments. I should have taken a photo of that :]

  3. Mark Olwick
    January 24, 2010

    Thank you for sharing that, Sabrina. Don’t worry, you’re far too talented a photographer for the valley to last too long. The fact that you fret about it shows how much you care about your photography.

    The only advice I can give is to try to live in the moment. If inspiration strikes, then it does, if it doesn’t, then just enjoy what’s in front of you. Expectations have you looking to the future (and the future self-judgement that comes with it). Slow down, listen, tune in to all 5 senses.

    Try to step back and look at why you had the expectations you did. Was it the “pressure” of being around other photographers? Was it because you saw other’s work before going? (none of us are Nick Brandt). Since you didn’t have a client to please, it could only come from within. Your images are uniquely you, which is what makes them good, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

    In the end, you can only be you, which is pretty amazing if you ask me.

    Mark

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      I so missed having you around on the safari, Mark! Your advice is golden. It was certainly the pressure of being in the company of some great photographers, among other things. Strangely enough, the work of others like Andy Biggs and Nick Brandt helped by inspiring me to seek the moment we’d all like to capture.

      We must do a photo trip together in the future. I think we’d have a blast :]

  4. Ray K
    January 24, 2010

    I think we have all been there and will all continue to be in the same boat now and then. Just remember that our high points can not exist with out a low point to define it. I would rather have tremendous highs and lows than spend anytime at all in mediocrity. You are so right about “calm seas do not…” .
    Just do what Sabrina does best, and that is be you. Some days it has to be just about the experience or just going out to play cause that is what kids do.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      It’s wonderful to have you rowing with me, Ray. In the long shadow of expectation, I only thought about the mediocrity and I forgot about the relatively of lows and highs. I am going to try to remember that the next time I find myself in a Great Rift Valley of my own making!

  5. Stuart Sipahigil
    January 24, 2010

    First, I really like the image at the top of this post, so even if that is the only one you feel is a good image from this trip, you’ve succeeded. In my opinion, really good images *are* few and far between. That’s what makes them so rare and sought after, both by the photographer and the viewer. Remember, there is no destination on this road; it’s the journey that makes it worthwhile. I think that’s a hard thing to remember; it is for me, anyway.

    The fact that you feel the earth has shifted beneath you is a very good sign. It means you haven’t returned empty-handed, but with at least a new perspective—on photography in general, and yours in particular. Another step along the road, if you will.

    I’m really glad you took the time to share this with us. Perhaps we’ll all remember it when we’re on other “big trips”, and remind ourselves of why we’re really there: to move the journey forward.

    Bravo, Sabrina.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      Thank you Stuart! I’m happy you like the image. I didn’t mention anything about it but it is an acacia tree and an ant hill, both of which very much define the landscape in Kenya.

      Thank you too for your wise words. If my experience can help others be more focused on the journey rather than the destination, then I’ll be pleased.

      I’m very much looking forward to witnessing your Italian journey!

  6. Ed
    January 24, 2010

    Great to hear you are working your way through the valley. Stuart struck exactly the right chord above. And…that image on this post is fantastic.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      I’m glad you like this image, Ed. And wouldn’t Stuart make a wonderful coach and mentor?

    • Ed
      January 26, 2010

      Yep, he would. I could use someone like that to tag along with occasionally here in NYC. My “real” job would preclude an internship though – plus I enjoy my job.

  7. Ken Udle
    January 24, 2010

    David duChemin, in Within the Frame, talks about Expectations and how their influences in photography; pages 156-159 may he helpful for you. I also like what he wrote about indecisive moments on page 22:

    “In the end, as long as you’re not shooting for a client who demands a certain image, no one knows which ones you didn’t get. You’re only as good as the images you create, not the ones you miss. So go easy on yourself…” you can read the rest if you choose

    Ken

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      Ken, your comment has brought a smile to my face and filled the room with peals of laughter. How ironic that I brought WTF with me and David D. was right there, and still I entered the valley!

      I am actually going to go back and read it again and this time from the perspective of being on the other side of it. Thanks!

  8. TwittLink - Your headlines on Twitter
    January 24, 2010

    […] Tweets about this great post on TwittLink.com […]

    Reply
  9. Sue Ables
    January 24, 2010

    I agree with Stuart. I really like the shot you posted.
    I seem to hit that wall a lot! I’m sure it was expectation and being in the company of those fab photogs, even with their great insight. Maybe a little sensory overload thrown in there. Trying too hard sometimes. I’m sure you learned so much and what a fun trip anyway! Better than the one with me! haha.

    I bet you came back with better images than you think. I’m looking forward to seeing a few ; )

    BTW: I agree with Stuart and Mark’s comments 100%. You have come such a long way!!!!! You are very talented!!! Reflect and keep shooting…. (maybe I should follow my own advice! lol)

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      Hey Sue. I missed you! Given your comments, you sure know me well–it was all of those things and a couple more. It was a fabulous safari; you and Pat would have loved it.

      I’ve been processing images all weekend so stay tuned to give me your evaluation. I’d love to know what you think.

  10. Karen Johnson
    January 24, 2010

    I really can’t add anything to what the others have said but I just wanted to let you know that I love the picture above. You actually got to live my dream and I am looking forward to seeing some of your other images. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Right now, for me, I look at photos such as yours and dream. You lived it! I’ve been following you on Twitter and was excited for your opportunity to travel to Kenya. And I bet you’re going to have many more opportunities to shoot your dreams!

    Love your work…keep it up!

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      Welcome Karen; it’s a pleasure to “meet” you. Thank you for helping to ground me with your comments. I am looking to have a more grateful spirit for my experience and what you’ve said is helping immensely.

  11. Erin Wilson
    January 24, 2010

    If only the learning curve wasn’t quite so painful… sigh. I have so been here. With David, as a matter of fact. I’ve changed my approach a little since, but mostly try to keep focused on the fact that time is my friend. There is so much to learn but (as much as I want to be an expert NOW) I do have time to learn.

    And your image at the top… stunning. And totally ‘Africa’. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 24, 2010

      The pain shared is halved so thank you, Sister for sharing. We must chat more as I am very interested in the shift in your approach.

      P.S. I’m glad you like the image 🙂

  12. Krista Fox
    January 24, 2010

    Sabrina,

    I love this blog post. You so eloquently expressed something many of us were feeling on the trip.

    I totally agree with Ray – the amazing high points can’t exist without the lows, which define them. Yes, it is too bad that Africa couldn’t have been a high point in our photographic journey, but that’s okay because Africa will not be the last trip we do. There will be other opportunities for amazing images, and we will take what we learned in Africa and apply the lessons to the next opportunities. Also, I have a feeling that after you sit down and review your images, you will find more than a few that you like. Take the image at the top – I saw it briefly on the trip, but I don’t remember you going on too much about it. Now here it is – looking absolutely stunning.

    I just looked back at some video tonight, and I can’t believe that less than a week ago, we were bouncing over the savannah chasing lions. I feel blessed to have gotten to know you over the course of the trip. It would have been a very different experience for me if you weren’t there.

    – your roomie xo

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 25, 2010

      Hey Roomie!!!!

      So pleased you popped by. I miss our chats; they are a very special part of my experience in Kenya that I wouldn’t exchange for anything…even a killer shot. Thanks for being the best sounding board, for having a generous ear, and for the tips on shooting people. If anyone likes those shots, they’ll have you to thank.

      I can’t wait to see your images and video and to see you establish your own personal blog!

  13. John Batdorff
    January 25, 2010

    Very nice post. Expectations are tough…I really try to leave them at the door whenever I travel but it’s always a difficult task. One thing is for sure….time is on your side. Unless, you’re a lot older than you look…;)

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      January 26, 2010

      I think it gets easier each time you have to slay that dragon or at least we feel better equipped to deal with it. If not, I may not have as much time as my avatar might indicate :]

    • John Batdorff
      January 26, 2010

      🙂

  14. Experiment | The Light Without
    February 21, 2010

    […] to say photographically about my experience there. I’m hoping it’s a way to undercut the formidable expectations we sometimes set for ourselves upon embarking on that “big […]

    Reply
  15. Monte Stevens
    February 22, 2010

    First off, I really like your image and this whole website you’ve created. I’ve discovered you through twitter and have spent some time browsing about this evening. I like your images, your passion and energy. I pray you continue onward.

    I love your last two sentences, “I am still in the process of trying to figure it all out but I sense the earth has shifted. I am being renewed and I am expecting more wonderful things on my creative journey.”

    I would like to follow along.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      February 22, 2010

      Welcome Monte, I’m happy you stopped by and stayed a while and even more pleased that you are going to hang around.

      Please feel free to engage anyone else who pops in as they are all a great bunch of people.

  16. Carolyn
    May 27, 2010

    Profound indeed . . . . . it is a lifelong journey and I too had high expectations of Cape Cod, many of which were not realized . .. was just out of sync with my camera and my soul.

    Reply
  17. This is Africa (from my perspective) » Verve Photo Co.
    January 20, 2012

    […] Africa has always captivated me.  I left Canada full of excitement and wonder at what my trip would hold for me, and nervous to leave behind Wyatt, my 2 year old son, to embark on a journey that had been one of my lifetime dreams.  I had in my mind’s eye the photographs that I hoped to come back with.  I envisioned landscape and wild life photographs good enough to be printed in coffee table books and hung in art shows and galleries, photographs that were inspired by Andy Bigg’s work – not photographs that would merely find the end of their road on the walls of Wyatt’s nursery (and if I’m being honest – they haven’t even found their way there yet).  I have to say, my expectations got the better of me, and I was disappointed with my seeming inability to document animals in their natural habitat. It was a learning curve, to be sure.  In the end, I joked that my “gallery” would consist only of animal butts and lone tree shots.  At least the lone trees co-operated!  My good friend Sabrina, whom I met on safari, summed up her experience with the challenge of expectation much better than I ever would, which you can read here. […]

    Reply
  18. this is africa (from my perspective) | blog
    September 18, 2012

    […] Africa has always captivated me.  I left Canada full of excitement and wonder at what my trip would hold for me, and nervous to leave behind Wyatt, my 2 year old son, to embark on a journey that had been one of my lifetime dreams.  I had in my mind’s eye the photographs that I hoped to come back with.  I envisioned landscape and wild life photographs good enough to be printed in coffee table books and hung in art shows and galleries, photographs that were inspired by Andy Bigg’s work – not photographs that would merely find the end of their road on the walls of Wyatt’s nursery (and if I’m being honest – they haven’t even found their way there yet).  I have to say, my expectations got the better of me, and I was disappointed with my seeming inability to document animals in their natural habitat. It was a learning curve, to be sure.  In the end, I joked that my “gallery” would consist only of animal butts and lone tree shots.  At least the lone trees co-operated!  My good friend Sabrina, whom I met on safari, summed up her experience with the challenge of expectation much better than I ever would, which you can read here. […]

    Reply

Leave a Reply