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I can’t remember exactly when I became a photographer, but I can tell you that I’ve been fascinated by photography as far back into the years that my memory can reach. My mother gave me a Brownie box camera, probably when I was about 10 or so. I’m sure I used it, but I have no recollection of ever having done so. Any pictures that I may have taken have vanished deep into that vortex of darkness that Mom’s house became in the years after all but one of her children had left.

Walk on by (©2003 by Richard X. Moore)

Then my half-brother, who I’ve seen twice in my life, gave me a 35-mm rangefinder that he had bought overseas. It broke the third or fourth time I used it. That’s as much as I remember about it.

I finally bought myself an SLR  during the summer after my freshman year in high school. It was a Praktica Super TL. I bought a 200mm telephoto shortly thereafter. That’s when my “career” as a photographer really began, but I can’t tell you exactly when I might have moved beyond simply taking pictures and into the lofty and mysterious realm of “creating images.” The work that survives from that early period is pretty much limited to some shots I did, uncredited, for my high school yearbook during my sophomore year. I have a copy of it someplace, so that work can become real to me again once I find that yearbook and look at it.

My acquisition of knowledge about photography was both early and rapid, due mostly to my almost OCD-like custom, during that period of my life,  of reading about a billion books on any subject that caught my attention. My bird phase was like 5th grade through 7th grade, followed by a few years of obsession about the Second World War (Pacific Theater only, for some reason). Then photography, which I’d been doing with zero understanding for a few years, caught my attention. I learned mostly by reading rather than doing, largely owing to some personal psychological quirks that I’ve been saddled with. I’m sure we’ll discuss those by and by.

It’s only for the last decade or so that I’ve been creating anything remotely meaningful, and most of that has come in the last 5 years. There are a couple of things that dawned on me during this period that stirred some growth in my image-making after a lifetime of dormancy, save for a few spurts there and there.

The first thing I understood, finally, was that I needed to disconnect my creativity from other people. I found that my most productive periods were associated with finding an audience that I could try to impress and actually having some success at it. Sometimes the audience was one person, sometimes a few, sometimes an anonymous multitude of online humanity, it didn’t seem to matter. I wanted to bask in the glow of praise, which I somehow conflated with understanding and intimacy. The warm feelings never lasted very long and audiences came and went. The more I reached toward that praise, the farther I seemed to get from whatever sits at the core of my creative impulse.

The second was giving up my quest for perfection in my photography. This is probably the most important for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that nothing is ever perfect, and besides that I don’t even like things that are too perfect as a general rule. I think now that perfection was never really the problem but rather an ingrained fixation on avoiding criticism, which I can now explain, thanks to a few years of cognitive therapy, but still feel on an almost primal level.

Letting go of the perfection thing, whatever it was/is, has been pretty liberating for two very good reasons. I’m more honest and constructive about assessing my own work, and I’m confident showing it to people. Both of these things are unavoidable if you want to call yourself an artist, but they aren’t necessarily of equal importance.

Self-assessment, as it turns out, has to be ruthless but not cruel. What I used to do was this: I would shoot something that really excited me, look at it, be extremely disappointed, pronounce myself talentless, and put the camera away for a while. Sometimes, a while turned out to be a long while.

At Home: Montana (©2004 by Richard X. Moore)

I don’t know when I finally broke that cycle. I don’t really care, truth be told. All that matters is that I’m comfortable creating my work and equally comfortable setting it free to stand or fall on its own. Some people will thinks it good. Some people will find it tedious and dull.  This will be true regardless, and I am powerless to change it.

That is the essence of the creative process, really.

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to over-analyze things.

RXM

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