In 1992 or so, I took my first photography class at a community college in south Florida. My teacher at the time taught me two things that have stuck with me for a long time. The conflict between the two things she taught me (or my own processing of the concepts into conflict) has quite possibly set me up in my career path, and conversely, contributed to my feelings of being a fraud.
When I was first learning the 35mm camera, I was hyper focused on the details and tried to understand every setting, and how they related to each other. I thought by mastering the technical details early, I could then be able to take a well crafted photo. I thought that art would come after the science, so to speak.
My teacher (I wish I could remember her name) told me to focus on the composition, colors, lighting and all the other artistic aspects that make a good photo before worrying too much about the details of the tech.
I asked something along the lines of “isn’t important to master your tools and techniques”? And she replied yes, but after you learn what makes a good photograph, artistically.
She said that there is 100 years of innovation and technology in that camera you holding. Created by dozens, maybe hundreds of people across that time. It’s OK to set it and forget it to learn the art first. Once your more comfortable with the basics you can go in and finesse the technology.
Substance before style
I came around to her line of thinking. I studied the aesthetics and put my trust in the tech in ‘auto’ modes. I was making good progress. But then the next week she showed me photoshop. Talk about technical things to learn!
I’ve always been in this space between technology and art. It’s served me well career wise. I was a Technical Art Director in the video game business for a long time. That job role had me sitting between artist and programmers, to facilitate communication and eventually grew to making tools for Artists. That grew to studying User Experience. Simultaneously I was managing people and projects. All this lead me to project management in the software and experience design fields. That’s where I am today.
I’ve had doubts all along about my abilities in any one of those areas though. I wasn’t a “good enough” artists or programmer. So I was frustrated. I didn’t realize until later that I was good at sitting between the artists and programmers, empathizing and helping them help each other.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want to do when I grow up (I’m almost 45, I should figure that shit out asap). This reflection is what lead me all the way back to that humid classroom and the likely source of the conflict that has propelled me all along.