To my eyes, filmmaking offers far more possibilities for deep storytelling than photography does, limited as it is by its single-frame relationship to time and essentially evocative levers. But there’s one aspect of photography that’s probably significantly more satisfying. Brief thought coming up.
Editing is what gives video its edge over photography. It allows the filmmaker to play with our perception of time and causality (between scenes) and shape our understanding of the underlying subject of the story. All great films have great editors making magic in the background.
But editing is also what makes filmmaking so difficult. Raising your film above the level of a mere collection of shots presented in some arbitrary order requires a deep understanding of storytelling – which is quite the challenge in itself – and a deep understanding of the public, something even more difficult, as evidenced by the number of brands that completely miss the mark in their messaging. It takes one to know one and authenticity is hard.
It is said that 1 minute of film takes about 1 hour of editing. My guess is this grossly underestimates the ratio for masterpieces. Many feature films collect hundreds of hours of footage (I read 800 for some Tarantino movies) for just 2 or 3 in the final cut. And even documentary filmmakers regularly get 10 to 50 times more shots than will end up in the product. Assembling all this into one meaningful and consitent narrative takes more than a proportionate amount of time.
What I’m getting at is that a movie, short, documentary, or feature, is a project. And don’t get me wrong, working on projects is my favourite type of work. It’s far more exciting than the regular flow of tasks the usual desk job has to offer. But projects come hand in hand with the notion of achievement.
Achievements are what most of us strive for throughout our younger years. Our bright plans for the future rarely involve a regular 9 to 5 dose of simply being useful to a company or bringing regular pleasure to a family. We want to win Pulizer prizes, or be part of that Champion League team that trusts every final, or win that Photographer of the Year award or head a crime syndicate to control all cocaine traffic on the west coast. Young humans view their future world through a series of binary successes and achievements. And even those not hoping to end up in the White House can view a short film as an essential achievement to their happiness.
It’s a good thing because we’d all be sitting on rocks foraging for food, were it not for ambitious younglings. But it’s harmful for happiness and life satisfaction. Winners of the lottery tend to be over the moon for a fortnight then recalibrate progressively. The lottery is merely a great marketing scam for those beginning to realize those unrealistic dreams ain’t gonna happen, but haven’t yet reached the point when one understands it actually doesn’t matter and that there’s a lot more to life than those naive goals. After a year, lottery winners don’t report greater happiness levels than before their win (unless they were in a severe financial predicament and have lifted out of that). Likewise, winners of prestigious prizes and awards only get to look further up at the next step on the ladder until one cannot be reached and disappointment follows. It almost always does. Achievements buy us prestige and ambition is the tool of species survival but neither serves durable happiness.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains the Progress Principle as pleasure derived far more from making small steps of progress towards a goal than from achieving the goal itself. In other words, happiness is all about the journey, not the destination.
And photographs are just that. Small deliberate steps on a journey for which individual success is easy to achieve and individual feedback is easy to come by. Make a nice photograph and you feel good about yourself. Make one every day for 6 months, and that’s a lot of cumulative emotional wellbeing interest stacking up. Whereas slaving for 6 months on a film – even a great one – only produces that single adrenalin rush, which arrives too late to be really of any benefit (reinforcement is a matter of seconds, not days, or weeks) and fades rapidly at the hands of enhanced ambition or impostor syndrome, depending on your predispositions.
So, I guess that’s one very positive point to keep in mind as I battle my @#$£!! inability to make up my mind about video 😉 😉 😉 And I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the small wins. This doesn’t mean we should give up on the ambitious work, I’m not giving up on video, but maybe we should give ourselves more regular pats in the back for those daily little success that photographs can be a large part of 🙂 For what it’s worth, this probably explains my lack of backup diligence: the photographs that interest me more are those about to come, not those from the past. They served their purpose on this blog or in the very occasional print, moving on 🙂
For instance, I really like those 4 simple photographs, made during walks in between lockdowns. Unpretentious portraits of things not far from home. But also well organized (visually) into evocative memories. None will ever end up in a museum or sell as a 7 figure NFT, but each a nice photograph that brought me instant joy.
We all need those simple daily wins that bring more happiness to our lives, whether we also pursue more lofty goals or not. Did you recently make nice pics that make you happy? Do you even agree with the above? If so, care to share some in future posts? 🙂
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