When and How to "Make it Work" (and what if you can't)

August 04, 2014  •  2 Comments

About 99.9% of the time, when I am working on an image I am unsure if I can bring it into fruition as a finished piece.

In fact, there are some times that I've known immediately after shooting an image that I won't be able to make it work.

Now that doesn't mean that I scrap the shoot and throw it away forever.

I save the shoot, knowing that there might be a time a few days or even a few years later when I can revisit the concept and bring it properly to life.

Other times I have to leave the image overnight, or for days, before I see a solution,

Let me give you an example: "At the Helm" Surreal Conceptual Fine Art Photography by Jen Kiaba. Click to Purchase a Limited Edition Print."At the Helm"Surreal Fine Art Photography by Jen Kiaba.Click to Purchase a Limited Edition Print.

This was a photo that I had sketched out in the middle of winter. I was chomping at the bit to get it shot.

Problematically, the winter here in the Hudson Valley meant snow drifts above my head in some places.

So finding a body of water, getting into a boat and shooting in a summer dress didn't really seem possible.

But it was one of those images that would not leave me alone. The Muse (if that's what you want to call your inspirational force) was pretty much demanding that I create this image.

If my Muse were Tim Gunn (and that would be kind of awesome) then it would have simply said "Make It Work."

And since my life is not governed by the rules of Reality TV (thank goodness) I asked, "How?"

That's how I found myself in my studio on a dark winter's morning with a red casserole dish in hand, shaking my head, wondering what kind of insanity I was up to.

And frankly, if any of my studio partners had walked in during my shoot they would have likely wondered the same thing.

So I photographed the dish, and myself, hoping that somehow I would be able to manifest my crazy idea of making it look like my casserole dish was a big red boat.

Then I had the problem of making my studio floor look like water.

I was kind of pissed at my Muse.

After editing for hours at a time, I would walk away still unconvinced that I'd be able to manifest my idea.

Behind the Scenes of Jen Kiaba Photography. Halfway through editing "At the Helm" and no idea how I'm going to make it work.Behind the Scenes.Halfway through editing "At the Helm" and no idea how I'm going to make it work.

But then one day I woke up to look at the work from the night before and I knew that it was done.

Is it perfect? No. I still see areas that I could improve. But I finished it and at that point I'm done being critical and editing.

Most of the time that's an accurate representation of my process. Fear and doubt are always trying to drown out my creative voice and intuition, and so it takes extra effort to dive down internally under the noise and listen to my inner voice.

But then what happens when fear is right? What if you simply can't make it work?

The other day my Muse spoke up, and I hurriedly went to my sketchbook to take notation. And instead of letting the idea gel and fully translate in my brain (which is what I've found works best for me), I went to shooting right away.

Both my fear and my intuition had that doubtful look, like when the great Project Runway mentor isn't convinced that the contestant can pull off their design. (Hey, sometimes they surprise us all.)

The thing was that fear told me to Stop. "Why bother doing this at all? It's just an exercise in futility!!"

Conversely, my intuition encouraged me on even in the face of doubt. "You might succeed and create something unexpected. Either way you'll learn something."

So I plugged away, shooting and editing.

When the image was done I knew that it didn't work. It didn't really match the initial sketch that I was going for and my intent got convoluted and lost in translation.

It's certainly not something I will put in my portfolio. 

But I see worthwhile elements in it. So I decided to share it on social media.

And wouldn't you know it, my fear piped up howling. It did not want anyone to see anything less than perfect.

I hit publish anyway. And I shared how I felt about the image.

And someone absolutely validated my fears. They told me that the work wasn't fully conceived.

Untitled Fine Art Photography by Jen Kiaba. A screen capture from Instagram.Untitled Fine Art Photography by Jen Kiaba.A screen capture from Instagram.

And it hurt. The fear in me wanted to defend myself or lash out in some way. 

Instead I looked inward and comforted myself. Yes, it sucked to be told that the very things I was worried were weak in the image were evident. But it didn't mean that the person critiquing valued me or my work any less.

In fact, I was able to spend some time with those emotions and realized that good critique usually comes from a place of respect.

The takeaway here is that in any of our creative endeavors we may fail. Success is never guaranteed.

While I don't advocate for toiling on a fruitless journey forever, sometimes there is value in seeing a project, a photograph or a painting through.

The point is to create, to bring things into the world, and to learn to listen to yourself and understand what needs to be created through you.

Sometimes you'll have resounding successes. Other times a project may fall short and need to be shelved until you're able to see how to bring it to life.

The key is the willingness to create and let your creations be seen and valued.

It may never be perfect. If we were able to create the perfect masterpiece, maybe we'd never feel the need to create again. (And how boring would that be?)

I think it's in the imperfection that we find the desire to keep creating and improving.

So be willing to create. Be willing to make it work, miss the mark, or be less than perfect. Your creative energy is there for a reason.

If we wait until we're certain that we will succeed and make the perfect work, then we'll never create anything at all.

And be open to the fact that sometimes it may not work. There's no shame in it. Sometimes that's where the greatest growth can happen.

Plus you never know who you'll inspire and help heal in the process.





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Jen Kiaba Photography
Lynda I completely agree. As artists you can never force your vision on someone else, and their ability to feel and interact with your art is something precious.
Lynda Shelly Schold Stoddard(non-registered)
what we see and what others see is always different, but it is what is felt that is important.... especially to the artist, and what is felt by others may be there own frustration with something in their life, we never know what the other person has gone through
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