Personal, Photography

The well is never truly dry

This isn’t a post about being a Christian, but I’m going to start with a story related to my Christian faith. Bear with me, it sets up my point.

Early after I started following Jesus a preacher talked to me about prayer, which is a foundation of the relationship we Christians build with Christ. He said, “People come to me all the time and say, ‘I’ve been praying, but I’ve lost the feeling. I feel like I’m just going through the motions. What do I do?’ I tell them to just keep on praying. If you keep praying, sooner or later you’ll find that connection with God again.”

It’s been good advice. But the underlying principle has also been good advice in my two main hobbies, writing and photography.

Sometimes the words don’t flow easily. Sometimes I just don’t feel like making photographs. The best thing to do at those times is, paradoxically, to write or to make photographs.

Doing these things primes the well’s pump. The well of creativity is never truly dry. When you keep trying, the good words and photographs eventually come back.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, my family is living through some difficult challenges. I haven’t usually felt like writing or making photographs.

Allied Appliances
From the last time I shot my Nikomat FTn. 50/2 Nikkor H-C on Arista Premium 400.

But I’ve been making myself do it. I just finished a roll in my Nikomat FTn and I have film in my Olympus XA now. I have pushed myself through a few photo walks of my usual subjects, things and places easily reached. I feel sure that there will be no portfolio-worthy shots on those rolls, one of Kodak Portra 400 and one of Ilford FP4 Plus. What matters is that I’m shooting.

And I’ve been making myself write. That’s where the recent post about my grandmother (read it here) came from. It was hard to write, not because of any emotional impact of the content, but because I strain to find the words.

Have you ever been “in the zone” with anything you do? Where you act with easy fluidity? Where good results materialize easily from your efforts?

I know that if I keep at it, soon enough I’ll be in the zone again.

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15 thoughts on “The well is never truly dry

  1. Hi, Jim, hey, yes, I’m still around. I happened just by chance to stumble over your recent S80 post, where you kindly mentioned me. My sincere apologies. Even though we’ve never met face to face, I’ve considered you a friend for many years, and I’ve let you down on keeping up with your excellent, unparallelled blog. The old saying is “it’s not you, it’s me”, and it’s true. This was largely the fault of me losing interest in my own blog and thus, finding it harder to remember to check up on those of my friends.

    There’s little like your blog out there, in my experience. The honesty and openness of your blog are sincerely humbling, enviable, and genuinely frightening. Do you remember the song from Jesus Christ, Superstar that Helen Reddy made famous, “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”? I feel something like that sense of astonishment and awe when I see how brave and human you are in your blog. I had to read your post about being let go last autumn, and it was chilling. Terrifying. I can’t imagine how you found the courage to share something that raw and disappointing, but I deeply admire the self-mastery, trust, and generosity it shows.

    I’ve got a lot of catching up reading to do, but I’m going to try to invest the time to keep up with what you’re sharing your sharing with us, given how much of your time you invest in doing so. Who knows… it might even prompt me to update City In the Trees once in a while. :)

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    • LP!! Man, long time no see. Yeah, you’ve missed a lot, including the death of my father and my daughter-in-law. I don’t have much trouble sharing; I have a lower need for privacy than most, I guess.

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  2. Great idea for a post Jim.

    I almost entirely agree. Regular habits are incredibly powerful, and showing up even when you’re not “feeling it” gets us through all kinds of ups and downs.

    I read a post on a bike blog a few months back, and the writer was talking about how sometimes, even though apparently all conditions are identical, we hop and bike and ride away with ease, and other times it can feel a bit of a slog from the first pedal, as if the bike (or we) is twice the weight.

    Riding three or four times a week myself now, I relate completely.

    I don’t know what the unexplained factor is that makes the difference. A similar phenomenon exists in most activities, including writing and photography.

    But if we keep trying, those easier days where everything flows and falls into place return, and probably more often.

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  3. There is so much here. You are right that sometimes the hardest part of starting is starting. For myself, it helps to have those traits that herd me into routines. Still, I find myself in some current ruts that I need to get out of and making those changes is hard. Keeping up with them is hard too.

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  4. I totally agree that the well is never truly dry, but sometimes, we do have to dig deep to reach the water! I know those times are always hard and for me, they are even a little scary, but you are right, you will be in the zone again. It’s amazing how well you keep at it even when it’s hard. Sending hugs and prayers!

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    • Good point, and that’s where I’ve been recently. I just sent 3 rolls of film to be processed — there are no prizewinners on those rolls but at least I was out there shooting!

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  5. Jim, I’ve been thinking about this more. If you know you’re not in the frame of mind to shoot any “prizewinners”, but still want to get out and make photographs anyway, I’m wondering if these might be good times to shoot digital. Then if you do get a few shots you love, you’ve still got them, ie you still went through the same all important process of getting out and making photos. And if you don’t get any – or you get very few – then you can just delete with no cost, rather than they paying $17 a roll (I think you said this was what you pay) for photos you wouldn’t likely ever look at again. Those three rolls you mentioned would cost zero development wise, rather than $51. This is what I would do, being ever frugal!

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    • That’s usually what I do, actually. This time I didn’t because I got a sponsorship deal — several rolls of film for free in exchange for film reviews and links back to the shop that supplied them. Need to get on with shooting those rolls!

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