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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

The B Side

One of the things that I have been thinking about lately is how to deal with the idea of making photographs that I know ahead of time are not likely to be among those that I consider to be my best, or even likely to make it into print. I found myself wondering about the importance of making images under these circumstances and, in my mind, ended up comparing this situation to other fields of artistic endeavor, particularly music.

I found myself realizing that this situation surely occurred with even the best of the best. Didn't The Beatles and The Rolling Stones know that the songs they put on the “B Side” of their singles were not their strongest work. (For those too young to remember, ‘back in the day’ bands would release their hit singles on 45rpm vinyl records which had a song on both sides. Typically the ‘A Side’ had the hit single that was played on the radio and the ‘B Side’ had a lesser known work.) Even on full album releases it seemed, at least at the time, pretty clear what the ‘weakest’ songs were. So why put those on the album? Why not wait until a few more ‘good’ songs were written? If it were as simple as this, however, there would be no album that contained ‘filler’.

I think the answer goes far beyond the obvious issue of it being difficult to predict what will become a hit. And I think the answers are directly applicable to photography as well. It just somehow seemed clearer to me when I thought about the issues in the realm of music, perhaps because I am an ‘outsider’ to the field.

Surely there must be times when a musician is pleased with a piece they have written, only to find that most listeners would not categorize it as being among their best work. Similarly, I recently posted about how difficult it can be to predict what images people will find most appealing.

I am sure there are times that a musician feels a need to change something about their style: to experiment a bit, as it were. For me, this immediately brings to mind The Talking Heads and Joni Mitchell. From a photography standpoint, even though landscapes, for example, might be your strongest point, when you are feeling in a creative rut you might well want to do macro or street photography. Does that mean that this 'experimental' work should not be shown? Of course not.

What about the creative process in general? Maybe it simply isn’t possible to collect 14 ‘A Side’ songs at once. What if to generate that many hits you simply have to work through all the other tunes going through your mind first? What if you have to keep ‘practicing’ in order to make hits?

As I have been working through these issues and ideas in my mind a few things have become clear to me:

If you don’t keep practicing photography with vigor, then when the opportunity to take that ‘killer shot’ comes along the results will surely not be as good as they could have been.

If you don’t change your style, at least transiently, in order to climb out of a creative rut, you are doing yourself a creative injustice. Try macro, landscape, street…try playing with a Holga or pinhole camera. And don't hide the work.

Sometimes, to tell a story, not every image will be a ‘Best Of’ shot. (Not every song on The Who’s “Tommy” was a hit.) But each image may well play an important role, acting as a chapter, in delivering a complete and autonomous tale.

Even though you may not be going to a beautiful location, you can never tell when something will catch your eye and the subsequent photographic exploration may turn up something unanticipated.

It may well be that a passing texture or pattern that you make an image of might not stand on its own, but, at a later time, that image might well play an important role in a montage, as a texture blend, or other use.

I am not advocating showing your photographic ‘outtakes’ or what you consider to not be your best work, but surely there are many images that might merit that ‘B Side’; work that might not be one’s “Best Of” but still occupies an important spot in your creative history!