From Boredom to Breakthroughs

Park Bench. Photograph © 2014 Jane Alynn

One of Andy Warhol’s famous bon mots was “I like boring things.”

Boredom is hard for me. If I’m not engaged in a project or if I’m not traveling, I can easily start to feel restless. With amazing predictability I will find myself in that “grass is greener” mentality, in which I construct the fantasy that somewhere—anywhere—else would be more inspiring.

Then I think of William Eggleston who has documented his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, for fifty years and never lost interest in things he saw all the time. For him there was no such thing as ho-hum, yawn-inducing familiarity. Rather, he saw beauty in the banal and created magic out of the mundane.

I do remember learning this lesson.

Once, in a workshop with Freeman Patterson, each of us students were assigned a small area, no bigger than the inside of a hula hoop, on a visually monotonous tract of land (our place assigned by chance, not by choice), to work. We were instructed to shoot a whole roll of film, which meant 36 exposures, with no duplications.

“You should feel desperation in this exercise,” he said. “After you’ve exhausted the obvious picture-taking possibilities only then will you experience a breakthrough.”

I’ve decided to reinhabit this challenge. The aim is to get past the obvious in my own hometown and to explore its beautiful ordinariness. Its reality.

Photograph the world as it is. Nothing’s more interesting than reality. ~ Mary Ellen Mark

(Mary Ellen Mark died on Monday. She’ll be greatly missed.)

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