When your confidence leaves you

I remember having a discussion with a client of mine many years ago about confidence. She was telling me at the time that I obviously had a lot of confidence in what I do, which was a revelation to me at the time, as I had never associated confidence with the art of creativity until then.

Hindu, Bodha Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal Image © Bruce Percy 2009

Hindu, Bodha Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal
Image © Bruce Percy 2009

Since that conversation, I've had many opportunities to think about it and I believe that she was right. I did have confidence in what I do, because I think that I've been very comfortable with the creative-arts for most of my life: I was an arty kid who was always drawing and painting, and as a teenager I was a musician who composed and made up songs all the time. So I don't think I've ever had any fear of trying out new things or experimenting. I guess you could say that the opposite of confidence in the realm of being creative, is the fear of making a mistake. 

These days, I have this little mantra: "each time I pick up my camera, I give myself permission to fail". 

Creativity is all about experimentation, and to experiment we need to be open to anything happening. And one of the possibilities is that we may fail. If I were to go along with the attitude that everything I do must be a success, then I would no longer be experimenting since to experiment means we are trying out things that may or may not work.

This week I am in Bhutan to make portraits of the country's people. I love street photography and close up portraiture of people, but I seldom get a chance to do it because of my yearly landscape workshop schedule.

Yet here I am, suffering from a massive crisis of confidence. I am finding it very hard indeed to make a connection and begin the process of making new people photographs. I am out of practice I tell myself. 'Nothing is any good' I hear a voice tell me in the back of my mind. Another voice say 'It isn't your thing' and I realise that I am going the wrong way with my approach. I need to back off a little, relax and enjoy the trip for what it is. The pictures will come when I least expect it.

Nepalese girl, Baktapur, Kathmandu Image © Bruce Percy 2009

Nepalese girl, Baktapur, Kathmandu
Image © Bruce Percy 2009

And this comes to be true. Yesterday while feeling very perplexed by my complete loss of confidence to make portraits of people I find myself approached by an old man on a bridge near one of the Dzong temples. He asks me 'did you find happiness in there?', and I somehow feel as if he's been sent to give me a message. I begin my conversation with him and by the end of it, find I'm feeling much more enthused and relaxed. He has calmed me down. Grounded me when I needed it. 

A few minutes later, another old man approaches me. This time he is a Bhutanese and very photogenic. He has a big smile on his face and takes my hand. I feel encouraged and ask him if I may photograph him. He says yes. Ahhhh I say to myself 'things are beginning to happen'. 

I just needed to back off a little, start to enjoy the exchange and also understand, that the photographs will come when they come. Just like when we meet those important people in our lives, they appear when we least expect them, and they come through no contrivance.

I hope that over the coming days my confidence will grow. I am so out of touch with making people pictures, and I'm quite shy with people in this regard anyway - I recognise that it has always been a difficult thing for me to do and that it is often a slow process. One where the accumulation of images comes over several weeks not days.

So let's see where this takes me.