Letting go of completed work

When is our work finished? When do we decide it’s done, and put it to bed? When do we move on?

These are difficult questions because often, truth is hard.

It’s very hard to let go. Not just of our completed work, but of everything. But I believe that it’s necessary, let alone paramount to staying healthy, to do so. At some point, what we have poured our efforts into, has to be shelved in the ‘done’, or ‘past’ shelf. Otherwise we never move forward and more importantly, we never create the space required to let the future come in.


But when does one know when work is complete?

I think the answer is: it never is.

Work is never complete. But we have to realise at some point, that we’ve gone as far as we can go with it. Perhaps an older self, a version of us much later in the future may know how to take it further, but the truth is - if you’re feeling you’re at the end of the road with the work - then it’s complete.

There’s a tendency to overwork stuff. Spoil it. Part of your skillset as a photographer is to know when you’ve done enough, and to understand when the time is right to let go.

For me, I don’t like to dwell on my older work. I seldom look at it. I think for me, it’s more the creation of new work that inspires me, rather than dwelling on what I already have created. By not looking at my older work, I feel I’m allowed to free myself from the past. You see, revisiting what you did, and endlessly toying with it - is just far too unhealthy in my book. It smacks of someone who’s got no new ideas.

There’s a line in a song by a British band called Prefab Sprout that goes:

‘You surely are a truly gifted kid,
but you’re only as good as, the last great thing you did’
Moving the River by Prefab Sprout

It’s a line that’s stayed with me for most of my life. It’s a reminder that tinkering with images and never leaving them alone, means I’m stuck in the past. I’d much rather be out there creating new work, and discovering more about what i’m capable of producing. Everything I create is a vignette. It’s only ever a shadow of what could have been. I know I’ll never complete anything, so everything I do is unfinished. Rather than get wound up about it, it’s much healthier to assume that everything is a prototype, a moment in time, just a moment. It makes it less precious, and allows me to move forward.

Letting to let go is hard. I hope you don’t think that at any point in this post I suggest it’s easy - for you - for me. It’s just hard. But it is necessary.