By Elena Bazini
‘Even walls fall down.’
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my comfort zone.
Ok, scratch that. I’ve been thinking *my whole life* about my comfort zone, and that’s clearly how I managed to construct it in the first place – and then, of course, how I proceeded to root it deeply around myself over time. Overthink things, find fear, protect myself, repeat. As a result, my comfort zone has grown *walls* (it’s more like a fortress of comfort, I guess!) and I’ve built those walls higher and higher, brick by brick.
What does my comfort zone have to do with my photography?
As it turns out, pretty much everything. Any time I look back on my photographic journey I’m landed right back where I am now, reflecting on the walls I’ve put up around myself and trying to see how I can break them back down. These walls are also known as fears, rules, limits, and basically just getting right in your own damn way. For me, photographic growth and the seemingly much grander idea of ‘spiritual growth’ go hand in hand because, in both cases, I find myself limited to my own clouded and imperfect vision. To know and grow who I am behind the eyes that see the world is part of one big journey, in both life and photography. And that’s where I’m coming to you from today.
My goal has always been to create photographs that reflect my point of view, and like many, I struggled to find what that point of view was for a very long time. I went through the rut where I was doing anything and everything to see if something stuck. I went through the other rut where my work looked too much like someone else’s.
And then through the toughest rut of all, the rut where my work didn’t make me feel anything. A couple of years back I had to ask myself a few tough questions.
If my aim is to put my whole heart into my work, then shouldn’t I embrace heartbreak as part of the creative process?
If my aim is to make meaningful images, shouldn’t I feel something more significant when making them?
And lastly, is my most unique and true voice trapped inside me behind walls of only my own making?
It was all of a sudden very clear that my walls were quite literally blocking my view. My most meaningful experiences in life and photography have often been both beautiful and painful. Facing challenges, suffering failure, coming out the other side in one piece. That’s growth.
Photography turned this introvert into a people person, even if reluctant at times. Photography made me inquisitive about the world around me instead of just feeling overwhelmed by it. Photography gave me a purpose. It gave me best friends. It introduced me to my husband. Photography, in short, gave me a reason to expect more from myself. Maybe because photography is a tangible record of my journey, and I wanted it to be beautiful. Photography started chipping away at my walls.
So much of my growth has taken place because of this very group I’m writing to now. This girl with a fear of flying took three planes to get to Yellowknife to see the northern lights with the OFFBEAT crew in 2015. And after a life-changing trip, where I experienced things I never thought were mine to have, I flew home stronger. Sure I was still scared to fly, but on the flight home (for the first time in a decade) I sat in the window seat and opened up the shade. I kept it open the whole damn time, even when it hurt. I looked out above the clouds and down at the dizzying ground below and I let a few tears fall. Life felt different. The world felt bigger. Photography felt like an adventure.
The same girl with a fear of heights set out with OFFBEAT for the Faroe Islands to stand on the edge of massive sea cliffs, where the wind always seemed cruelly at her back. I had nightmares every night of that trip, but I know I woke up tougher. The pictures I took felt like me. I could feel myself in them. That’s now the feeling I strive for in all my images. Walls I had spent years putting up to ‘protect’ myself started coming down because of three things: photography, this community, and a desire to finally get the ‘f’ out of my own way.
So now I’m here in OFFBEAT again, in a different capacity. Still chipping away at my comfort zone though, this time as the newest contributor in this unique and inspiring group. But what do I write to you? The strong, supportive, and adventurous community who has already helped *me* grow so much. That’s an intimidating task, and for a month the words did not come.
I mostly wanted to start by saying thank you to all of you. I wanted to speak from the heart and share myself and my journey with you openly. We are all on our own photographic journeys with different obstacles in front of us, and walls around us. I’ve just shared a couple of mine here. Maybe you can relate. Maybe, like me, you’ll find it fulfilling to reflect on the obstacles you’ve tackled head on. Maybe you’ll find it inspiring to reflect on any walls still looming large, or maybe the ones that take daily work to overcome.
I’m going to continue to do things that scare me, stress less about perfection, and take frequent leaps of faith. Get a little dirty and enjoy the ride. Focus on the process instead of the outcome. As Tom Petty says, “I can’t hold out forever. Even walls fall down.”
My last note here is a different take on the idea of a portfolio, and a bit of a challenge to myself and anyone who wants to take it.
As a wedding photographer, I usually update mine in the off-season. And it’s always an eye-opening task.
What makes an image worthy of being one of my best?
Do I get tied down in what I think clients will like?
Is it what I think other photographers will find impressive?
Am I trying too hard to be ‘different’?
Am I staying too much the same?
Writing this article got me thinking about what portfolios would look like if each photo represented a time we faced a fear, broke a ‘rule’, or passed a limit we placed on ourselves. If when you scrolled through it you saw only little reminders of every time you pushed yourself a little, how would it feel? Each photograph would be a success that is uniquely yours, each picture one that you fought for. Each one a part of a voice that is less limited by fear. Each one like a glimmer of light through a crack in a wall.
Please share any successes or current struggles in knocking down walls and pushing the limits your comfort zone.
Elena Bazini originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!