The Box of Fear

Raise your hand if you know the Box of Fear.

If you didn’t raise your hand, I’m certain you still know it by some other name. Because everybody has one. Maybe it’s the Box of Procrastination to you. It’s where the things end up that we should be doing, but for some reason don’t. Often that reason has to do with some kind of fear or anxiety (also quite often, we don’t admit that). We tell ourselves it’s laziness. Or maybe „the circumstances“ just aren’t right. Or we are so sure that we’re gonna do it tomorrow, we obviously can’t be afraid of it. For most of us, our tax returns are in that box (mine too, but since I’m no longer self-employed it’s not really a problem anymore).

But my Box of Fear is full of photographs.

It’s overflowing with RAW files, neatly sorted into folders on my hard drive and collections in my Lightroom catalog. Places I’ve been, things I’ve seen, stuff I want to share with the world. I really do. But I never did. Because you see, if I did, you would know I am a fraud. A talentless hack. Someone who shouldn’t hold a camera. Impostor Syndrome is a bitch. It’s always been part of me. Sometimes it gets better, sometimes it gets worse. Often I look at what I shot and it’s all just bland and uninspired to me.

Culling has always been the hardest part of photography for me. Looking at all the shots from a trip and choosing the keepers is a nightmare (eliminating the real stinkers is easy). Because here they all are, and even if I am currently in a phase where I don’t find all of them bland and uninspired, that still leaves me with the job of deciding which of them to share with the world. Which ones to spend more time on in post processing. Which ones are worthy. Now in a perfect world, I could just chuck the whole folder at Mjolnir and run with the ones that are able to lift it, but I don’t have that luxury. I have to judge. And oh boy, my therapist could tell you some choice words about my ability to judge things I make (both photographs and life decisions). I just sit there, overwhelmed, and literally can’t choose. So a lot of these folders stay in the box. But there are also times when I manage to see the image I was going for. When I realize I made photographs I was actually proud of, even if it was the sort of pride that comes with the caveat „yeah, not bad for someone like you, but you’ll never be a real photographer“. And off to the edit we go, and hit „publish“. So even Steven, right?

But then I went to Pripyat. One of the places every urbex photographer dreams of. And it’s heavy, man. It really is. Fascinating and haunting, beautiful and scary, always reminding the traveler of what happened here. So many impressions. So many pictures. So many stories. So I shot and I shot and I shot. And I had these grandiose vistas in my head, works of art that would transport the viewer right here and let them experience that oppressive layer of history that I was feeling. But when I got home, all that I saw on my computer’s screen were vacuous, cheap snapshots. Because I had in fact just photographed concrete, glass, and trees. Machines, furniture, toys, and gasmasks. And it all seemed so vapid. Because none of it carried the weight of meaning, that dark oppressive grandeur that I’d felt while I was there. I looked at it all and despaired about my inability to show what I’d seen. So I closed Lightroom and walked away from the computer. And ever since then, it keeps happening. I open Lightroom, and no matter what collection I want to work on, I keep getting pulled back to the Pripyat photos and fall into the same black hole. I stare at them, sometimes for over an hour, and I close Lightroom and walk away from the computer.

But recently something has happened (I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it yet) that forced me to reevaluate part of my work, and also to go back to Lightroom and select some stuff that I really felt was worth sharing. So I opened the Box of Fear and fretted over my choices. But this time I had something to cheer me on. Something that said „come on man, I want to see this stuff.“ And that was an immense help. So I looked at a lot of my old stuff with fresh eyes, and apart from being appalled at some of my earlier, heavy handed edits, I found a lot that I liked. And I found a new drive.

Now, hopefully I can share the good news with you soon. But for now, I just felt I should tell you about the Box of Fear. And about the fact that opening the box and looking inside can be worth it.