Sunday, April 15, 2012

Enjoying the gift of mediocrity

I remember once in college talking with some roommates about what each other's strengths were.  One was a phenomenal athlete, one had a magnetic energy and attracted everyone within 100 feet around her, another had never gotten lower than an A in school.  As I got to thinking about what my strengths were I was devastated to realize I couldn't think of anything that I really shined in.  I had always been a student who got B's and C's with the occasional A, I often observed social scenes feeling like the awkward wallflower, and I was never the star of any sports team.  But the more we talked, the more I realized that I did have a strength.  At the time I called it the "gift of mediocrity."  While there is nothing I do exceptionally well, there are many things that I do moderately well and I have learned to love the variety of things I am able to enjoy.

I realize I'll never win any photography competitions (or probably any competitions for that matter) but contrary to what reality TV shows and websites like Pinterest tell us, it's okay to fly under the radar of excellence and still enjoy the ride.

After buying my first DSLR camera I decided that if I had spent that much money on something, by golly I was going to learn to take it off auto and actually learn how to use it.  I devoured several books and read a number of photography websites and blogs.  Somewhere along the way I got in my noggin that if I really wanted to get good, I had to be a photographer like so many others I saw and admired.  They did it all and pulled it off flawlessly: families, babies, pregnant women, toddlers.  It wasn't until I read one book in particular that I realized I was setting myself up for burnout and disappointment.  The author, an accomplished photographer, admitted that she really didn't care for taking pictures of families.  She had done family pictures for years out of a feeling of obligation but as she began to teeter on the verge of burnout she realized that what she was doing just wasn't her thing.  So, she found what she did love and went with it- and that was photographing whatever the heck she wanted, however she wanted.  She admitted there were plenty of naysayers who claimed she wasn't a real photographer because she didn't fall into a conventional category, but this was her art form she said, not theirs.  

Downtown Nampa 120-1One night the instructor for a photography class I was taking had us meet in the middle of town and we were given certain assignments and a time limit on when to be back.  I partnered up with a dear, sweet older lady who turned out to be such a good sport.  As we worked on our assignments which mainly involved using different shutter speeds and apertures, I started feeling a little bored.  I turned to her and asked, "What would you think if we found a bar?"  

With eyes as round as saucers she spun around, "What?!"

I quickly explained that I don't drink, nor was I interested in picking it up, but that interesting characters have a way of finding their way into bars and could provide some interesting subjects. I pointed out that the lighting in a bar is tricky since you're dealing with low-light, florescent lighting, and incandescent lighting often simultaneously, so technically there was a lot we could learn.

She was hesitant but said she would come along if our instructor, who was a man, would come with us for protection.  

He laughed when I told him my plan but agreed and texted his son to find out the safest bar in downtown and the bar.

As we walked toward the designated "safe" bar I found myself getting side tracked by anything interesting or quirky that caught my eye: the glow of a cigarette held by the old man with the fur coat, the quilter's club showing off their creations at their weekly meeting, the pottery students throwing pots.  

Downtown Nampa 143-1
This guy insisted that if I was going to take a
picture of him it needed to be by his pink fire
hydrant that he proudly painted last fall.  He was
my favorite find of the evening.
Downtown Nampa 099-1

After I had stopped for the tenth time to talk to a random stranger to ask them for their picture, my partner grabbed me by the arm and said, "Okay, honey... Let's pretend I'm your mother for tonight.  And your mother says, 'Stop talking to so many strangers!'"

By the time I got home, I was elated.  I had had more fun walking around with a camera for 2 hours in our small downtown than I had in years.  Even the bar, which turned out to be void of any customers, had two friendly bartenders that were more than happy to pose as our subjects.

I couldn't believe what people will tell you about their lives when you walk up to them with a camera, ask a couple questions and ask to take their picture.    
Downtown Nampa 164-1

Downtown Nampa 107

A friend of mine saw the collage of pictures I did of my kids and asked if I would create a similar one of her kids.  Oh my... I've been having so much fun.



Jeff and Kris said...


AllisonK said...

I don't think your title is accurate in the word choice mediocrity.

I think you have written the key to photography for most artists. Find what you love and just shoot. Practice, practice and more practice and enjoy the journey along the way. It has certainly been a fulfilling journey for me. I can't wait to see more of your images.

Becky said...

The kids look so beautiful! Way to go! You're going to have to be in instructor one day.

Becky said...

Okay, I'm tired :) You're going to have to be MY instructor one day...

Merrick Family said...

Thanks Becky...but YOU take beautiful pictures! I don't think you need any help :)

Merrick Family said...

Thanks, Allison. That's sweet of you. The pictures you take of your kids are breath-taking.

Cher said...

rita, i have been catching up on your blog! and this post rocks. i think this ALL the time. so glad to hear you think it too.
things i love, and often wish i totally excelled at: writing, photography, painting, cake decorating, singing, baking... i don't have one talent that i think i am exceptional at. but then i remind myself, well at least i'm pretty good at all of those, and my skills in each of those areas bless my family. and they give me a creative outlet. plus we get to keep practicing and improving!
i seriously almost wrote this post. maybe i still will...
(by the way, i think your writing and photography are way above average. :) )

Merrick Family said...

How funny! Yes, you should still write the post because I'd like to hear your perspective on it!