LOOK3 Guest Series: Flailing Love Affair with Photography

I’ve always felt my relationship with photography had an element of tension, even hostility. I would be lying if I said I still love photography. It is not an entity I fully respect or am faithful to, in fact the two of us are constantly on the brink of abusing one another. When I was new to photography, working in a darkroom, I was in love. Photography, for the first time in my life, gave me an honest and authentic place where I could make art that awakened a sense of mystery and discovery. It was, at first, thoughtless, unfettered, even spiritual. But that feeling has been lost for some time. I could point to manifold culprits: evolving technologies, an academic encounter with photojournalism, the diurnal qualities of making a career from it. Whatever the reasons, the process has lost much of its original mystique and romanticism. Much like a significant other, creativity has always demanded a level of importance that rivaled a love affair.

One explanation for this lost love of photography is that it may be buried beneath all the photos I’ve been making, many not for me. Often I feel as though I take too many pictures, making the process feel less special. I find it fitting, in many situations, to relate photographing to kissing. In the sense that they are inversely proportional; the less there are, the more special they seem. There is a sense of connection and focus, of being in tune with something greater, that is lost when we take too many pictures. And an irony, which I am slowly understanding, is how long it actually takes to become a great photographer. It is, for most of us, a lifetime endeavor many photos in the making. Which is not to say that we need to think more when we photograph. I find that a lack of critical thought is necessary in unraveling the most honest chambers of our vision. Having a heightened consciousness or emotional awareness is, in my experience, what makes the experience and the result something out of the ordinary.

But the longer photography is in my life, the more unsure I am about its purpose. I accept that a majority of what I do is without meaning. In this way it is almost ephemeral. A habit with a product that, as time goes by, from the taker’s view becomes more and more disposable. How many times do we take the same picture? And how is meaning retained unless you’re in a constant state of new experience? Creative plateaus are part of growth. As restraining as they may feel, they are often necessary. They are challenges, reality checks and puzzles forcing us to shift, rearrange and grow.

There is the possibility that feeling a loss of importance in your work, or an utter lack of meaning, is positive — an entrance into a creative plateau that, when understood and accepted, will lead to something more. I have been bothered by my flailing love affair with photography, holding tight to the idea that I shouldn’t have such feelings. I’m beginning to see through this and am realizing it is all part of the game. Much of the creative process in my life has been that of a slow unraveling. It has been uncovering what has been passed down to me, what has always been in me. It is not about what is up and above, but about what is everywhere and within. I see the world around me as expanding and contracting in a series of circles and waves and photography, as beautiful as it is, is just one of many tiny artificial hearts.

-Peter Earl McCollough

Peter Earl McCollough was born in Billings, Montana, in 1982 and grew up in Davis, California. Shortly after turning 18, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps where he served from 2000-2004. After being honorably discharged he began studying photography in Sacramento. In 2008, after transferring to Ohio University, he received a Bachelor of Science in Visual Communication with an emphasis in Photojournalism.

He is currently a freelance photographer and aspiring cinematographer based in San Francisco. In his off time he likes to paint, especially watercolors, and work on his street photography. More photos can be seen on his website: www.petermccollough.com.