Creative Crushing

This morning I watched a live Facebook broadcast of producer Kelsey Padgett from Radio Lab give a talk on the “Anatomy of An Episode.” It was a wonderful talk on how they create an episode of the radio and eventual podcast. (If you don’t know the show, run do not walk to iTunes and start listening. You won’t be disappointed!)

Within the process of creating an episode there is what she calls the “Fail Flail.” Essentially, they fail a lot but they keep moving it forward. Fail, fix, fail, fix, fail . . . all the while flailing. I get it. This is my process!

Round and round and round we go . . .

At some point there is a review with the editor. That point where you show off your baby. It’s still in draft mode and very much your baby. You hand over your product expecting some applause, even if it’s polite cocktail applause, and the response is . . . crickets. Not even a resounding, “Hmmm. Not bad!” Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Zero. This is creative crushing. This is the moment you want to take your baby, your red face, and crawl under the closest desk. 

For the past year I have been interviewing photographers. Photographers who are very good at what they do. Photographers who seem, at least to me, to walk with a sense of confidence of their craft. Confidence that the image they just posted on Facebook or their Instagram account is good. Or even brilliant. People like John Barclay, Chuck Kimmerle, Howard Grill, and Louise Shoemaker. In their interviews they all stated that you have to make images for yourself and not others. Their confidence is all inward and not outward.

French Creek Triathlon

That’s where Creative Crushing comes in for me. I hang my head in shame admitting that I don’t take kindly to the “crickets”. While I don’t post something on Facebook and then sit and wait for the “likes” to come in, I admit to disappointment when I do see something I have posted sit out there like a scared baby deer in the middle of a vast empty field trying to find it’s way back to mama. Sometimes I feel like creating art brings out the child in me. Not the fun child where you are free to create, but the whining child crying for some attention and validation.


I remember one of the first photos I took where I was so proud of my accomplishment. Visiting the Chiang Kai-shek memorial in Taipei we watched a military guard ceremony. This was a time when I was shooting with a medium format film camera. On day one, I saw the image I wanted to make and went back on day two to capture it. Weeks later, when I got into the darkroom, I had goosebumps. I got it! It was exactly as I had wanted. I was bursting with pride. When I finished the print, hours later, and pulled it from the dryer there I stood waiting for the oohs and aahhhsss…


The darkroom was full of people. Everyone looked over everyone’s shoulder to ooh and aah… And nothing. I got bupkis. I wanted to scream, “Don’t you understand? It’s exactly what was in my head! And I did it!”

Cheng Kai-Shek Memorial

Now in the days of social media where there is immediate feedback and gratification through likes, re-tweets, and Google analytics the creative crushing is resounding. A few years ago I did a “Photo A Day Challenge.” We were given a word for the day and needed to create an image based on that word. One day the word was “Odd.” I did a self portrait that I thought was beyond brilliant. I posted it to the group. Nothing. NOTHING! Nothing? Why, this is absolutely freaking brilliant! If this image does not depict “Odd” I don’t know what does!  On my own Facebook page there were no less than 30 comments filled with laughter and knowing nods to the brilliance of it. 


This was still creative crushing for me because the people that I needed to impress were photographers. Not my friends. My friends will like what I do because, well, they are my friends and that’s what friends do. When the jury of your peers turn their back and say “meh” . . . it’s creative crushing.

I continue the quest of interviewing photographers in hopes of finding the secret sauce. In the meantime I guess what I need to do is keep up the fail flail and practice my way to self-confidence.

Abandoned Ellis Island