The Obsession

The unconscious obsession that we photographers have is that wherever we go we want to find the theme that we carry inside ourselves. – Graciela Iturbide

I think I have a touch of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It runs in my family – not in a huge way like you see on TV (although my oldest sister had it that way), but just some mild things that I find I just can’t let go of until it’s out of my system.

I get a specific photograph in my mind, or series of photographs, and I just can’t let it go till it’s done.  There’s the compulsive need to release it from deep within. It gnaws at me. It controls both sides of my brain – the conceptual side that is envisioning the photo plus my analytical planning mind to figure out the million details that it will take to get it done.

I released my Ghosts of Myanmar series a couple weeks ago and it’s been very well received.  By all accounts, I should be happy with that and move on to my next photo project. Except that I’m not happy.  I like them just fine, but they’re only part of the story.  The photos within me haven’t been fully released.  There’s a Part 2 in my head that will complete it, and now the planning is taking place to get that done.

By the time I finish that series, I’ll have more than two years invested in it.  Compared to many of the Masters, that’s nothing.  Photographers like Clyde Butcher can spend decades documenting the Everglades, for example.  For him it’s a passion to save that environment from destruction.

But I keep asking myself – what’s my motivation to complete the Ghosts of Myanmar series? I love Myanmar, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not it.  The best, most logical answer I can come up with is OCD – I have no other explanation for it, although my mind will endlessly keep searching for one as a “background task”. The late Spalding Gray had “The Monster” – a book that he felt compelled to finish writing, and kept haunting him until he did (I hope that I will avoid his fate though).

A side effect of this situation is that one particular series tries to push out any others that may have been percolating.  I need to consciously push these other ideas to the forefront in order to keep expanding my portfolio.

It’s not all bad though.  I know that this obsession will keep pushing me to take things to new heights – into areas that I would have never thought of without these endless hours of pondering.

I won’t head back to Myanmar until October.  Every day until then, I’ll be researching, planning, testing, learning or just dreaming about how to best complete that series.  I know the direction I want it to go, and a general idea of the technique it will take to bring them to life, but I want/need to envision specific shots. I do allow for serendipity, but that comes once I’m on location.

I have to figure out what it will take to release this series from my creative center, and that takes time. And that’s the Obsession.




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