Creating Artistic Landscape Photographs Part 7 – Lachez du Lest
Experience is a good thing. It means I practiced my art for a long time and learned from my mistakes. It means I became proficient at what I do. However, experience can also be unwanted baggage. It can mean holding on to outdated concepts or trying to please people knowing what they like and how to provide them with it. It can also mean not wanting to take chances or not changing my style because change is risky and while it can bring rewards it can also carry risks.
In other words, while I gained experience I also accumulated baggage. While some of this baggage is good, for example, experience, some of it is not so good, for example, fear of taking risks, trying new things, of changing my style or other aspects of my work.
This is concerning because it hampers my progress. However, I am not alone in this situation. We are all hampered by the baggage we carry. While it brings us experience it also holds us down. To free ourselves, to let our inspiration soar, we have to let go of that baggage. Creating art is about doing things anew and doing so means taking risks and knowing that part of our audience may not like it. It also means showing new aspects of our art to those who like what we do.
I like to compare baggage to the sandbags carried by a hot air balloon. The sandbags hold the balloon down and prevent it from taking off. In order for the balloon to fly it is necessary to let go of some of them to make the balloon lighter and allow it to rise. Releasing additional bags will let the balloon rise higher and higher. Experience tells the balloonist how many bags to let go of.
This process is called lachez du lest in French, drop deadweight in English. Both lest and deadweight describe an item used to hold something back by making it heavier. On a hot air balloon adding sandbags gives control over the vertical movement of the balloon. Add weight and the balloon goes down. Remove weight and the balloon goes up. Or so it was in ancient times when hot air was produced by lighting a fire underneath the balloon. I am talking about pre-propane Montgolfières. Today sandbags are no longer carried. Hot air balloons are heated with an onboard propane torch used to control the elevation of the balloon. To go higher the propane is turned up to increase the temperature of the air inside the balloon. To descend the torch is turned down to let the air cool off. Progress is good because propane makes controlling the balloon easier. However, it does not help with understanding deadweight. For that, we need to go back to sandbags.
The process of letting go is the same for hot air ballooning and for photography. Except here, my bags are not filled with sand they are filled with the limitations I impose upon my creativity. The sand in my bags are the rules I feel compelled to follow. They are my desire to please an audience by doing things I either no longer like or never liked in the first place. They are the brakes I apply to my creativity to stop it dead in its track. They are the reins that are holding me back, preventing me from expressing myself and from reaching the next step with my work.
By letting go of this baggage my burden is lifted. My inspiration takes off allowing me to soar over the concerns that held me down. I no longer fear the inevitable consequences of change. I become more and more creative. I put more of myself in my work. I am able to let my creativity fly.
The more bags I let go of the more creative I become. Lighter means fewer worries, fewer things holding me back. Worries kill creativity. I cannot be creative if I wonder what people might think of my work or if I ask myself if they will like my art or not.
When airborne I float pushed by the wind. The wind is my muse. I let it lead guide my creativity and lead me wherever it wants. I do not worry where I will end up. I let go of that too.
Looking at dictionary definitions of lest provides additional insights. Some of these are straightforward: ‘to let go of ballast so we can fly away’ for example. This is the definition I focus on here. Other definitions are challenging because they address the metaphorical rather than the literal meaning of the term: ‘to clean up the constraints that prevent us from moving higher and further’ for example. Applied to life, in general, it means cleaning up my life by getting rid of what stands in the way, of the metaphorical ‘boxes of stuff’ piled up between me and my goals. Or it can mean cleaning my life of unnecessary duties, things I do because I feel I must do them. Or things that no longer mean anything but that I continue doing because ‘I have always done it that way’.
Letting go of that baggage means revisiting my priorities and setting up new goals. It means realizing that things change and that I have to change as well. In this definition of lest past obligations, responsibilities, and concerns are deadweights holding me down. To let go of them I need to find what to keep and what to throw away so that I can take off for new destinations. My creativity demands it. It is the fee I have to pay to renew it.
Other definitions take a different direction: ‘lest can be the desire to reach impossibly high expectations or standards we set for ourselves.’ Letting go of such lest calls for letting go of trying to reach perfection with my work or letting go of requirements I have imposed upon myself. A good question is ‘Am I asking too much of myself?’ If the answer is yes then I need to engage in a negotiation with myself, between my ego and my creativity, between the right and the left side of my brain, between the creative and the technical, so that what my ego asks for and what my creativity needs find common and fertile ground. I am looking for a win-win agreement that satisfies both parties so that I can create something of artistic value and not just try to please my ego. I need to make concessions because my creativity depends on it.
What are your bags? Only you know for sure. However, for most artists the heaviest bag is filled with insecurity, with the fear that people will not like our work. I had this fear and I let go of it by telling myself ‘who cares what people think.’ When I started saying this I cut the cord that held this bag.
In the domain of art lachez du lest means liberating ourselves from constraints. It means letting go of concerns for established norms and moving away from outdated paradigms. It means letting go of the old and creating something new, something not seen before, something that is us. Letting go of deadweight opens new possibilities hidden from us by the concerns we had so far. It calls for negotiating new terms and coming to new agreements by leaving behind some of the obligations we imposed on ourselves. The French expression says it best. Lachez du lest, drop some ballast. Let go of what is holding us back, of what we no longer need, of what is preventing us from taking off.
Alain Briot, Arizona, 2020
About Alain Briot
I create fine art photographs, teach workshops with Natalie and offer Mastery Tutorials on composition, image conversion, optimization, printing, business, and marketing. I am the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity and Personal Style, Marketing Fine Art Photography and How Photographs are Sold. All 4 books are available in eBook format on our website, free samples are available.
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