Permission to Create by Lisa DeShantz-Cook
I am no stranger to self-doubt. In fact, it feels as if I’ve stumbled through most of my life–save for my late teens when most of us think we know everything–with self-doubt at my side. She’s easy to trust with her knowing voice, her cluck-clucks, gentle “you can’t do that” whispers.
Sometimes I listen, other times I question; when I’m feeling really strong, I ignore. I thought I’d outgrow her, but with my 50th birthday coming up in early 2017, it’s evident she’s around for the long haul.
She got downright bossy when I, on a whim, bought my first digital camera a few years ago. My kids were nearly grown—one out of the house and the other on the way—when I splurged. A gift to myself, I thought, for getting through my children’s teenage years alive; a nod back to a passion I stoked a bit before family and career.
Giddy at first, I read the manual but left the camera in the box while self-doubt chirped away (you can’t afford that, you don’t deserve that, you don’t know what you’re doing). When I finally started using it, a world opened up and there was a shift.
Is it trite to say I fell in love? There is no better explanation. Life through the lens was pure intoxication. I became a little less fearful. I didn’t care if I was doing it wrong. Self-doubt got quiet(er) and I started to find a creative voice through my lens.
In the digital world, however, there is this endless fussing with an image. I missed what I remembered about taking pictures a long time ago in my life before family—the shooting, waiting to fill up a roll, waiting while photos were developed, being surprised by what I got back.
My shift to film, or more an addition of film, started a few years ago when I resurrected a Minolta X-700 that I’d bought used in college in the mid-1980s, a prized possession. I’ve since added cameras and can’t seem to stop experimenting with them and with films. Maybe it’s a little disjointed to jump about like this, but each camera has its own quirks and strengths, each film produces differing results; when you put those elements together and add light and shadow and color and place, the stories they can tell have myriad endings.
I live in Michigan, a state easily visible because of its mitten shape, surrounded on all but the bottom side by lakes that, when you stand on some of their shores, resemble oceans due to their vastness. I grew up on Lake Michigan, the lake that borders the western side of the state.
My father was a teacher and we had a small cottage on the bluff above the lake, where we spent our summers in blissful abandon. I grew up with sand encrusted in my hair, my body sun-darkened from days spent sunup to sundown in the water or exploring the shoreline. My brother and I were as wild as the wind and the waves, living in rhythm with nature. We needed weeks to adjust to shoes and clothes when we had to come back to town in the fall and sit in school all day.
It’s no wonder that the lake and the wilds on Michigan’s west side are my favorite subjects to photograph, and I’m lucky enough to be able to live there a good part of the year now. I can walk the woods or back roads or beach for hours with a camera and still find something I haven’t seen before. I also come back to the same things often, but again, there are so many different ways to see one thing, so many opportunities for variance.
I have been saying that I’m in an experimental phase, and here’s a thought: I’m not too old. Developing a creative voice or passion, falling in love, trying new techniques, experimentation and exploration—these are not dependent on age.
Film is not just for those who mastered it in its day, and it’s also not just for those who are exploring it for the first time now. You can have a voice at 19. You can experiment at (nearly) 50 and beyond. You can grow and develop in different ways at any age.
Creativity is expansion, and when you squelch or stifle or deny yourself this permission, you deny yourself the ability to live fully.
So this is where I am, right now. Turning 50. Scratching the surface of the art of film, learning, experimenting. I still sometimes have to shove away the voice of self-doubt. But I can quiet her for as long as it takes to compose an image, choose my settings, click the shutter, wait for the results.
And that’s what I’ll keep doing, hopefully for many more decades.
~ Lisa DeShantz-Cook
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