On Perfectionism


This is my barn.

My barn is old. It’s dusty.  In places, it’s broken.  Parts of the foundation are cracked and crumbling.  Some of the siding has come off in places and the paint is peeling.  Inside there’s darkness where I wish there was light and the space—as many who have sat inside the barn and listened and learned while various speakers and educators have shared their stories can attest—could use some fresh, cold air whereas currently it’s often hot and sweaty and dank.

It’s got its flaws, undoubtedly.  But I love it.  Hard.  So much.  As do most everyone who passes through its doors.

They love the fact that something so old (it’s anywhere from a 100-150 years old) is still proudly standing.  They love the old wood.  The colour tones.  The atmosphere inside and the sense of history and pride that obviously went into building it.  The place has an unmistakable vibe—the same vibe that first struck Erin and I when we walked through its old wood doors when we were looking around Prince Edward Island for a house to buy—a home to call our own and raise our family.  Walking through those doors we just looked at each other and knew, this was it.

In short, the place has character of the most unmistakeable kind.   It’s flawed, but it’s pretty much perfect.

As I walked around my barn the other day looking at the old beams and wooden pegs (parts of the barn were built so long ago it was built entirely with wood, and not steel) and parts hodgepodged together and the crumbling stones of the foundation it got me thinking about what we consider “good”.  What we consider “perfect”.  It got me thinking about the nature of “perfectionism”.

Personally, I think the word “perfectionist” is one of those words that I avoid using at all costs.  Why?  I’m not afraid to say it….I think when you say “I’m a perfectionist” it sort of means that you think your work or that thing you do is, well, perfect…when you “put it out there”.    

First, who wants to be perfect?  Perfect, to me, would be a boring place. Imagine a place where you think what you’ve done is perfect.  If it’s perfect, why move on?  Why learn more, soak up more inspiration, continue down the long and probably very gruelling path of trial-and-error.  Why listen to others?  Why pick up books and watch and study and observe?  I mean, what you’ve put out there is….perfect.

I’m being a little sarcastic, but I do think I have a point (such is the nature of writing….you tend to always think you have a point….even if everyone else disagrees).

The nature of being “perfect” aside I’ve been thinking long and hard lately about some of my favourite images of all time.  Some of my favourite artists.  My barn. The funny thing is…a lot of what I love about all of them is the imperfections, rather than the perfections.

I have Annie Leibovitz’s great (and massive) book “Portraits”.  I love sitting down to it and flipping through her often-brilliant work.  It completely surprised me, however, during my first deep dive to how many of her classic portraits are a little bit soft:  a little missed focused.  Light not at all where I would put it the way I’ve been “trained”.  Some of the lighting I would consider “wrong”.  But the portraits…still have a feeling.  A vibe. A mood that’s unmistakable.  The same with Steve McCurry’s large coffee table book: many were shot on film and represent magic moments and there’s a lot of technical issues that we could spend days nitpicking.  But man oh man….what a brilliant collection!  I also have a book that’s a collection of what the editors think to be the “100 Greatest Photographs In History”.  This collection?  I think it’s at about 100% consistency for each and every photo being “imperfect” in some major way.  But the collection as a whole is brilliant, built up with a group of photographs whose power comes from the emotion, heart and soul of the photographer—and moments they’ve captured as a result.

My barn is far from perfect.  Lots of crooked angles in it that would make a master carpenter cringe.  Lots of “let’s throw this together with that and see what happens!”  It’s evident, throughout.  It’s far from perfect….and it’s perfect as a result.  And guess what?  It’s stood the test of time…probably the most important consideration with something created out of heart, soul, and hard work.

So worry less about being “perfect”.  Worry more about putting yourself into the images you take.  To conveying emotion and capturing soul.  Ten years from now you won’t give two shits about the fact that your image was perfectly sharp.  You will care immensely about if the image made you feel enough, be proud enough, compel you enough…to keep looking at it.