My Life as a Photograph

September 18 2016

This is a picture of a growing city. In the foreground you can see a fading memory of the old green hills and a single browning patch of grass. Further in the distance, you see the solitary sliver of Golden Gate Park, desperately holding on to a city that is slowly being taken over by a new generation of San Franciscans. These changes aren’t bad; they are solely the next chapter in the extremely long life of this ever-changing city. There is a tendency among landscape photographers to edit out the “human world”, leaving only greens and browns of the “natural world”. But this photo would not be anything without the orange lights or the pastel blur of the hundreds of 20th century homes.

When I was in 6th grade, I was diagnosed with dyslexia. After my family discovered this, I was faced with the very difficult decision to either stay with my friends at my current school--where I would undoubtedly struggle through the rest of middle school, or to go to a new school where I would receive the help I needed. I didn’t want to think of myself as an outsider who needed help. I didn’t want to be a “weirdo”(!). After a lot of tears, and going back and forth, we decided that I would move to the Charles Armstrong School (CAS) which specializes in teaching students with learning differences (LDs). When I moved to CAS, I immediately felt accepted and understood. To my surprise, the students weren’t “weirdos”, but interesting, smart people from many different backgrounds. The teachers immediately engaged me in educating me on my learning differences. Everything started to make sense. The blurry picture of myself suddenly started to come into focus, and I began to see more clearly who I was and how I learned. My new teachers taught me to not only accept and cope with my LDs but to embrace them and use them to my advantage. I had been struggling in school at the fault of a learning difference I wasn’t even aware I had. I realized why at my previous school it had been so difficult for me to succeed; I was tempted to erase my past and wipe out the flawed, blurry image of myself. I just wanted to move forward. But later I learned that wiping out the past is not so simple. A blurry and imperfect photo, seen in a new light, can become calming and grounding. Recently, I heard a teenager who had also had a rough time in school say, “it’s not about forgetting the past, it’s just about forgiving the past.”

Just as a photographer criticizes a photograph, you must learn how to criticize yourself and see what you are doing wrong. But a photographer can also see the potential in a photograph. You have to learn to accept the flaws in an image, and see the beauty in oneself. The goal isn’t always to take a different photo, it is to take a better one. Instead of trying to change yourself entirely, you should improve. So, like the picture of this landscape, I have grown up, in a world full of change and innovation, and instead of attempting to edit out the flaws within myself, I simply change the composition of my picture. This makes the flaws a feature that can evolve into something greater. People don’t hang perfect photographs on their walls. The few perfect photographs that exist are preserved by museum curators. So, neither you nor your photographs nor your art need to be perfect. I’ve learned people much prefer a picture with flaws, a history and meaning to one that is flawless, “perfect” and bland.

Abe Shenk
[email protected]
San Francisco

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