Being hypercritical and becoming artisitically paralized
(Paralyzed should have a "y" but I could not edit the title. Oops)
I would like to know if anyone else has gone through a "phase" like what I'm experiencing.
I have always been obsessive about my pictures. The luxury (or roadblock depending on how you look at it) I have in doing urban/architectural space studies in my own city is the ability to go back to the same scene repeatedly, trying to perfect every last detail. Unfortunately for people with my personality type, what can end up happening is you try for months to make a picture, waiting for just the right conditions etc. Sometimes you go back over and over again but there is always something wrong (too much foliage so wait until fall, lightbulb burnt out which disturbs symmetry, etc etc etc.). Eventually this can lead to very low productivity because it becomes so difficult to move on to anything new while you feel like you haven't properly finished with older ideas that are still meaningful.
It didn't start out quite this way, but I raise this in the context of other threads I've been reading on here recently about specific photographers and whether they are "great" or not. Let me explain. I have become increasingly hypercritical of anything I look it, regardless of the name behind it. Every last flaw or detail out of place bothers me. What I now find is I can no longer easily answer the question "who are your favourite photographers?". From a technical perspective I know who my favourites are, but from a pure image standpoint I find all I can really do is pick a relatively small number of masterpieces (in my opinion) from each of a large array of photographers. Regardless of the photographer in question, much of the work ends up being classified by me almost as filler. I mean when I look at retrospective compilations of work by any one artist, whether it is a large exhibition, or a book, I imagine myself as the photographer, and how I would probably end up editing out so many pictures because of even very small flaws, I'd never have a large enough body of work for a book or exhibit. Whether it is Ansel Adams, Edward or Brett Weston, Cartier Bresson, and on and on, if I'm honest with myself the majority of pictures are nothing to write home about.
What this has done in my own work, is cause me to make very few photographs. The work is very slow. It often takes months to get the right conditions and fine tune the composition, to the point sometimes waiting too long results in me having to abandon the picture entirely because too many things have changed. After all even things that appear casually static, do change. This method of working comes from being so critical of the work of the greats. I mean how many truly great photographs has any one photographer made, out of the thousands they have each done? And how many of their pictures would never have even been made had I been in their shoes, because a branch was in the wrong place, or the something was slightly distracting etc, causing me to give up on the scene. So in other words I'm doing extreme editing before opening the shutter, which can be a pretty painful process.
Now, being critical and exacting is not necessarily a bad thing. But I sometimes wonder if I'm going too far, if the minute "flaws" which cause me to abandon an image are things anyone else would even notice. Am I giving up on exciting photographs because of tiny problems which can never be totally avoided? Do I except the less than perfect nature of any subject, or walk away disgusted because I can't move a street lamp or a tree?
Has anyone else had this problem?