How a $50 Plastic Camera Helped Me Conquer My Creative Anxieties and Embrace My Inner-Shittiness
Creative freedom lies in embracing the flaws
Full Disclosure: This is an article that I originally published on Medium about a year ago when I was beginning to ease myself back into the world of online writing. It never got the traction that I felt it deserved over there, so I’m republishing it here on Substack with some very minor edits for consistency’s sake.
I’m not the biggest fan of recycled content, but these past couple of weeks have left me with little time to sit down and roll out a new issue fresh off the ol’ grey-matter. Instead of skipping a post completely, I’ve decided to toss this article back into the winds of the Substack algorithm in hope of giving it a second life.
I’ll be back to freshly-minted content in a couple of weeks. Until then, enjoy.
Don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of good enough.
Seriously, I’ve heard this bit of wisdom thrown around so many times over the past few years now that it’s permanently lodged itself into my consciousness. Still, the necessity to let go of perfectionism is not easy for any creator to accept. They will peek into their viewfinder, and when that first composition isn’t something absolutely Earth-shattering, or even good for that matter, they’ll hang up their tripod and tell themselves that they’ll come back to it when the inspiration is there.
But the inspiration never arrives.
Inspiration is a Trap
Inspiration is an awesome thing when you’re in the midst of it. But it’s a poor prerequisite to base your creative endeavors on for two main reasons:
It’s incredibly fickle and fleeting.
It gives you an excuse to quit when you’re not “feeling it.”
It’s the practice, not the inspiration, that adds up to consistency in your creative output.
Now, I’m not a professional photographer. I’m just a midlifer trying to hone my writing craft on Substack. But it took a plastic camera that I bought on Amazon to give me permission to toss myself into the winds of this crazy writing experiment and be as sloppy as I needed to be in the process of finding my creative voice here.
Freewheeling in the Land of FujiFilm
About a year ago, I decided I wanted to do something special for my son during his senior year of high school. We never traveled together much, and since his own creative aspirations lay in the world of Japanese Manga-inspired art, I thought a trip across Japan would do us both a lot of good.
A special trip like this called for a special method of documenting it.
I didn’t want the pressures or anxiety involved with vlogging our adventures, and I was still way too hung up on perfectionism to dare write about them. No. I wanted to enjoy this special experience with my son and not spend my time in constant worry about whether I had it in me to tap my inner creative well to come up with some amazing work that could accurately chronicle this journey.
I was looking for something fun and different to cement these moments for us, and most importantly something casual and unobtrusive, so that capturing our memories took a backseat to actually experiencing them.
I found my answers in the Kodak Ektar H35.
The Kodak Ektar H35
The Kodak Ektar H35 is not a good camera.
There’s no way in hell it costs even a fraction of its $50 price tag to produce. It’s a plastic shell housing a plastic film take-up spool with a plastic film rewind shaft to wheel it all back in once you’re finished. Even the lens itself is plastic. A photo’s actual composition is only vaguely defined when you peek through the viewfinder, leaving your final composed shot at the mercy of your own guesswork.
The H35’s most compelling technological feature is the AAA battery compartment wired to its simple onboard flash mechanism. The housing squeaks, creaks, and bends when handled, and the whole thing feels so flimsy that with every press of the shutter, it seems as if the entire camera might crumble onto itself like a sheet of paper.
And I love it.
Imperfection is Freedom
The beauty of the Ektar H35 is that it sets the bar so unbelievably low right from the get-go that it takes all the pressure out of trying to produce anything falling within the guidelines of what is commonly considered aesthetically pleasing.
The Ektar plays by a different set of rules. Much like the line of Lomographic cameras that it descended from, It is a creative tool that leans hard, right into its own limitations. It takes the fact that it’s practically a toy and embraces it. There is a kind of candidness and innocence in the images that it produces. They are off-center, the edges are blurry, and the fixed shutter speed will often punishingly under or overexpose your photos at a whim. The expectations are so low here, that you can’t help but feel artistically liberated when it’s in your hands.
On top of that, the H35 is a half-frame camera, which splits the frame in two, doubling a normal 36-exposure roll of film into 72 shots, further easing the pressure and encouraging you to get wild and shoot nearly anything even vaguely interesting.
And with that all said, after shooting with the Ektar for a while, you begin to discover your potential to improve and create better photos with this awkward and primitive tool. You send your rolls out to get developed and when you get them back you thumb through them, noticing which mistakes were yours and which were baked into the camera itself, and you quietly nod and say to yourself:
I’ll shoot even better shitty photos next time.
Through the H35, we see the beauty of imperfection. There is no polish, only the raw product of your original intention, and there’s a very profound honesty in that.
The Rough Cut is the Final Draft
So, coming back to my writing journey here on Substack, this is an aspiration that I have long been putting off out of fear of putting something out there that is not my best. I was paralyzed by my creative anxieties and, because of that, refused to even get started.
The couple rolls of film that I shot with the Ektar H35 while I was in Japan were a potent reminder that there is a special kind of freedom that comes with embracing flaws and imperfections. When you give yourself permission to screw up, it opens up a world where honesty and creativity can flourish.
Committing to writing online, especially when you’re just starting, essentially means that you are practicing in public. You will fail. You will fumble. Maybe the awesome idea you have in your head will be limited by your ability to articulate it properly.
The rough edges are a part of this process and can be beautiful in their own right. You take your limitations and embrace them, through practice, you can even work them to your advantage.
So what if I miss my mark? Maybe every word won’t land right. Perhaps an awkwardly phrased sentence may give way to an idea that is only half fleshed out as a result.
But you know what? That’s ok. Because when the comments roll in, and I look them over, I can assess my mistakes and see where I went wrong and then nod and say to myself:
I’ll write an even better shitty article next time.
Have you ever allowed perfectionism to stand in the way of good enough? Has creative anxiety made you quit a project before you even started? Sound off in the comments! Since MidThoughts is still in its infancy, your feedback is vital in growing this community and delivering compelling content that resonates with you.
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That’s all for now. Be sure to join me back here in a short couple of weeks for another issue of MidThoughts.