Au-then-tic; adjective 1. True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.
We hear repeatedly that to be a great photographer and artist, we must be authentic. For the novice, what we don’t hear is what exactly that is or how to achieve it, much less how to recognize it when we see it. For those of us with a left-brain orientation, our keenest desire is for someone to tell us how to be authentic. Courses are taught and books written, but when it comes down to brass tacks, authenticity is within you already.
I know that seems to be yet another mystical cop-out. Seek within, listen to the universe, meditate. All those are fine, but the more left your brain leans the more foreign and frustrating those concepts seem. Give me a good old instruction manual any day. Tell me the rules of the game, and I will play with the best of them. Send me out to find my own way, and I am sweating bullets.
Unfortunately, there are no rules or instructions for being authentic. The way I’ve come to look at authenticity is this: If it makes your soul sing, it is authentic. Period. Think of those images you have created, that when you saw them on screen or in print, you felt a gigantic “Yeah, baby!!” resonating within. Those images that grabbed you, turned your head, and said, “Look at me.” Those are your authentic art.
It has pretty much nothing to do with how hard they were to capture or how much they remind you of a pleasant memory. Nor are they necessarily the ones that meet technical requirements of a camera club or organization. It has everything to do with how the images make you feel. Becoming authentic is nothing more than learning to recognize when an image reflects something fundamental within you. Something that, as I said, makes your soul sing. You probably won’t know, at least in the beginning, what that “something” is. Just listen for its music. Each time you recognize it and spend time with the image that elicited it, you come closer to your own authenticity. Over time, you will find yourself making more and more images with the power to move you. You may never be able to label what in the image stirs you. You may never grasp what part of your subconscious it touches or why. Then again, you may. The why is is really not important.
So here is the instruction manual. Know that authenticity is a journey, not a destination. It is not formulaic and cannot be learned from a book, a teacher, or a friend. It is an inside job of learning to recognize the resonance between you and your art. Just listen for the music.