While photographing in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, I returned from a hike to a surprise: the words “Ian Plant Sucks!” scrawled into the dust on the back windshield of my car. At first, I was confounded—who could have been the culprit? A good friend with a mischievous sense of humor? Someone who really dislikes my work? Or perhaps that guy from the previous day who seemed really pissed that I was in “his” shot? Hey buddy, I was there first—it isn’t my fault you decided to photograph the rock I happened to be standing on.
I was tempted to wipe my windshield clean, but something stopped me. Perhaps the hand of destiny intervened; perhaps I merely sensed that I would have something interesting to blog about if I left the words intact. Or maybe I simply decided that I liked having “Ian Plant Sucks!” displayed prominently on the back of my car. As it turns out, it was amusing to drive around the park with my new slogan, especially when I realized that if I looked in my rear view mirror, “Ian Plant Sucks!” was there, filling the frame perfectly. It made me giggle like a school girl whenever I saw it.
According to legend, when triumphant Roman generals returned from the field, a grand parade would be thrown in their honor, along with a warning: a slave would stand by their side on the chariot, whispering over and over again the words sic transit gloria—glory is fleeting. Apparently the Romans felt that pride was a bad thing.
And so it is. Pride is the enemy of progress, especially for artists. As soon as we become enamored of our own greatness, we become stagnant. It is a fairly easy thing to become full of oneself, succumbing to pride’s siren call and descending into the sinful luxuries of an over-inflated ego. Only by resisting this temptation can we continue to grow as artists, with the side benefit of avoiding becoming insufferable twits.
The other day I made a stream image that I was quite proud of. Feeling mighty pleased with myself, I hiked out and returned to my car. And then I saw it: “Ian Plant Sucks!,” blazoned like a pointing finger, a naked accusation with the whole world as its witness. Lowering my eyes in shame, I hiked back to the stream to see if I could do better.
So “Ian Plant Sucks!” has become my own personal chariot slave, a constant reminder to not get complacent. Whenever I start feeling pretty good about myself, there it is, staring at me from my rear view mirror, taunting me for eternity. It is a constant reminder not to rest on my laurels, not to assume that I have laurels to begin with, to be my own worst critic, and to never stop striving to improve, to forever be reaching higher and higher in the never-ending quest for artistic perfection. “Ian Plant Sucks!” will always be there, humbling me, keeping that most insidious of vices—Pride—at bay.
Or at least until it rains.
Technical details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 14-24mm lens (@21mm), polarizer filter, ISO 400, f/11, 0.8 seconds.
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