This Same Purpose

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Why It's Important To Edit Your Life

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I love photography. I've loved it since I was old enough to aim my aunt's little point-and-shoot camera at everything I could think of - including my own face. So it's not a surprise to anyone that I ended up with a photography minor for my undergrad. One of the things I've learned throughout the lectures, in-class exercises, and projects is the definition and practice of editing.

Now many people - in fact most - think of editing as "fixing" or "perfecting." They think of changing the lighting, cropping, removing blemishes, etc. I defined it that way too. But I've learned that in the world of professional photography, the fixing and perfecting is actually called "toning." Editing is something completely different. While toning is "changing," editing is "choosing."(Even if you're not a photographer, this will apply to you!)

Last semester, I worked on a social documentary project. After I'd compiled all the photographs that I loved and thought worthy of being considered for the 30-35 count final, I set up a time to meet with my professor to get his opinion and help sequencing the photos in the proper order - an order that would tell a compelling story as each photograph simultaneously informed the one before it and prepared the viewer for the one after it.

I laid all my prints out on the table - about 45 or 50. I knew many of them would have to go. Not all of them would tell the story that needed to be told. I felt emotionally attached to some because of what was going on in the moment I had made it, but my viewers would obviously not have that same emotional attachment. Therefore, it didn't matter how much I liked them - how much I loved them even. All that mattered was this: would each photo build the story?

My professor began to reposition and removephotographs to give me new ideas and a new perspective on my work. It made me ache a little bit on the inside each time he suggested a change. I'd become so comfortable with what I had made, the way I made it, that it took a concentrated effort and some soul-searching to set my own vision aside long enough to understand what it would take for my work to be not just good but great.

At one point, I reacted before thinking when my professor removed one of my favorite photos.

"But I really liked that one!"

"It doesn't matter,"he said.

I knew he was right. The photograph obviously didn't belong aesthetically or in context with the narrative. I finally resigned to let go of it. Now, when I revisit my project, I'm so glad I did.

I look back on that experience as a moment of growth for me. I knew deep down that certain photographs needed to go, even before my professor told me. But I had been unwilling to let go of what I thought was good, because of the discomfort and because I didn't want to say no to anything that might have even the slightest potential. As a result, I almost had a mediocre 45-count documentary project, instead of a 30-count project to be proud of.

That's what editing is. Letting go of the good so you can have what's best.

It happens with writing too. You may have pages and pages of good interview material, quotes, research, personal experiences, emotionally-compelling stories. But you can't use it all. A photographer, a writer - anyone really - becomes a master of their craft, an artist, when they develop an instinct for determining the difference between what's good and what's great. . .when they are brave enough to commit to one path, even when there are three alternatives also full of potential and promise.

"Having it all" is a lie. There are only 35 photographs allowed in the project, only 24 hours available in a day, and only one life God has given each of us to live. So we have to make choices. Our "yes" will only be meaningful and trustworthy if our "no" is too.

For me, this concept I've learned in photography - and even in writing - has been even more true in my relationship with the Holy Spirit. There are times when he begins rearranging and removing things from my life and it gets painful and uncomfortable. I want things my way, because that's what feels right. However, scripture says that there is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is death (Prov. 14:12).

But God offers abundant life if we choose his way, if we're willing to get uncomfortable and do some soul-searching when his Spirit, gently but firmly, suggests a few edits.

If we're honest with God and with ourselves, it doesn't matter what we want. All that matters is that our choices are building the story, the narrative, that God has written for our lives before the foundation of the world.And if we choose his story, his narrative, his ways, we can trust wholeheartedly that we won't become or gain anything mediocre - or even good. Only the very best.

Mattanah DeWittComment