Imperfectionist

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Felicia Chang / Community Voices

"My transition from a career woman to a mom caused some identity loss I never saw coming, with a role change I never quite settled into." - Felicia Chang

The other day, this question was put forth to a group of women photographers in a forum: Keeping your visual voice as a photographer in mind, how would you finish this statement? "I AM A/AN __________." I sat there, my mind blank. The question was staring at me like a blinking cursor on my computer screen, mocking me as it flashes repeatedly, serenaded by the tune of the game show Jeopardy, awaiting my answer. It never came.

Years ago, when someone asked what I do, I would say I am a stay-at-home mom and inside I would feel embarrassed about it because it didnʼt feel like enough. I needed to be something other than “just” a mom. Itʼs so silly because I know being a mother is a fucking hard job and I donʼt want to belittle that role in any way. Still, I couldnʼt help but want the recognition to be something more. The irony is, I chose to  leave my decade-long job as a geologist so I could spend the earliest years of my childrenʼs lives with them. My transition from a career woman to a mom caused some identity loss I never saw coming, with a role change I never quite settled into.

Then photography came into my life and fulfilled my need to have that “something more”. It was great for a while, learning all the things I could get my hands on. Books, workshops, mentorships, repeat. However, when it came down to answering that same question of what I did for work, I fumbled with the words - I am a photographer. Then again when I found my photographic voice within the documentary vein, I found it hard to say - I am a documentary photographer.
 

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Along each step, the noise in my head was loud. “You are a sham. You donʼt have a degree in fine art. You donʼt have a piece of paper that legitimizes what you do. Who are you to teach and mentor? You canʼt even say with certainty that you are a photographer.” And this is only one channel in my head. My mind is constantly racing, like static on the radio that just cannot lock onto a clear signal. The rest is a mix of questioning whether I am doing enough as a mother, wife, friend, and business owner. This is how it goes...
 

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My girls to me: "Mom, why do you have to go to work again? Why do we have to go to camps?"

Enter guilt.

My friend to me, after reading my request for an opt-in to my newsletter: "Is there a channel I can tune into to see my friend?"

Enter failure.

Myself to me: "Why are you not entering into awards more often? Have you done all you can to market your business? Why have the inquiries dried up? Should you be posting more palatable social media photos and thoughts so you get more likes? What else can you do with your photography to benefit the greater good?"

Enter self doubt.

There’s that word that has undone so many good things - DOUBT. It’s a seed I’d be happy to toss away, any day. There was doubt before I became a parent, but it has never been so deafening. It is as if procreating has carved a deficit in my confidence.
 

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These are the same thoughts I have all the damn time. I can see we are conditioned to strive for perfect, for better, for more. It is emotionally and mentally draining and sometimes I think about quitting. Then I think itʼs a sign of failure, so I donʼt. And the static starts up again. Sometimes I want answers, but sometimes, I think it is equally necessary for me to acknowledge the stagnant (at times festering) pond I am in is par for the course of a life I have chosen, and be ok with it.

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Today, I believe that the human instinct does not need to always be aspiring to attain the status of “yeah, I am I-got-my-shit-together perfect”. If anything, being a documentary photographer has taught me that invaluable lesson of acceptance. That is why over the last few years, my work has been about pulling the chaos and complexities of life into photographs. Holding those moments of tension in a frame is giving acknowledgement that this is real and imperfect, but it is ok to be in this state because it is normal and it is lifeʼs rhythm.

When I give myself the mental space to sit with that acceptance, life doesn’t feel so impossible. "It is what it is” starts to feel alright, instead of a shrug in defeat. “Work in progress” starts to ring true. I am on this journey, defined by lots of mountains and valleys, but also plateaus and potholes, and I wear this patina proudly: I am an imperfectionist, and I am ok with it. As I look around and see people who openly share about their own vulnerability and imperfections, I know I am in good company.

 

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