A sequence of water-themed images. L-R: a square blue scene where the lens is speckled with water. A square scene where a swimmer in a black costume sees their reflection in water. A square scene showing a man in red swimming shorts diving hands first into water, his fingers just touching the surface. And finally, another blue scene, showing a splash of water as though there has been impact.

Finding courage in the creative process - Part 1

Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal is no stranger to facing her fears and has much experience in taking herself outside of her comfort zone in order to meet her creative aspirations. In this, the first of a series of three articles, she offers the benefit of her experience as a means to help you to find your courage, express yourself alongside your fears and reach a place of greater creative freedom.

“My artistic inspiration has led me to work with completely new themes, communities and environments many times. I have created a nocturnal photography project with monks in the desert, conducted an interfaith experiment in a dark studio in Jerusalem, and learnt to film underwater video in the open sea. Such choices have required me to know and gain the trust of entirely new communities, learn new technical abilities, work with new equipment and unfamiliar techniques, experimenting – and making lots of mistakes. In short, they have required me to step into the unknown. Each pushed me to find courage and deal with the fears that have blocked my path, such as failure, rejection and hearing ‘no’, as well as criticism, uncertainty and the unknown.

Through years of dealing with the barriers of limiting thoughts and personal fears, I have been amazed to see how non-existential fears – that present no real danger – manage to paralyse us and rob us of our energy. They trouble our thoughts and prevent us from fulfilling ourselves or communicating freely. Personally, I have found that by dealing with such subtle fears, I have been able to moderate their impact on me. And thus, I am able to realise my potential to the extent that I can express myself more freely.

A man in black swimming shorts, shown as he enters the water. He has clearly jumped or fallen in with some force, as the disturbance of white water can be seen behind him from his entry on the left. On the right, the water is clear, calm and deep blue.
“On my way of becoming an underwater photographer I had to overcome a lot of inner and outer barriers. I also talk about these in detail in an episode of Canon’s podcast, Shutter Stories.”

There are many definitions of fear.

According to some, fear is a natural and healthy phenomenon which exists to protect us from danger and triggers the best action we can take in a given situation. As such, it is a blessing. The problem begins when, for various reasons, we start to react with fear and tension to situations which don’t hold any real life-danger for us, like the fear of criticism. These fears make us feel stressed, anxious and block our ability to express ourselves. But do not be in a hurry to turn such fears into your enemy, since they can serve as powerful teachers who help us grow and learn. It is such ‘small’ fears, those that hold no real danger for us, I would like to address here. However, while dealing with such fears can be healthy and instructive, if you feel you are facing real danger, or experiencing levels of anxiety that require support, then please seek professional help.

A few words on what lies ahead…

Why it is worth investing the effort, time and mental strength needed to work through or deal with your fears and limiting thoughts? Let me take a moment to offer words of encouragement and motivation. During the times when I was able to put my fears into proportion, moderate them and move forward with my plans despite their existence, I gained many benefits. Among other things, I enjoyed a greater sense of self-expression and self-fulfillment, a sense of security and my favorite benefit – an extraordinary sense of vitality. I raised my level of freedom and created for myself new opportunities for action where fear had previously set a barrier. I also enjoyed the work process more and was able to produce better results.

When I was not dealing with my fears, they created a lot of restraints and limitations for me. Whether through projects and ideas I did not implement, people I did not initiate a meeting with, places I did not reach and more. In such cases I eventually felt frustrated, a lack of fulfillment and expression, even a sense of sinking… decline. While, on occasion, my fears did not stop me from coming up with an idea or a plan, they did delay it significantly. Many times they caused me an increased sense of tension while performing a task, so that I could not fully enjoy it. It is clear why I wanted to reduce the intensity of the impact of the fears on me.

On the left, an image of the upper body of Dafna Tal, wearing a blue wetsuit and turning to face the camera. She has short blonde hair and looks as though she has just come out of the water. On the right is a quote that reads: “There are many ways to adjust to new environments, such as the ocean, and they concern our inner world too.”

If there are so many benefits to working with our fears, why do we not do it?

  • We do not fully understand the benefits, so we are not willing to invest the time and effort.
  • It is much more comfortable to not deal with our fears and limiting thoughts.
  • It is difficult for us to accept that we have weaknesses, and coping requires us to examine them.
  • We might believe that ignoring an emotion or fear will cause it to disappear (usually, for ‘small’ fears, the opposite is true, and when ignored they actually influence us more).
  • Often, we simply do not have the tools to do so.
  • The moment may not be right, and we simply do not currently have the inner capacity to deal with any additional emotional load.

It is important to understand that it is perfectly fine to choose not to do this right now if it is not right for you. Everyone has their own pace and the degree to which it is right to face internal barriers. It is important to trust yourself and choose to deal with your fears only if you feel it is right for you – and even then, you can choose where and where not to cross the line and what measure is right for you. The option is always open, and it does not have to be now.”

In part two, Dafna will share some of the practical advice that helped her overcome the obstacles that stand between us and creative freedom.

Discover more about Dafna and her work. She also discusses her experiences on Shutter Stories, our podcast where we talk to leading photographers and filmmakers from around the world.

Written by Dafna Tal