You may not want to hear this. You may not want to be confronted with the possibility that what you want out of your creative life can prove so elusive, or to listen to me bitch and moan. So if either of these seem unpleasant, read no further because this might sting a bit.
For more than 10 years I've worked towards becoming a successful, busy, editorial and commercial still photographer. I've practiced and developed my skills, I've researched what steps to take. I've done much of what I believed I was supposed to do. But to date my dream has not yet become a reality.
I left my full-time job in 2013, and immediately started hustling. I printed pages for two brand new portfolios, and sent out promos. I scheduled meetings to share my photography and video work, and shot some projects that I'm very proud of.
But the industry was changing—and is ever-changing. And so, while I had some photography work in 2014, it was my video work that was about to take off like a wild horse which I could not control. So I held the reigns, and it lead me to the place I'm in now.
When you work for yourself, the irony is, you really work for anyone and everyone.
Throughout 2015, I had the opportunity to make some incredible video work. I don't say that to flatter myself. The stories were simply amazing. Opportunities that many work towards their entire career, and due to this or that, never get to do. I've featured many of those projects on this blog and my on my website, so I won't do so again for this post.
Ok, maybe just a couple:
USAID | Sons of Luxor
The Parkway Film Center
But while this video work is rewarding, it always felt like a departure from my goal of focusing on photography.
And here is where I start to feel and sound like a whiny baby. There are some seriously talented folks out there who dream of working as a photographer or filmmaker, but are stuck working in completely unrelated fields: accounting, retail, barista, etc. Those people have more to be frustrated about than I do. But my reality still feels separate from my dreams and goals.
Don't get me wrong. I am thankful, and I enjoy the video work I've been doing. Video projects have fed our family and paid our bills. Video has made our Christmases possible and joyful in our home. It sent us to Europe for an unforgettable vacation. I've been around the world working in places like Beijing, Istanbul, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Indore, Kenya, Belize, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Senegal, New York City, and San Francisco. It's been satisfying in so many ways.
And yet I still feel unfulfilled.
Perhaps that is the curse of the creator. Maybe our past creations aren't fulfilling because the act of creating is what drives us to do what we do. Or maybe there's something in our wiring that means we are driven to create because the feeling of satisfaction felt during the creative process is what we're chasing, but it can never, ever be caught.
After all, we are creators, not creation-ors. We are driven to create, not to collect our creations. Or at least I am.
The 365 Project That Wasn't
On January 1, 2017, I decided to do a 365 Project in an effort to challenge myself. I'd been missing taking stills, and in an effort to be proactive I decided on a project that would get me out there doing what it is I'd been wanting to do. My 365 Project is ambitious, and it proved to be even more challenging than I imagined. I would take a portrait every day of the year. Regardless of where I was, regardless of how busy I was, I would take a portrait, and share it on Instagram.
Here are a few from the ongoing (I promise!) series:
I soon realized that I had bit off more than I could chew. Some days, I simply couldn't find the time while there was still daylight to get out there and find a subject. The streets of Baltimore during winter, during the day, during the week, are pretty quiet. So, inevitably I fell behind. And once I fell behind, it became easier to stay behind.
Failure doesn't feel good, but it feels easy. It's much easier than hustling. Much easier than reinventing yourself. My 365 Project crashed and burned within the first few weeks of the year, and once it had, I settled into the failure. That failure proved all of my self doubt was well-founded.
Begin the Begin
I suppose one of the benefits of failing is that it presents the option to begin again. Option is a funny word in this case, because it implies you can just nestle down in that negative place forever. But that's not really an option. Maybe that's what the phrase "failure is not an option" really means. You can fail, but you can't stay there.
So how do I begin again? How do I start over? What does it look like?
The truth is I don't know. I've considered making some radical change:
- Sell all of my video and photography gear?
- Keep one camera, one lens?
- Take a 9 to 5 doing anything at all?
- Take a trip to try and rediscover what it is I'm meant to do?
- Meditate? (Not so radical I know...)
I've done none of these things yet. Yet.
As I write this, I have too much time on my hands. Time I should be using to achieve some of my goals. But on any given day, I cannot get my head into that space. I'm struggling. Not like the struggling I've seen around the world. Certainly not. This is a first world problem. But that's where I live, so this still counts as a problem. I confront it every day—or rather it confronts me.
I don't know how this works out. I'm not sure what's next for me. I think I'm just struggling to feel whole, creatively speaking.
The only thing I'm sure of is that these portraits won't shoot themselves.