It is raining right now, the kind of grey, wet day that Vancouver is famous for. I am sitting by the water (well, in a pub, but there is a really big window) killing time for an hour until I meet up with my friends from Fujifilm Canada for dinner. I was going to launch a new five part instructional series this week on the blog, but a recent conversation has me thinking about why we do this crazy thing called photography and I’d like to write about that for a bit…
One evening, a few weeks ago, I was set up for a sunset shot in Hawaii and was waiting for the right light for the image I had in mind. The air was still warm from the sunny day, there was a slight breeze, and the only sounds I could hear were the waves crashing into the rocks below me. It was one of the most peaceful moments I have had in a long time and it really reminded me of why I love photography so much: it is a vehicle through which I can be mindful and present.
Mindfulness is something that is easily defined, but it is hard to do. We are all so busy these days, our minds constantly filled with schedules, shopping lists, dinner plans and all of the other things that keep our lives moving forward. Distractions abound: We work on laptops while watching a movie and we check our phones when out for coffee with friends. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it and I’m just as guilty as the next person for doing it. More guilty than most, probably.
But, when I pick up a camera all of that fades away. The only thing that matters to me is being present in my environment, being present with my subject, and being an artist. When I am on the street I can spend 12 hours, walk 15km, take hundreds of photos… and the time just melts away. When I shoot weddings I am “in the zone” for hours. You have to be, there are too many precious moments to be captured, once in a lifetime kind of moments. During times like this evening in Hawaii I am simply in awe of my surroundings and I want to take it all in: the sights, the sounds, the smells… I want to wrap myself in the beauty and peacefulness of a Hawaiian sunset and try to remember it in ways I know a photograph alone can’t always capture. The benefit of all of this is that I am re-charged after I shoot, better able to manage life’s day to day tasks. My photography makes me a better person and brings me joy. It is “healthy”.
The truth is that every success I have had with my photography: every new client, every successful workshop, every print I sell, every everything really, has come from the simple fact that I love what I do and I am mindful when I am doing it. I don’t follow trends, I just shoot what makes me feel good because I want to be genuine in my work. I don’t think I could work any other way to be honest.
Now, this is an article about what motivates you to take photos, and not one about social media, but I think this story has relevance: I recently had a conversation with a young photographer, someone who contacted me and asked me to review “the plan”. “The plan”, as it was laid out, involved dedicating 2 hours per day to a website and to social media. It laid out a schedule not only for biweekly blog posts and daily Instagram posts, but also had a list of “influential” photographers whose social media accounts would be commented on every day. When I asked the photographer what the purpose of “the plan” was, their answer was that they wanted to be a successful photographer (which to them meant having a large online following and being asked to represent brands).
My next question, which went unanswered, was:
“Ok… and then what?”
Don’t get me wrong, I love social media. I have made amazing friendships from it, met new clients through it, and have been inspired by work that I have seen on it. I always strive for a balance when using it though: I tend to write one or two blog posts a week, I usually only post two or three Instagram photos per week and days often go by where I don’t post on FaceBook. I think social media can be an invaluable tool and a wonderful way to meet new people, but I can’t imagine anything worse than chasing recognition from others on social media as an indication of success. I love to write and share new work, but I do it first and foremost for myself and my clients.
The level of photographic frustration this person was experiencing from not being “successful enough” was palpable, and so different than the way I feel about my photography. This person wasn’t deriving intrinsic pleasure from their photography, but seeking approval from others. They were, in essence, crowd sourcing their self esteem. It reminded me of a quote someone said at a conference I presented at last year:
“The gift that is in you will destroy you,
if what is in you can’t sustain you.”
How awesome is that quote? We have to love what we do. It needs to feed us and bring us satisfaction… not frustration. We were given an amazing gift when we found photography: the ability to create. That is what we need to draw our satisfaction from and most definitely not from a search for approval from others. By any definition that isn’t something that is healthy.
Let’s think about “The Plan” again for a moment: 2 hours per day. 14 hours per week. 60 hours during an average month. 730 hours per year.
…730 hours per year.
That is about 24 days per year. How much art could you create in 24 days? How many photographs could you make? That has to be a better course of action: don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, don’t worry about what everyone else thinks, just let your photography be the gift that sustains you. I just try to do what I love, share my work with others in a genuine way, and collaborate with other like minded people when the opportunity to do so presents itself.
A funny thing happens when you do this, you end up building a community of friends. Not followers… friends… and it is an awesome thing. The group of people I have met through my website and my social media accounts are amazing, I can’t begin to express how much I value them.
Ironically, I recently read this article:
…about a photographer who deleted his social media accounts with 1.5 million followers, solely so he could focus on being an artist and do what he loved without all of the distractions that come from seeking recognition. In the article he says:
“What would happen if I took all the energy that I spent on social media and devoted it straight towards what makes me feel really good: photography and traveling to new places on foot?”
What was the end result of his experiment? His business (based around his website) grew organically because he focused on his work. Crazy, right? He focused his energies on the things he loved and the things which brought him intrinsic satisfaction… and he saw a net gain from it.
Again, that this isn’t an article about the perils of social media, that is just one example of things that can make our photography unhealthy. Life is full of so many things that distract us, trends that tempt us, micro bursts of adulation that lure us into believing that they should be pursued and, of course, the daily responsibilities that we all have. I think it really just comes down to this: do you get intrinsic joy and satisfaction from your photography and from your art? I hope that you do. I hope that we all do. And, if you don’t for whatever reason, what changes can you make so that you do?
…just a few random thoughts on a rainy day. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!