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Blog // Creativity
November 4, 2012

A Year Ago I Almost Gave Up On Photography

This time last year I was in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was there to photograph Dia de los Muertos and also to take part in a photography workshop. It was an amazing experience. I met some great people, ate some amazing food learnt so much about life in Mexico and managed to create some memorable photos. […]

This time last year I was in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was there to photograph Dia de los Muertos and also to take part in a photography workshop. It was an amazing experience. I met some great people, ate some amazing food learnt so much about life in Mexico and managed to create some memorable photos.

I was in Oaxaca a little over two years after taking up photography. In that time I had managed to stage an exhibition, sell some prints, have my work shown in several magazines and work on some great clients. On one level things were progressing really well.

However, it wasn’t all wine and roses. I was well aware that, despite some early sucesses, there was a lot about photography, both the art of making images and the craft of running a visual business, I didn’t understand.

And, I had nagging doubts about my ability, my photographic vision, my ability to sustain this good early form.

The Dark Night

I had flown half way around the world to get to Mexico. Add a layover in Mexico City and a six hour bus ride to Oaxaca and that’s plenty of time to think. I got off the bus excited to be on a new adventure and keen to address the issues I was facing.

But, every night I returned to my hotel feeling like I was moving further away from clarity, rather than heading towards it. By the middle of the trip I had the feeling this was the end of the road for me. The time had come to hang up my camera, so to speak.

The Realisation

My years in music and writing helped me understand what was going on. In any creative field you get to a point where, with hard work and focus, it gets a little easier and you break ahead of the beginners and dilettantes.

But, then you start to catch up with the really talented people. The leaders in the field. Of course, you don’t really catch them, you just kind of end up in their shadow. At that point, suddenly everything gets harder, you become more self-aware and self-critical. And, the voices, either in your head or in your life, start to suggest you give up, or at least, be “realistic” about your goals.

I remember my Pilates instructor in Hong Kong, a wonderful woman with a background in ballet, cautioning me after a particularly tough workout. I was complaining, wondering why the exercises were not getting any easier for me, after more than a year of regular sessions with her. She said, “it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger and more capable.”

In The Intervening Year

A few months after Oaxaca, I was on another adventure, in Penang photographing Thaipusam. It was a similar experience. An amazing photographic challenge and cultural experience, matched only by gut-wrenching self-doubt and uncertainty.

Since then I have, because of the plan I set myself for this year, turned down a steady stream of work. I’m thankful I did that, it gave me precious time to go through my whole portfolio and to understand better who I am with a camera in my hands. I’ve also spent a lot of time on technical fundamentals, exploring different cameras, coming up with my own approaches to software and, of course, creating photos.

One year, I have no doubt I should continue with photography and a much clearer sense where I should be pointing my camera (and, no, I won’t be doing any teaching in 2013, either).

Make A Choice Then Go

In any creative field it gets tough. In fact, it doesn’t just get tough. It becomes soul-destroying at times. I wish I could tell you that when you find your calling it will be sweatness and light, but that’s never been my experience – or the experience of anyone I know.

Music, photography, writing – I know it might sound romantic. OK, in a way, it is. But, there’s nowhere to hide. If I have any wisdom to share from this it is – if you are going to chase into a big creative dream, then really chase it.

Don’t walk slowly towards your goals. Run, fly, do whatever it takes to get going, to build momentum, to push yourself along. The path only ever seems clear when we keep moving, keep doing, keep growing.

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