Four years ago I was to all intents and purposes homeless, surfing couches for a few months. My belongings in boxes in other people's garages. Three years ago I was shooting every event I could find, because they had food and I was starving. Today I sit in my own studio, the first studio that is actually mine and I feel alone, in a morass of self pity.
I’ve watched friends die this year, I’ve watched friends live their dreams, others survive illness or hardship, I’ve heard and read stories of people making breakthroughs in medical care, friends traveling to exotic places, people out shooting incredible work nationally and internationally, I’ve seen all of this, had a few small triumphs of my own, but never quite reached where I want to be and also failed often at relationships with those I love.
Why should I not be happy, I have assignments shooting what feeds my soul, clients who I adore working with who ask me to do work that appeals to me, where I want to be. I have personal projects that drive me, that give back to communities and produce work that is exactly, they are important to me and thus come from the heart.
My day filled with a barrage of images, the internet cosmos serving up a never ending stream of images, knowing that a scant handful of those having a recognizable style, each time one appears instantly recognizable in their niche. Some days I feel like I am hiding behind layers of photoshop, feeling like a fraud. Many times recently colleagues and other photographers have complimented my work, that what I am turning out is excellent, but sometimes it seems to easy, maybe it is the experience making what is difficult seem easy to me, but that is too trite and convenient for me to accept.
Struggling to define a style, what is my statement, my vision for my work, how do I become an artist, and not just feel that I am taking pictures, how do I produce a body of work that stands out ?
Is it secret lighting setup I’m missing, some magic bullet piece of equipment. I can continue to work on lighting set ups, experiment with different ideas, dream up new scenarios shoot and project work, and it can seem superficial, it seems it is something I already know, or can find easily, does it get me where I want to be, and what is that exactly ?. Most of the time I seem to be running, hopefully toward something, my muscles sore from exertion, my breath coming in ragged spurts, all in my mind that I am working toward something. It is out there somewhere !
But no; its something deep down inside. God’s little joke on the artist, letting us think we can buy the secret, read about it, find it online in a forum or video, yet what is and will make me unique is hidden within me, locked away in some remote part of my mind, heart and soul.
My camera doesn’t produce the work, doesn’t produce images that grab attention, neither do lights, soft boxes or any other piece of gear. I have to delve deeper into the work, deeper into the people I shoot, connect with more people more strongly to find what is within me. Backdrops, lighting and camera are all but small tools, it is in that connection with another person where the magic lies, I believe it, I see it within the work of others and oh so occasionally in my own work.
Growth takes time, it is painful, it hurts, it causes self doubt, insecurity, misery. Just when you find a nugget, within days or weeks it loses it’s luster and you feel stagnant again. The greats all went through it I am sure, I read glib postings about this shoot or that shoot, but often in video interviews you see that glint of sadness in the eyes and I know they experience those same feelings I do.
Patience, work, hunger, appetite, and more patience and more work…shouldn’t I have this figured out in my almost half century ?…maybe I will never truly figure it all out, but all I can do is grow, day by day, week by week and year by year, keep yearning.
To not fear that first step, to not leave ideas in a journal or tucked away in my head where they will eventually be lost, but to go out there on the street, find whatever or whoever I need and go slam a stake into the ground, who cares if no one sees it, who cares if I then think it is derivative or not worthy, it is a start, a first step - who knows where the rest of the staircase is going to lead, it is going to lead somewhere, and it is not where I am right now.
And you can take a step too.