“Wherever you go, there you are”, I remember this quote all too well. I’ve changed circumstances in my life quite a few times only to find the same face staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. My view of the world is really what I bring to the breakfast table. However, there is one major factor contributing to my “lack of creativity” feeling lately. It comes from something outside of me, even though it’s ultimately me responding to it.
As the first flowers of the year popped up in all the familiar places, I ventured out and took some photos. I still enjoyed being in nature, but in the back of my mind I could hear a familiar nagging voice overruling the gratitude I usually experience. “You’ve seen and done this all before” the voice said. So I tried to look for some different subjects and angles, give it a bit of time and try again. But still the outings lacked the flow and child-like enthusiasm I had felt during previous springs.
Over the years I have gotten to know myself quite well. My runs of inspirations in jobs or creative processes typically only last a few years; then I’m ready to move on. I picked up a video camera for a few years, did some cool new things, made a film and from one day to the next I just dropped the camera. Boxes of tapes still sit in the closet, waiting patiently to be processed. I wonder if I’m heading the same way with photography. Repetition feels like stagnation. With the exception of steady relationships and a place to call home, I have always had a disliking to it.
I could ask myself a thousand times why it is so important to feel creative. The answers require some soul searching. Is it a desire to be unique? A need to feel free? Is the moment I don’t get the highs and satisfaction I crave, the moment I give up? Perhaps I will pull the fibres of my being apart a few more times and unravel the mysteries of my soul. Or I could just accept that ultimately, me is just me. While I take full responsibility for my repetitive distorted thoughts, my mind lately feels it needs to blame the lack of inspiration on something outside myself. It blames the current world of photography and social media in particular. Whereas I still genuinely enjoy the process of immersion in nature, social media has bluntly robbed the photographer in me of the “living in a happy bubble” feeling. I wonder if I’m alone in this. A few years ago, like many relatively new photographers, I started participating in the social media frenzy that is nowadays considered a “must” to any photographer’s marketing approach. We are aspiring professionals who sell a few prints and calendars and post images to social media sites to collect more “likes” and “wows”, hoping to reach a substantially growing audience that hopefully one day can be translated into a revenue stream or more photographic opportunities.
It seemed like a good idea at first, but I quickly starting feeling discouraged by the way the digital photography world seems grossly oversaturated. Photo sharing sites have made the world of photography into one big fishbowl. My inner cynic concludes that every possible nature photo has been taken, and at a level of excellence that may seem commendable but also incredibly boring. While I am taking this statement to extremes, I certainly have moments I feel like this. I was happier living in the blissful bubble, not being aware of what millions of other photographers were doing.
Even though I enjoy sharing the beauty that surrounds us and keep posting some images for that reason, it was here, on social media, that I noticed the conflict between my values and my creative work. While I understand the need for every artist to get comfortable with self-promotion, it is the competition for our world’s two-second attention span that really bugs me. It feels empty, meaningless and miles removed from my personal objectives and values.
What I currently need is a renewed vision and, paradoxically, some creativity preserving discipline. It has meant deleting some social media accounts and at least temporarily stepping away from others photographer’s feeds. I will understand if others stop following me too. Call it a photographic celibacy. I am currently asking myself some important questions. Is it important to have a message in my photography? Could I ever venture into commercial photography without sacrificing my strong personal values? Can I even still see the world as a non-photographer?
While a vision in photography can be the result of some strong values and/or a desire to make some money, ironically my latest quest for a new vision is more the result of what I don’t want. Sometimes it takes a few “don’t wants” to find out who we really are.