Who burst my Bubble?

“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.

 

 


 

Photography Therapy

 

Close to the ground I feel comfortable. The gravitational force has pulled me on my knees, not by choice. My head is spinning and it’s time to sit down for a break. I’m used to it by now. Through trial and error, anger and acceptance I have come to understand what my body can and can’t do. My body is lacking the energy to hike for miles or get up in the middle of the night, so I have grown to get comfortable to take photos in a relatively small window of time and space. It’s no surprise that one of my favourite topics is macro photography.

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It’s over a year and a half since I created a website dedicated to my photography and ambition to write more. I started a Facebook photography page on which I regularly posted a few photos. It’s not a booming business by any means but I kept going steady with the first and foremost intention to share the beauty that surrounds us.

 

While it’s never been a smooth ride, this winter the posting of photos and writing started stuttering like an old car in frigid winter conditions. Health challenges forced me to surf the couch and stare at the ceiling pretty much full time. A fog settled over me, kept me from writing with the clarity and inspiration I felt earlier. It was hard to accept, but I learned to come to terms with the reality that good and bad periods just come and go in waves.

 

Here’s a rather short explanation about my health to give some context. What started with a mild fatigue some 8 years ago has slowly progressed into a fairly serious condition. I frequently experience nerve pain, muscle weakness and severe fatigue. While I look pretty normal, my body’s energy battery is charged at 20% most days. After what feels like a few hundred diagnoses and treatments over the years, I have recently been treated intensively for Lyme disease. The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease are controversial; the illness is multi-layered and complex. I generally tell people that my ongoing treatment is based on the doctors’  best guesses.

 

When my photography outings came to a mere stand still, I felt no inspiration to continue writing photography blogs. Why would I write a blog about something I don’t actively pursue? The negative self-talk got a good hold of me. But in recent months, after encouragement from family and good friends, I have pushed myself –often against my body’s will- out the front door again.

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I typically drive to a familiar spot nearby, walk a few hundred meters and stop. Legs hurt. It’s time to crouch down and look around. After a break, I get up again, walk another couple hundred meters and take a time out again. By then I have usually found an interesting topic for macro photography. On my knees, with my mind in a different world, the pain gradually dissolves. The fatigue goes unnoticed for a while. Time ceases to exist. All the worries and frustrations of a long challenging journey fall off my back for a while. It is only when I stretch my back and waddle back to the car that I realize I am taking part in a carefully planned and paced exercise.

 

After clearly stating my desire to be more mindful and present in previous blogs, it’s ironic how life has thrown me the perfect exercise to learn to appreciate the little things in life and in nature. My photographic journey continues in a different form than I anticipated. I don’t spend all night in the woods photographing the Northern Lights or Milky Way, nor do I dangle dangerously above cliffs trying to get the unique elevated shot. Hat’s off to those photographers who do that. That’s what I would if given the chance and that’s what I’ll do when the tide turns again. For now, this condition has forced me on my knees (in more than one way). On my knees I’m currently most comfortable. On my knees is how my photography currently takes place.

The close-up natural world is surprisingly intriguing and complex like larger ecosystems, with its own vistas and panoramas. The macro world – a world blown up to larger than life size- reveals interesting patterns, hidden symmetry, geometrical patterns and architectural wonders. Macro photography is now pretty much all I do. Once I am focused on something, my mind is not interested in anything else. The more creative the idea, the better. I am grateful I still get to do this. Photography is a creative outlet and necessary therapy I can’t live without.

 

I have started a personal blog to share a bit more about my own health journey. It’s personal and perhaps not for everyone and that’s ok with me. But for those interested in learning more, you can find it at www.exposedliving.com.