Find Your Inner Voice
For me, nature photography and everything I feel about it can be summed up in one word. Freedom. Freedom to explore and to get lost, to ask questions and find answers. To set my creativity free, letting it loose in the wind knowing that in time it will return to me the same and yet, changed. You see, I wasn't looking for photography when I stumbled across it, photography came looking for me. I truly believe, that as artists we must continually create to keep the fire inside burning and yet, if those flames are extinguished, the resulting smoke sends a signal for the embers to return once again rekindling the blaze inside each of us. It might not be today, tomorrow, or for a very long time but ultimately that fire will find you, returning to consume you once again. You see, unlike an object that you build with your hands, art is a dream that you build with your soul so when your fire returns to you, embrace it like an old friend. While my writing is quite rusty I hope you find inspiration in these words as I share a little story with you, about myself.
As a only child, there were times, that creativity was all I had. I would find myself alone, consumed by my thoughts, asking questions without answers. More often than not I wound up daydreaming, with a pencil in my hand. Drawing allowed me to express myself, without the noise of instant feedback. The paper never judged, never told me I was wrong. I drew purely to create, often destroying the final sketch as soon as it was finished. It was the journey that was the destination and the joy found in the searching. Aside from the silliness I sometimes sketch for my daughter, I haven't picked up a pencil in a VERY long time and so, with that my fire had grown cold.
Now fast forward to what seems like many lifetimes from then and I found myself holding a camera in my hands. Not knowing what to do with it, I raised it to my eye and by the end of the day I felt that spark from inside. In an instant I knew I that the fire had returned and felt the heat of creativity as it smoldered and then burned.
For the next three years all I did was create. These years as a photographer hold very fond memories for me because my personal vision, creative process and motivation were all pure. No feedback. No judgment. No noise. I photographed exactly what I wanted, when I wanted for no reason at all. My only measurement of success for my imagery was the joy of my own personal experience creating it and how it made ME feel. Maybe you remember that feeling to, or maybe you have forgotten why you're here.
From the very moment your creativity ignites that first spark, you'll be battling forces that could tear you apart. You'll hear voices outside yourself, struggling to understand why they are telling you that you wouldn't. you shouldn't or can't. Yet those voices are nothing compared to the voices inside, that scream in your ears you should run or should hide. There is nothing more damaging than self doubt when it lingers, so remember to choke yourself the next time you hear whispers.
Art, in it's purest form is allowing yourself to create what you choose to without boundaries, outside influence or invisible rules. When one door closes another one opens. Do not waste your time trying to break through the lock. Find your own path or make your own way. If there are people in your life who don't support you and your vision, who try to discourage you or change the course of your dreams, simply walk right past them and never look back. Life is too short to waste your time pleasing others.
The Social Media Monster
It would be difficult to argue the fact that the world of social media has brought incredible advancements to photography and photographers alike. For many of us, without it, our entire audience would be comprised of close friends and family members. Some of you would simply be charging up the stairs of your parents basement yelling Mom! Check out this composition! Thank goodness for Facebook….am I right?
If you are like me, finding joy in photography has changed your life. Your excitement and search for knowledge evoked by this creative outlet has led you to try to absorb all the information you can and social media happily force feeds it to you at every turn. As a new photographer it is natural to seek out the work of others who are more experienced than you. What you find will either motivate you further or begin to water the seeds of self doubt in your mind. It is important during this process to remind yourself that you are just beginning to scratch the surface of your own creativity. Those you look up to now doubted themselves as well in the beginning. Today, thanks to social media and the relentless barrage of high quality imagery we face daily many are afraid to show anything but their very best work, once again placing restrictions on their creativity and their art.
The most important piece of advice I can give a new photographer is to never allow anyone to tell you that you can’t, you won’t or you shouldn’t and believe me, they will try. There are a large number of photographers on social media today who seem to think that THEY know how YOU should create art. They speak as if the opinions and ideas that they have are concrete fact and share them openly, many times at the expense of a photographer who has yet to find their own artistic voice. Pay absolutely no attention to these often egotistical people and understand that because they have placed these limits on themselves, they are often unsatisfied with their own work. Create exactly what you want to and how you want to regardless of how you think others may perceive it. The greater the level of freedom you allow yourself when creating your art, the more personal and rewarding it will become. It is crucial during this period that you follow your own vision and do your best to filter out the noise.
Finally, regardless of your status on the social media ladder, or where you are on your path as a photographer, please do not allow yourself to believe that the value of attention you receive online is greater than your own personal experience and happiness. While receiving praise through likes, thumbs up, high fives or fist bumps may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside in the short term, these forms of “click and run” praise offer little value in the real world and often inflate egos to the point of no return. Do not allow yourself to believe that your popularity online directly equates to the quality of your work or your value as a person. If you see imagery online that you enjoy, take the time to understand WHY you enjoy it and if possible, share those honest feelings with the artist who created it. Participating in this process will help you as an artist more than any award, accolade or praise you will ever receive online.
The Dying Art Of The Print
One trend I find troubling more than anything else is our spiraling freewill into everything digital. While I appreciate and enjoy technology as much as the next guy, I wonder what will be left of the world for our children, when everything tangible has been reduced to bits and bytes. As it relates to photography, I consider the print to be the final product of our creativity. While I support my family by selling prints and understand that I am fortunate to see my work more often than most, if you hear one thing I am saying it is this.....print your favorite image. Do it today. You don't need to purchase a 60" metal print to experience the beauty of seeing your work in its final form. You don't need to get a second job or sell a kidney. You can purchase a 30" print right now at Costco for ten dollars. I promise you that if you invest just ten dollars in yourself and your art today, you will learn something from it that is far more valuable. Of course, nothing can compare to the actual experience of being there, but after that beautiful moment, our fire begins to fade. It continues to smolder as we mold it like clay through the editing process, pushing it towards the final destination. The place where our hopes and our dreams, our passion and experience all come together colliding in a celebration of our art. A celebration of ourselves...... in a 612 px image on Instagram. Let that sink in a while. Then go find your favorite image and ten dollars. You will thank me later.
Thank you for taking time out to share in my thoughts today. To see more of my work please visit my website where I offer limited edition prints and a full schedule of both private and group workshops. As a teacher, 99% of my job is to inspire you. I hope I have succeeded in my attempt today. Happy Shooting!!