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Thursday, 13 February 2014

Professional Photographer Column: July 2013


On Wednesday last week I was felled by my first ever bout of tonsillitis and due to the fact that I had a wedding to shoot on the Saturday I spent 2 days in bed.  During that time I read PP from cover to cover and found myself tweeting both Kevin Mullins and Martin Middlebrook about their columns. 

A tweet to Martin in Paris led to an email conversation and in turn to this month’s column.   Ruminations back and forth over the past few days have enabled me to acknowledge that I’m feeling creatively stifled on top of being a bit run down.  I have finally acknowledged that in 4 years I have gone from the extreme of enthusiastic hobbyist to a busy professional and it has taken its toll.  I genuinely can’t remember the last time I shot purely for me - when I picked up a camera to capture something with no requirement to deliver an end result.

I think it has really hit home because this week I did a shoot that I agreed to as my designated monthly ‘creative day’. What started as a small idea ended up involving a designer flying her dresses in from Israel.  As the number of stakeholders grew the opportunity to shoot for me diminished.  On the day itself I found myself only concerned with satisfying the requirements of others.   The truth is every time I pick up my camera – whether I am being paid or not – I am basically shooting for someone else.

For the past 2 years I have been buoyed by the gratitude and plaudits of my customers.  Photography is a gift and there is much to be gained from the pleasure my work has given my clients and friends. It has also been rewarding to see my hard graft and efforts recognised a little by the industry.  Which is why I have been ignoring the nagging truth that I am feeling a bit empty – putting it down to tiredness, the long winter etc.

I also don’t want to be seen to be moaning – it seems deeply uncharitable in the current economic climate.  I know that I have become something of a role model to people who are trying to establish lifestyle photography businesses because to them I am ‘living the dream’. And I am – but I don’t have the balance right.  Not necessarily in the sense you think – although yes I work crazy hours, drive stupid distances and miss key moments with my children.

Rather the creative/commercial balance is off - which, as it turns out, matters to me.    It matters because photography began as a refuge for me – a place to find myself again after the shockwaves of parenthood began to subside.  It’s hard to articulate what the creative process gives to me – but it’s important and it makes me happy.  I was equally happy when I painted as a teenager so it’s not about the act of taking photographs but rather the ability to create a tangible, visual, record of things that inspire me.   What turns me on creatively may leave you cold.  But what does it matter when I am doing it for me?  Conversely, It matters hugely when you are shooting for other people and the weight of expectation can prevent experimentation and stop you evolving.  Despite trying something new on every shoot it turns out it isn’t satisfying the niggle that I have identified. 

When I worked in fine art publishing in London I got to the point where I stopped going to private views because it was work rather than pleasure.  Back then it resulted in me picking up my brushes for the first time in years and painting again for pleasure.  The critical difference between then and now was time – then I had lots of it and now ‘free’ time is scarce.   There is always something else I could or should be doing with the time I have and it hasn’t felt appropriate prioritising ‘creative contentment’ over things like sleep or VAT returns.

I’m sure that this feeling might resonate with some of you.  In an interview Rankin was once asked if there had ever been a point when he had fallen slightly out of love with taking pictures and his response was: ‘You do go through periods where it’s a bit of a strain.  If you shoot every day, it becomes a job.  I’ve never fallen out of love with photography, but I’ve got tired and exhausted by the process’.

It turns out I needed someone to say they understood, that they have been there and that I need to do something about it.  That person has been Martin and I am very grateful that he was so generous with his time and experience.  He suggested I needed a project, which of course I do, and I will be starting it tomorrow.  
The very best part of this second career has been the people I have met – on and off camera but particularly other photographers.  It has given me a fresh perspective on the motivations of creative tribes like the Mannerists, the Romanticists or the Surrealists.   They were just groups of artists who came together to support, encourage and reassure each other that their creative endeavours were worthwhile and that their doubts and insecurities were entirely normal.

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