Thursday, August 27, 2015

Why So Serious?

It dawned on me this evening that perhaps I am taking my creative life, my creative exploits, just a tad too seriously.

Thanks to the glorious web scouring power of Reddit (no seriously, thank you guys), I was made aware of a rather strongly worded (but absolutely appropriate) retrospective analysis of, in this case, the advertising industry, and its enormous tax on the person behind the creative spirit. "A Short Lesson in Perspective", a blog post written by an advertising industry staple, Linds Redding. I've read about his work before, mainly in third party articles (never knew he ran his own blog). I came across his name primarily due to the awkwardly similar situations we are (well... were, unfortunately) both in. Men with a time stamp on their lives. His (I reiterate, most unfortunately) came, whereas I'm still waiting on mine. I can't laud him enough for providing a bit of perspective before his passing.

Linds Redding came down with cancer, the kind of wildly metastasized, non-recoverable variant that locks one in a hospital for extended periods and rather permanently retracts one from the typical trappings of Western capitalism. Which is to say he spent extended periods of time outside his accepted working environment, thus permitting him perspective of life within and outside of the industry we creatives tend to regard as a holy grail of sorts. I believe he stated in his post that it only took 6 months (in the grand scheme, a remarkably short period of time) to acquire the re-balanced perspective necessary to write his post. I do recommend all those who fancy themselves artists married with business read it, it's quite sobering. And at the same time obvious, but as Mr. Redding states several times, something we're all quite good at deceiving ourselves into believing.

I don't have cancer. My situation is less predictable, which is not to insinuate I aim to upstage a creative powerhouse postmortem ("My death is worse than yours"), but simply provide a frame of reference. When premature death inevitably takes me, it will be sudden and unexpected, and I will not have the opportunity to experience a 6 month detachment from work-as-usual, life-as-usual. It will simply happen and I will fade without comment. There will be no time for me to develop perspective, which makes me all the more appreciative of the glimmers of introspection others provide in respect to their lives and the sense of impact with which they part this earth. And that is a most important thing to me, a necessity before a happy passing, to know that I've had impact. Some of Mr. Redding's remarks on the creative person's ego suddenly come to mind.

Since beginning my business in photography 3 year ago (nearly 4, now... wow), the sense of creative stagnation has gotten worse with time. I am photographing the same way every day, and what little time left for personal shooting is spoiled by nagging considerations of a style guide designed to minimize perceptible risk in the look and quality of images in a commercial sense. The longer I spend engaged in this specific style of shooting, the less willing I am privately comfortable with experimenting in my own personal artistic expression, to the point where, today, every photograph I take feels lessened by virtue of not being commercially viable. My time may be short when I eventually bleed out, at random, internally, and it bothers me to think that I might spend the last minute-and-a-half of life thinking "Damn, my photography really sucked the last 4 years".

The definitive guide to every photographer's life cycle. Not remarked are the points at which more rational people abandon the pursuit of photography entirely (most just after the "HDR Hole").

On the great timeline of a photographer's life cycle, I'm just past the "HDR Hole" and working my way back up in opinion of my work. Not remarked in the graph, however, is the impact of commercial focus in one's practice of the trade/skill/art. It really does function as a flat line, with less permission to experiment with technique leading to atrophied knowledge and thus an anemic quality of photograph. And Redding's description of the pace of creative work is absolutely accurate - my days are filled with work to the point of exhaustion, to the point where creative energy is a thing only remotely available through irresponsible alcoholism ("Jet Fuel", as I've come to call it), and like the "Morning After Test" a majority of those endeavors get passed over in the glazed eyes of a hangover and resigned to a digital graveyard. It makes money, it supports a lifestyle and a family, but so long as it standard there will always be a permanent glass ceiling to the acquisition of the most coveted goal of a creative, self actualization.

That all said, I'm not going to stop my pursuit of photography as a viable business and living. A key benefit of my situation is that, as a freelancer, I set my own schedule, I accept work on my own terms, and am not obligated by the terms of the contracts I sign to engage in the kind of competition Redding's life in advertising obligated him to wrangle. As he mentions, however, we creatives are a self motivated sort, and often saddle ourselves irrationally with lofty goals and obligations for the benefit of those who may or may not reward us for that uncommon drive (the "bean counters"). In my case, I've swallowed the concept of self sacrifice for market benefit hook, line, and sinker. And it needs to stop. I do not want to spend my last moments lamenting creative energies exhausted to sell a few homes, rent a few listings, and make wealthy people a little more wealthy. Because, in the end, they aren't likely to care.

I am taking more vacations now. Enslaved by the commanding reminders, notifications, and e-mails of my Google calendar, I've made it a point to specifically schedule time for myself in advance so as to not accidentally inundate myself with working shoots those specific days (admittedly I'm still perfecting that trick). Two weekends ago I forewent the standard barrage of a dozen or so shoots for a retreat into the Appalachians, and for the first time exercised knowledge and employed experimentation in the creation of astrophotography, a medium I've always admired but never taken the time to indulge. And it was a much needed recharge. So long as I keep committed to indulging such blind freedom from perceived obligation once a month, I think perhaps an otherwise unsustainable machine gun beat of work might actually be that crucially little bit more tenable.

Who says cell phones can't function as stellar cameras when you just don't care?

So I want to thank you, little as it may be worth at this point, Mr. Redding. I want to thank you for being brave enough to deny your own self deception, for being brave enough to look back at your life's body of work and calling it what it really is. Because not many people, at the end of the line, would ever be willing to admit the nihilist futility of a thing so much time was invested in. And in your bravery, I only wish you could know that you've introduced a little much needed perspective to the lives those artists who would otherwise continue headfirst into persistent self delusion. Very personally, I appreciate the reminder that self actualization will not come from overindulgence in the commercially safe, the commercially viable.

I think I might turn off the electronic level in my camera for the first time since buying it today.