Love `em or hate `em, the ringing in of a new year generally means most people are setting new goals and those dreaded New Years Resolutions. Photographers are typically no different.
We think about all the potential of the fresh year, new projects get started including a fair share of 365 or 52 projects where people try to commit to a new photo each day or each week. We tell ourselves we have a new skill or style of photography we are going to work on, maybe we even think we want to focus on minimalizing our gear to just our most used essentials in order to help us pay more attention to the creative side of image making and less to the gear bag paralysis of deciding which lens to use.
Then again, many of us also just flat out don’t believe in the idea of a New Years Resolution. Rather we take an approach of “If you want to try something new/learn something new/make a change with your approach to your art, you just do it in the moment. No need to wait for the start of a new year”. I tend to fall mostly in this category. I say MOSTLY because I do feel the pull to want to do SOMETHING as the new year begins.
This year is very different for me. That pull wasn’t there.
To be honest, I felt like I limped to a finish creatively in 2017 and the start of 2018 was just another day.
Don’t get me wrong, I do have new ideas and projects that I’m working on behind the scenes. Things that I’m hoping to start sharing here in the coming months, but it will be a long road or as they say, a slow burn. They are things I’ve been thinking about and starting to put into motion since last fall, but they are things that don’t happen quickly and so will remain things that I won’t go into detail about just yet!
Overall, however, my muse had gone missing. Or maybe I had become unable to hear it’s call for whatever reason. But, that pull to start the New Year with a fun new project just wasn’t there.
In thinking about this article a bit, I realized that my biggest problem was that for more than a year I’ve been in a “Foot on the gas, just keep creating, go-go-go” mindset. That’s not all bad. I’ve certainly had to work through a few creative slumps in that time and not all of the work was amazing. But I’ve been able to produce a nice body of work that overall I’m fairly proud of.
But, and this is a big BUT, there was a problem.
Because I’ve been in the aggressively creating mindset, I have not stopped to take time to reflect on what I was creating. Hell, I hadn’t even taken time to really sit down and curate everything I’ve made in the last year and a half or more. I was in a pattern of get out with the cameras, make a bunch of photos, dump them on my computer only to glance through them and pick out a couple favorites to post over on Instagram or maybe even here on the blog, then keep shooting.
Over the holiday’s I had a little time off from work and one cold evening before bed I sat down at my computer and decided to look through my Lightroom catalog. I grabbed the scroll bar and flipped back to a random place and started scrolling.
It really was shocking! I have so many images that I NEVER took the time to process or even really look at. It was both depressing, to see that there was so much of my work sitting there untouched, forgotten on a hard drive, and exciting because it was like stepping into a time machine that brought me back to those moments. I shut the computer down, headed up to bed and tried to wrap my mind around if I was excited that I had so many images to explore or if I was angry and depressed at the fact that I had not even looked through most of the photos. Which of course led to a “Why am I shooting in the first place” line of questions.
Over the following days as I continued to chew on these thoughts amidst holiday celebrations with family, a recurring thought surfaced. A thought that would become my goal or resolution in terms of my photography. It’s an old and well worn idea that we’ve all heard a million times. I need to slow down my photographic process. But for me, it isn’t the actual photographic process while I’m out shooting.
Over the years I’ve become a pretty patient photographer. I’d normally take one or two solid images with an intentional and thoughtful approach where others will take 10-20 images of that same scene and pick their favorite later. Many times, as I’m there with the camera to my eye, I’ll ask myself “What about this scene makes me want to photograph it? Why do I want to make this image?”. Many times I can’t answer that clearly and so I’ll put the camera down and never fire the shutter. I try to be as intentional in connected to the moment as I can be so I can help inject a bit of an emotional connection and response to the image.
I don’t need to slow down that part of my photography process, I’m fine with where I’m at there.
What I need is to become more intentional with my photographic process AFTER I click the shutter. Slow down and take time to really look at the work I’m creating after it’s in front of me on my computer. Take time to reflect on the work and even more simply, time to actually curate and process that work so that it doesn’t just become a huge backlog on a hard drive somewhere.
I still can’t answer the question of “Why I shoot?” but I know that it’s not to just fill hard drives with unseen images. I need to take time to print and/or publish my work. It needs to live either in a physical print, a photo book or even here on my journal. It needs to live somewhere other than just being shared on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook. Because I didn’t fall in love with photography because of a love for social media sharing.
My photos should mean more to me than just something to share on social media or be left for dead on a hard drive. It honestly has me feeling as if I completely disrespected myself.
I need to do more with my work.
I don’t know what form it will take in the end. It’s a process at this point. But I need to do something, because otherwise I’ll keep asking myself that question of “Why am I creating these photos?” and I’ll have no answer. Which leads to just shooting less and less until the camera is finally put down for good, and I love photography too much to want to let that happen.
In the coming month or so I plan to spend my time shooting less and curating my backlog of images more. Which means that I plan to share more of that work here as I work through what I want to do with that work in the long run. It’s long overdue, but that also means I’ll be working on re-doing my main website to better showcase the work that I want to do more of, the work I love. Like I said, it’s a process.
Life is often like that, the more we question and grow the more layers we uncover that lead to more questions and more growth. It’s how we continue to learn and evolve as we explore and refine our creative self.
Where do you sit on the idea of New Year’s Resolutions and Goals when it comes to your photography? If you make them, what have you decided to work on in 2018? If you “don’t do resolutions”, which is where I normally find myself, how do you approach setting goals for yourself and measuring progress with your photography or your art?
There really is no right or wrong answer to any of this. It’s a very personal, gut reaction based feeling. Though for me, when it comes to my artistic and creative side, I find that’s the best thing to do is just follow those instincts. Maybe it’s your muse, maybe it’s just a hunch or gut feeling, but it’s almost always worth pursuing.
For me, in this moment, my muse is telling me to just slow down and do more with the work I’m already creating.
So I’ll try to listen.