We all go through it. A rough patch where you can’t drag yourself to the gym, but have no problem dragging yourself to the kitchen. The thoughts of selling your photography equipment because you’ve convinced yourself that you suck and will never make the cover of National Geographic (or for those misguided types, you will never make it to 10K followers). I’m sure there’s probably even a few people out there who just can’t find the motivation to pick up that crochet hook and needle to finish that masterpiece winter hat that some lucky soul will receive as a “thoughtful” gift. No matter what your release is, chances are you have, at one time or another, been stuck in a rut.
Now, I’m not about to go all Tony Robbins on you (and for you Millenials who have no idea who he is, there was once a time when people actually tried to motivate others to be better instead of posting sucked-in stomach bikini photos from some exotic island they maxed out their credit card to visit, just to make themselves feel better and make all their Facebook/Instagram friends feel more useless than a male nipple), but there is always light at the end of the tunnel…you just have to find it.
I have struggled with motivation in pretty much every creative venture I’ve been a part of. It comes with the territory. Whatever your reason…too busy, no direction, stress/depression…the most important function is to keep your feet moving. In one of my favorite movies, Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale Sr. offers an anecdote about two mice who fell in a bucket of cream. “The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse.” I’m not normally one to live by Hollywood movie quotes, but this message is one that I apply to my life all the time. Probably the most devastating thing to creativity is a lack of direction. A person with a plan can find the time. Stress and depression have long been a spark plug for artistic exploration. However, not knowing what you want to create, or which direction you see your work headed, makes it that much harder to take that first step, let alone any steps after. That’s when it’s important to keep moving, even if it feels like no progress is being made.
Even through all my creative plateaus, I have never completely thrown in the towel. I’ve taken time away from my passion for photography. I’ve tried to challenge myself to shoot new things. I’ve brainstormed project ideas in hopes of finding purpose; one thing I’ve never done, as much as I have wanted to at times, is given up.
The hardest phase I have had to endure since becoming a photographer has been gaining recognition. What?! Isn’t that what we aim for?? Well, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come at a price. I can’t tell you how many times I have been frustrated with my perceived lack of progress and feeling like my work isn’t going anywhere, but felt trapped because of my “status” and not being able to fade into obscurity without letting myself (and others) down. What would I tell my business connects when they reached out to me for jobs? “Sorry, I just really feel like my work sucks and I can’t seem to nail down this overnight success thing, so I gave up.” Ha! Picture that (see what I did there? LOL!). Really, though, as difficult as it has been at times, I have consistently scrapped and found ways to keep churning that cream into butter, even without seeing that light at the end of the tunnel. Similar to a person who works odd jobs to hold them over until landing their dream job, I have fought through an elongated lack of purpose with only the hope that one day I will figure it all out.
Enter, my Polaroid Land Camera Model 250. Call it a gimmick, or a faddish phase, but instant photography has reignited my passion for taking photos. I’ll be honest…I still haven’t nailed down my blueprint for success. But what I have done is rediscovered why I picked up a camera in the first place, and that, to me, is enough to keep me going until I finish finding my purpose. Other than looking hella cool, and being a great conversation starter when I’m out in the streets, my old Polaroid makes me work at my craft. There’s no firing off 15 shots and picking the best image, no drawn out process of uploading photos and processing them and backing up the files and saving a compressed version for posting online and a full resolution copy for my digital archives and going back to the image in Photoshop fifty times because I’m unhappy with my processing and…you get the point. There’s just something about the simplicity of the process that makes it more enjoyable for me; and the lack of control over my settings and what will come of the final product adds a sense of anticipatory excitement with each click of the shutter. That, coupled with the feeling of holding a tangible print in your hand, peeling back the film backing and smelling the chemicals as you anxiously reveal your work, makes me love creating photos again.
I’ll be the first to admit, I kind of cringed when film made a comeback, and it was mainly because I saw it as a hipster fad. To me, it was dudes named Asher and Levi, who grew up with digital cameras, moved to Williamsburg and started wearing old Pentax cameras like fashion accessories, slung over their shoulder with its $799 distressed leather strap while on their way to play skee-ball. Nahhhh… I’m not out in the streets wearing my Land camera like a Flavor Flav clock. For me, the love is real, the process is organic…and at $35 for a pack of 10 shots….that’s too much cheddar to be out here trying to play hipster fauxtog. It’s all about churning that cream into butter. Find your Polaroid. Move those feet. When you’re stuck in a rut, or until your find your purpose, search for the spark that will reignite your passion. Passion, not success. I got into this for the passion, and somewhere along the way I became misguided and started shooting for success…and lost my passion. Move your feet, even if you have to walk in place for a while. Churn. That. Cream…