After speaking with some friends it seems like I am not alone. The pressure to create and produce work has never been greater. Never before has it been faster or easier to immerse ourselves in a world of images. Sometimes, we can get lost seeing how easily other people make it look, while we struggling to just get by. We, as creatives, can risk burning out and being cynical about our work and the community around us.
While doing research (about personal projects for a book I’m writing, I was talking to Aakaash Bali. He explained about a project called The Shadow District . The concept is amazing, and the technical execution is perfect. I know these things should inspire us, but it just left me feeling inadequate.
I have struggled to really engage with and create a decent size ‘Social Media’ presence, and this has been on my mind, in a negative way. With that in mind, I did some research and here are some interesting things to think about. There isn’t any specific order to the thoughts, I thought I’d put my mind out there and I am really interested in what YOU think.
You are the product
Social Media, is not what most people think. You are the product, not the customer. The way Facebook, Instagram and twitter work is via selling data. They entice us in with the promise of influencer fame. They are not there to help you, they are there to help their customer.
A sign of quality?
Having a following on Facebook has little linked with the quality of work that you are able to produce, and the world knows that. Much of the pressure we feel, we put on ourselves trying to compare our situation with other people.
Consumer or Creator?
To answer this we must look at the way Instagram is used. Are you a creator or a consumer? The likelihood is that since you are reading this, you are a content creator and not a consumer. However, let’s define these two sub-genres.
A consumer is just that. They consume and explore the media produced without adding to it or curating it.
A content ‘creator’ is someone who uses social media as a way to share work, art, stories or sell products. Photographers are pretty much always going to fall into the creator bracket. We would much prefer to ‘post and go’. If you use a service like Later.com to plan, organise and schedule posts, you’re likely using to predominantly share your work and grow your base.
Find better communities
There are good communities out there for photographers and not all Facebook groups are bad. Spending some time to find good places or like-minded people is important.
The best communities are going to be ones that are small and specific about the genre you are looking to build up knowledge level in.
Read more and share more
Once you have found a community of like-minded people. Talk, share stories, read and learn. The old fashioned way. There is only so much a YouTube video can teach you.
A project that just for you
Try and practice more. Things like 365 projects can be interesting, but you don’t have to post the results. Try a project that just for you. Something personal that you don’t share until it’s complete.
Make a book
I am feeling a little guilty about this one. Make a book, is always the advice that I give to people who are feeling a little stuck in a rut.
When you are working with different media, it can force you to think about your images in new ways and new contexts. It makes you think about the order, crops and style. Creating images that look great on Instagram is one thing, but, can you take it to step past that and enter a whole new world?
In the past, I have made books with Blurb. I have found they have been a challenge to make, but the feeling of pride you have when they are finished is pretty amazing.
Make a showcase
By showcase, I am talking about personal projects. Set some time to create a showcase for your work that also says something about who you are. A gallery to say something about you and what your skills are capable of. It’s very common that a client will check out someone’s personal work too, it gives them a sense of the person they will be working with, if they choose to hire you.
A personal project is not designed by committee to suit the needs of other people. Use this as a chance to show a range or depth, skill and character. New York Photographer and Retoucher Aakaash Bali explains:
Personal projects or passion projects are the reason why I started creating artwork to begin with. They bridge the gap between client work and the ideas running through my mind, and they allow me to create work that truly represents who I am as an artist. I believe passion work, and simply just creating for the sake of creative sanity are important, and likely why artists do what they do. The Shadow District is a collection of evening and night photography. I started it as a therapeutic way to spend time by myself at night and escape from portrait work. Over time, I began to realize that the world is different at night, and there’s so much beauty in the ordinary things that we don’t quite notice from to to day.
Ultimately, it became something I do 2-4 times a week just because. Driving around at night with no destination yields some treasures in plain sight. It’s a side body of work separate from my cinematic portraiture, but something I love deeply nonetheless.”
On my website, I have made a featured gallery page to showcase the projects that I am currently working on. This gallery can
Remember what made it fun
Sometimes, just getting out and meeting new people is the way forward. As an example, while in Ireland, I went to meet up with Diarmuid o’Donovan. I found the Irish Podcast online. It made me laugh so I got in touch to say hello. We ended up having a great day out. I took the Panasonic S1R out for him to do a Vlog with, then I did a thing for him on the podcast. more than anything it was nice to go somewhere new and talk about photography with someone with a different perspective from my own.
Take a moment to understand your base
If your looking to build an audience and it’s going slower than you would of liked. Taking a moment to do some research about your targeted audience is a smart move. Remember Rome was not built in a day. Some times we just need to look at the way we market, not the images we produce. Maybe make a survey, do some market research, see what’s out there that you can tap into. The more you learn, the better equipped you will be.
Reflect, Refuel and Restart
At the end of the day. You’re in charge of your own speed, your own output and level of work. Sometimes we have to pause, take a moment shuffle our deck in order to see what the next steps are. The important thing is that this is totally normal, no matter what you think. We all go through it. Positive thoughts will get you where you need to be most of the time, the rest of the time a sheer determination will see you through.
Getting back to what brought photography to you in the first place can be important – This is why I love personal projects & I seems like I am not alone. I asked my good friends Jens Krauer & Olaf Sztaba for some more thoughts regarding personal projects.
Photography in itself is empty as a canvas is for a painter. Neither the colour nor the brush defines the character of the work. Tools don’t add any character to your output. To me, it is the amount of raw personality and self-injected into the work. The depth of true personal involvement of a photographer into his / her own work, to a large degree, defines the level of impact of the work to me. Make it personal, remove the filters. While in street photography, the personal viewpoint of the photographer and the overall body of work forms over decades, in documentary photography we are given the opportunity to compress this process into a much shorter timespan and work much more precisely and deliberate. I found that, as a storyteller and observer of life, I like to balance the hunt of street photography with the unfiltered honest narrative-driven approach in documentary photography. It allows me to form and shape my visual language and storyteller skills in much shorter intervals to speak in a much more defined voice. I can speak for others trough my observation and understanding of their reality and I am morally obliged to do justice to the trust that is given to me by my subjects. I find purpose in subjecting my photography in transmitting a message or tell a story that is not mine and deserves to be told. Purpose matters. – Jens
Commercial projects are a must-do—after all, this enormous effort is to put bread on the table. On the other hand, collaboration with others brings us closer to our photographic community and gives us a much-needed social experience. However, these are personal projects that allow us to BE and SEE photographically. It is the only way to go deeper and uncover our seeing without any interference or pretentiousness. Without personal projects, we are easily swept around by multiple tides and our seeing is ripped apart by market demands and the pressure to fit into current trends. Therefore, when working with my students and other photographers, I always urge them to work on personal projects, the more personal and closer to home the better. It always leads to a revealing moment, a glance at our photographic soul, the true photographic “me.” This is priceless. – Olaf
Thank you for reading this blog. As always, please leave a comment below, I always love reading them.