Is photography meeting your needs? — A reflection on what’s important

May 26, 2015

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

May 26, 2015

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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Is photography meeting your needs?There’s a segment of readers (yes, those of you who have life and your career all figured out) who will dismiss this as drivel. This is for the more humble among you…

In a recent blog post, marketing guru Seth Godin asked a series of simple, yet poignant, questions:

Is it meeting your needs…

Or merely creating new wants?

Is it honoring your time or squandering your time?

Is it connecting you with those you care about, or separating you from them?

Is it exposing you or giving you a place to hide?

Is it important, or only urgent?

Is it right, or simply convenient?

Is it making things better, or merely more pressing?

Is it leveraging your work or wasting it?

What is it for?

…and, immediately, I began to reflect on my own career as a creative professional.

Therapy Time

For years, I had derived my sense of self worth directly from my work and others’ perceptions of it. If people liked it, I felt great; if people hated it or didn’t praise me enough, I felt worthless and ready to throw in the towel. (It’s a very common plight of the creative pro, for truth?)

Instead of using photography as a means to an end, I treated it as an end unto itself. Instead of building it around my life, it became my life. Family outings were not so much about spending time together but rather a giant opportunity for me to document moments and perfect scenes of other people all around me in hopes of being lauded as an inspiring person. Time I could have spent with the ones I loved at home was, instead, spent in front of a computer editing random photos, posting online, and constantly checking my online approval rating. My Internet presence was less about targeting paying clients and more about receiving adoration from the masses. I treated photography less like a business and more like a personal PR campaign.

I was abandoning my family in pursuit of my own self worth…sort of missing the forest for the trees.

But, you have to get your work out there to be noticed and start making money, right? Yes, this is true, and it often involves a lot of unpaid hours and toil and sweat and tears (more metaphorically, for some of us). I’m not denying that. Being one’s “own boss” is frequently a more time-consuming task than simply punching a clock.

But, what is your purpose?

What is your end goal? What are you hoping to achieve? I had spent years trying to find my own self worth through creative pursuits, including photography. My end goal was to be self employed so that I could be Self Employed. I wanted to be someone special, someone elite, someone I felt worth being.

Commenters here will call me a sniveling idiot, and that’s perfectly fine…but there’s a segment of readers who have struggled with the exact, same thing. It wasn’t until I reached a turning point and determined to hang up the creative arts entirely that I saw a shift in my mentality.

A series of life events brought me to a critical point. I had come to the place where I determined that if I never touched a camera again in my life, I would be perfectly fine with it…and I didn’t for months. I didn’t photograph, I didn’t write, I didn’t share. My priorities began to shift from a selfish life’s goal to simply being the husband and father I was intended to be. Instead of abandoning my higher calling to chase after my own elusive dreams at the expense of my family, my purpose became very simple: to provide for and be a part of my family by any means necessary. I went from working in an air-conditioned office and spending every waking hour thinking about my plans to sweating on a job site as a commercial roofer — and I am very thankful for it. My skills and talents went from being an end unto themselves to simply being a tool I could use to fulfill my higher purpose. That whole period of time was like a giant reset button on life and my way of thinking.

Do I still struggle?

Abso-friggin’-lutely. Very rarely do we ever “win” a battle in life; it is more often a daily pursuit and an active choice we must make. Are there days when I still needlessly spend more time in my office than I should. Yes. Am I still tempted with delusions of grandeur? Of course…narcissism runs deep (but knowing is the first step to recovery, right?). Do I always live up to the expectations and felt needs of my wife and children to be the husband and father they need me to be? Definitely not. But, it’s a work in progress.

My goal…

…is to make the most of my time with those I love while fulfilling my obligations to them. If photography is a tool that I can use to accomplish that, great; if another route is necessary, that’s fine. I have been blessed in many ways, but my family is the greatest of them.

So, I ask you:

  • Is photography meeting your needs…regardless of whether it’s a hobby or a career?
  • Is it honoring your time or squandering it?
  • Is it connecting you with those you care about, or separating you from them?
  • Is it truly important, or only urgent?
  • Is it making things better?

What is it for?

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Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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9 responses to “Is photography meeting your needs? — A reflection on what’s important”

  1. Daniel Avatar
    Daniel

    Seth Godin is great! and I love how this article makes it specific to photographers.
    If you are not registered to Seth’s feed, you are missing out big time.

  2. Michael G Avatar
    Michael G

    “Is it connecting you with those you care about, or separating you from them?”

    My father was an artist. He mainly worked in pen and ink and charcoal but ventured out into watercolors, acrylics and oils occasionally. He liked “old things” as his subjects. Old structures, broken farm equipment and the like. If there was a layer of rust on something, he’d draw it. He liked to work from photos and quickly needed something more than the old instamatic to get material with. I’d recently received my first 35mm SLR as a Christmas gift (Pentax K1000) and a couple lenses and my dad picked up an SLR of his own.

    He and I would go out shooting together after that. He would shoot B&W and I would shoot color and we would gather shots both for me and for him to use for his work. Sometimes we would enter into local art shows with basically the same image. He would enter a painting and I would enter the photography category with the image I took that he based his panting on. It would surprise people when the top placing works would be displayed together and they would realize it was the same.

    As I grew up and moved out on my own, photography became too expensive of a hobby for someone scratching to make rent and feed himself so my camera got put away and I moved on. I’d always wanted to get back into it but there never seemed to be the time or the money to move to digital as DSLR’s first came into being.

    My father had a stroke a few years ago. It robbed him of the ability to speak and paralyzed the right side of his body and after a couple months it took his life. As we were sorting through his belongings, I came across his camera and lenses as well as a treasure trove of images he had captured. Some were from our trips together when I was a kid and many were taken between then and his death.

    Going through those images and handling his old camera really gave me a sense of connection with him again and I decided it was time to pick it back up. I scraped together some money and picked up my first DSLR. Sometimes I go out on my own and other times I take my family out shooting with me in much the same way I went out with my dad, chasing the light and bringing it home.

    It puts me back in touch with a man I love and makes it feel like we’re still together now and then. Sometimes I even find something old and broken and capture it just for him.

    1. Allen Mowery Avatar
      Allen Mowery

      Wow…awesome story! THAT is exactly what I meant when posting Seth’s question. For some, like yourself, photography has provided an avenue for close connection with a loved one, both then and now. For others, as I have been guilty far too often, it can get in the way of truly connecting with those around us…much easier to hide behind a lens than expend the energy to truly engage and build relationships.

      In all fairness, photography has also acted as a way to bring me CLOSER to loved ones, and perhaps I’ll discuss some of those aspects in a future article.

      Btw, great photo! Thanks for sharing!

      1. Michael G Avatar
        Michael G

        Thanks. It was my wife who was really the catalyst in pushing me to make the jump back into photography. She insisted that I do it for myself and has been supportive every step of the way. She reigns in my gear acquisition syndrome to keep it from getting crazy, but pushes me to find what I really want and need to continue development of my passion.

        1. Allen Mowery Avatar
          Allen Mowery

          A supportive spouse can make a world of difference!

  3. Benjamin Von Wong Avatar
    Benjamin Von Wong

    It is always interesting when you try to disconnect yourself from What you do… and Why you do it.

    Actually something I’ve been thinking loads of lately in order to figure out which direction to go.

    Unfortunately, it seems like the answers don’t necessarily get clearer at the same pace that you become successful… lol!

    1. Allen Mowery Avatar
      Allen Mowery

      I’m not certain it is truly possible to disconnect oneself from what they do, but a shift in personal mindset can make a world of difference. Some artists, like yourself, are able to hold fast to the “this is my art” mantra and build a lucrative career. Others, if not most, could benefit from treating their craft more purely as a business, exchanging goods and services for money without feeling their self worth tanking every time a client asks for something below their perceived creative level.

  4. Kurt Langer Avatar
    Kurt Langer

    Brilliant article! I was literally thinking this morning how I must not let photography waste away my special times physically and mentally with my wife and baby. Your article just boosted that thought to try and make it reality. There is no immortality anymore.

    1. Allen Mowery Avatar
      Allen Mowery

      @Kurtations:disqus: Great to hear! I can’t say I offer all the answers or even some of the answers, in all reality. The article is just a personal glimpse at my struggle with art, entrepreneurship, and finding self.