I have been thinking this last week about why I make photographs and what keeps me going forward and making new work. For years I have realized and talked about just how fragile the artmaking inspiration can be, because of this I have always nurtured and protected my passion.
I am not an artist with a driving urge to make pictures arising from a deep need to show the world my innermost thoughts and ideas. I love photography, it is my chosen career, so for me I have always seen my photography as the work I do, my life's work. I am one of the lucky folks who has always enjoyed my job and my life as a photographer. This love for photography does not mean I do not have trouble staying inspired and continuing to make pictures. Over the last 40 years I have developed some ways to help me stay motivated, keep working, and to continue to enjoy being a photographer. My idea today is to talk about these ideas so you might find something I say helpful in your own journey. Here are my thoughts:
- Validation: I cannot create the work in a vacuum. I do rely validation, making the work only for myself is not enough for me to stay satisfied, motivated, and passionate about the work I am making. This does not mean I make work only to please others, however I do feel that having other people understand and responding to what I make is important to how I feel about continuing. I think it is important to create these opportunities, so I choose methods within my control to make validation possible. I try to surround myself with people who I can show my work to get honest feedback. I have been inviting a small group over for dinner to share work and talk about photography a few times a year for the last 15 years. The beauty of this approach is that all of the artists can gain insight and validation for the work they are making helping them to be inspired continue moving forward. Lately because of the times I have been hosting a similar gathering virtually using ZOOM meetings, this has been rewarding in that I have expanded my group to include photographers who are outside of my hometown. Lastly I know a photographer that I highly respect who lives in another city far away and we on a few occasions have packaged up a couple of years’ worth of recent work and ship them to back and forth to each other for critique and feedback. Having just recently participated in that exchange I can tell you the validation I get from the meaningful comments and thoughts from this particular photographer friend do a lot to keep me going and he helps me to understand things about my work that I probably on some level already understand but haven't really said out loud previously. Social media can offer some form of feedback, I personally find the “like “button only goes so far.
- Selling photographs: This is more difficult and certainly less in our control. Gallery exhibitions are not easy to arrange, and even harder to pay for in my experience. If offered the opportunity I say go for it, I have had a few shows over the years and still remember them well. Juried group shows are a very good way to get your work on the wall in a gallery and seen by the public. The validation that comes from being chosen and seeing your work in the gallery can go along way to helping you feel like your work is relevant and interesting to others. Twenty years ago I made the decision to sell my work myself online through an e-comm website, I like the control I have doing things this way and I feel lucky that it has worked well for my all this time. The last 11 years on my birthday I have had a sale and the response to that sale is always been very grand and that validation is often something that comes just at a time when I am feeling a little low and it helps me through till the next year. For this I am ever grateful to all the collectors who have supported me over the years.
- Try something new: I am a photographer who makes large format photographs on black and white film and prints them in platinum/palladium. That said I still explore other methods and processes. I have been learning new processes such as, using color film, gravure printing, gum dichromate printing, and choosing subjects and ideas outside of my comfort zone are all ways I stay interested. My base is always hand made objects, and I work from this base in ways that are new to me but still within my base. This helps me stay interested in the new project and likely makes the project still feel honest to myself and my core beliefs about my work.