the end of August early September and I still haven’t posted a single photo from this year. I’m writing this to try to figure out why.
First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: I haven’t stopped making photos. If anything, I’ve been shooting more this year. <brief interlude> I just looked this up, and I’ve shot about 500 more images this year compared to the same time last year.
Ok, so if I haven’t stopped shooting, the next obvious question is: do my images suck now (or, *whispers* have they ALWAYS sucked?)? I suppose it’s possible, but I don’t think so. I’m actually getting more and more into the art of photography as time goes on. I care less about a lot of the nonsense associated with photos and more about the final product. I’m buying (and studying) more photography books, and I’m learning more about what makes a powerful image. Given all that, I doubt my work is getting worse.
So if I’m still shooting, and my work is at the very least staying steady…what’s going on? Why not share all this work that’s at least halfway decent?
I think part of the reason is that life has just gotten in the way. A lot has happened in my personal life (all good things), and for most of the year any excess hobby time has been dedicated to training.
But if I’m being honest, that’s more of an excuse than it is an explanation. Saying “life got in the way” is just another way of admitting that I haven’t prioritized sharing my work this year. That’s fine, but it begs a follow-up question: Why haven’t I prioritized it?
Note that I specified sharing my work. As I mentioned above, I’m still making plenty of images and am more dedicated to the craft of photography than I have been in years (maybe ever). It’s only the sharing element that I haven’t been following through on.
I spent some time reflecting on why I’ve shared my work in the past. As a part of this reflection exercise, I googled “why do people share creative work”. I went on a search through content others have shared to try to understand why I (used to) share…the irony isn’t lost on me. Amusing irony aside, I did find something that applies to my situation.
The New York Times Customer Insight Group conducted a study a few years ago that aimed to uncover why people share things online. They titled their report The Psychology of Sharing. The underlying purpose of the study was to help marketers, and they weren’t specifically focused on sharing creative work, but some of the explanations still struck a chord with me.
Two of the motivations for sharing were “to bring valuable and entertaining content to others” and “to define ourselves to others”.
I’ve always struggled with the idea that sharing my work is bring value to others, but in the past this hasn’t been a sticking point because I’ve viewed sharing my work as the last step in its journey. Deciding what to share was a final step in a personal process of cultivating my work. It’s almost like I had a big creativity funnel. I’d throw all my photography ideas into the top of a wide funnel, and then the funnel would progressively narrow as I decided which of the ideas I wanted to focus on, which scenes I wanted to photograph, which photographs I wanted to edit, and finally which photographs I wanted to share.
I’d be applying some sort of value filter at each step that the funnel narrowed so that I’d be able to focus on the best ideas/photographs. But I never thought of value from the perspective of the eventual audience — it was always a personal perception of value.
None of that gets to the bottom of why I would share my work as a final step (why not stop one step higher in the photography funnel, for example), but it provides necessary context. Ultimately, I think sharing was an important final step because doing so psychologically raised the stakes. Putting your creative work out in the world (even if it’s only broadcast to four people…thanks, by the way, to the four of you out there reading this) is always scary. Those higher stakes help sharpen and refine the final work product. That process also helps define the art (and possibly, by extension, the artist).
In the past, I think sharing the my work has helped me chip away at some sort of rough definition of myself as an artist. Not because of feedback from the public, but rather because the act of sharing raised the stakes in my mind and forced me to confront bigger picture questions like what it is I was working towards as an artist and how this one particular image would fit into that long term vision.
And after all that rambling, I think I may finally have uncovered part of the underlying reason I haven’t been sharing my work lately. Confronting those big picture, artistic vision questions has simply become too painful. I’m no longer satisfied with shooting for fun or because of how it connects me to the world around me. Those are still elements of why I make photographs, of course, but I feel a pull to create something…grander.
Just because I feel that pull doesn’t mean I’m ready to (or *gulp* capable of) create something grand, though. There’s tension between that pull to create something grand and my insecurities and fear. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’ve been running from that tension.