Part I | Part II
Has this ever happened to you? You have been sailing along in your career creating photographs, and then suddenly you realized that over the past few months, or years, you have been executing variations of the same image? And then you eventually come to the realization that you are losing your ability to create anything new and fresh?
Too often we sit around waiting for some lucky event to come into our lives like a thunderbolt and change the course of our existence, to revitalize us and send us on to new heights. But the fact of the matter is that from time to time we have to take matters into our own hands and shake things up in order for us to rediscover our passion and get us back on the right path again. When Rene Descartes said, “Luck is the residue of desire and design”, he spelled out that good fortune doesn’t just drop from the heavens, it is made up of varying portions of sincerely (maybe even desperately) wanting positive change to happen, mixed in with a rational plan for it to actually occur.
In Part One of this article on “How to Rediscover Your Passion” we considered questions on the origins of our creative passion such as: what is it; where does it come from; what does it need; and where do we find it? We considered exercises designed to dig into our past behaviors so we might find how we historically made decisions and how we might use that information to help us make choices that addressed our innermost needs to express our talents in the future.
In Part Two, we will take a close look at where passion goes from time to time; once passion goes how we can manage to find it again; and how we can continually rediscover passion in our careers.
So here we are, blithely going along in life, executing our talents at a fairly even rate, and then bam, all of a sudden we hit a wall. We may have an indication of where our passion wants to take us, but then we get dismayed because it mysteriously vanishes and we feel lost in a direction-less free-fall. Some times we call this phenomenon creative block because our creativity appears to be walled-in and we feel frustrated because we see no way out.
Other times we feel we are not up to the demands of our passion and we just don’t have enough energy to meet its requirements. We say we are not up to the job, when in actuality we are giving in to being over worked and under appreciated for our output.
Still other times we are overwhelmed because everything around us is attractive and we lose focus on what we need to concentrate the most. As I stated earlier in Part One of this series, passion can languish due to redundancy or even a sense of mediocrity. It can be weighed down by obligations, or a sense of unrealistic expectations (so why try any harder, or any more?) It can be totally drowned by the fear of risk; the anticipation of making a fool of oneself, of losing face. That once driving force seems to have sputtered out and the fear that it will never come back becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should because all of us must deal with some of these issues from time to time. I would say that in my role as a creative consultant most of the people I deal with have not lost their passion, they have only temporarily lost the ability to be patient with it, to encourage it, and once nourished, let it reinvent itself in its own time.
The problem with all these “crisis of confidence” scenarios is that they allow the creator to be characterized as the victim. Nothing could be farther from the truth for to be a creator you are in control of your future, you design and set the parameters for your future and the last thing you are is the byproduct of those parameters. One thing we have to embrace is the knowledge that once we have claimed our passion it will not leave us. It may lay dormant while we retool our skills, or we take a break to refresh our abilities so we can recognize the possibilities around us, but our passion never really, totally, abandons us.
As a consultant to creative entrepreneurs I meet a wide spectrum of artists who experience times of unbridled creative energy, and periods of acute self-doubt. The new to the business professional photographers have to be encouraged that their muse has not abandoned them entirely, and they have to be guided to take the steps necessary to prepare themselves for the eventual return of their passion. Sometimes by redirecting those young artists to start on a new body of work that is based on an interest can rekindle their drive. That redirection could be entirely outside of the field of photography, but when that interest is reunited with the art of capturing images, new possibilities evolve. For example, in a few instances I have asked my clients what sections they gravitate towards when they walk into a bookstore. There’s something that happens when we wander into a bookstore or library and we are not on a quest for a specific book. Our feet wander and eventually lead us to a section that we find interesting. That simple exercise begins an adventure of research and discovery that leads to a renewed interest which needs to be photographed, which in turn leads to a potential pictorial body of work. If the topic is compelling enough to others that interest can blossom into a new career opportunity. The beauty of photography is that every organization needs images as resources, historical references, for sales, and advertising, to tell their story. I suggest to my photography students who are looking for a place to begin their careers to go to a magazine stand and just stand back and survey the topics of the magazines. Which topics stand out for them; speak to them? The sales of each one of those magazines is driven in large part by the images on the covers and the inside pages. Opportunities abound for anyone who can visually tell their story.
I have had the honor to work with mid-career and retired professionals who once seemed lost because they felt they had nothing new to become energized about. When they are put into a position to mentor young talent they come alive as they see the excitement they once had manifested in the eyes of those to whom they are passing on their knowledge. These individuals deal with their change in perspective not by bemoaning they are part of an underappreciated out of touch class, but by providing a foundation based on personal experience for the next generation of image capturers.
The first step to reclaim our passion is to get back to what we love to create. That last sentence should not be taken lightly. Read it again. I don’t just mean love to create, as in like it a lot. I mean (yell the next word out) LOVE to create. If you love travel, yell it out. If you love people, yell out the word. If you love architecture, or food, or fashion accessories, be willing to make a declaration that that is what fascinates, intrigues, and captivates you. Whatever it is, or whatever the combination of things are, be willing to focus your energies and capture the innermost aspects of those things with your camera.
Recently I have had the privilege of working with a photographer who has a gift
for seeing what most of us happen to overlook. His name is Hacob, and I have watched him evolve as an artist doing what he loves to do most. That is the key. What he loves doing the most is to capture the inner spirit of things and give them a new life; to take a photo of an inanimate object and breathe life into it in an evocative, minimalist way. I remember our conversations in which he worked diligently to find his creative voice, and after a number of meetings it became evident that he had a knack for seeing the hidden potential in everyday objects.
One of the earliest experiences I had of his insight was when he showed me his remarkable image comprised of a series of paper clips in the form of a pinwheel. Now I had used these kind of paper clips all of my life. I had seen all kinds of images of paper clips before, but by playing the light and the shadow off of these mundane office products he transmogrified them into a giant pinwheel, and he released them from their utilitarian drudgery. Was this a mechanical snowflake, or a windmill of the future? Whatever it was it caused me to stop doing what I was doing and ponder its beauty.
Then I looked on in amazement as he composed an image of an unconscious scribbling onto a photo of an elegant writing instrument as though he had caught the pen gracefully executing a delicate ballet position while balanced on the tip of its nib. His images gave me joy and forced me to think of gravity bound objects in exciting new ways.
Then he showed me his image of deconstructed sunglasses where the earpieces formed the body, and lenses took on the wings of a modernistic honey bee in fanciful flight.
Now I know that Hacob can photograph other kinds of images, but the thing that captivates me is that he causes me to look at things differently, as though I am now forced to see the potential of things. That is what he loves to do with his images and his ability to give life to objects opens up a universe of possibilities. You may experience more of Hacob’s amazing images at www.hacob.com.
One simple declaration of what it is that is central to your passion is more than just a phrase about your form of creative expression. It is a statement about how you approach your life, about how you create a lifestyle that allows you to share your work and inspire others. Anything short of that diminishes your energies and must be left behind in order for you to move forward.
The following is an exercise that will help you to identify your passion and provide some insight into what you need to do to rejuvenate your appreciation for your creativity. It is a simple exercise that only requires two things. First, you must have a quiet place. Secondly, you must honestly answer the questions without reservation. Put your own, or other’s expectations aside to get the full benefit of the lessons to be learned.
Share your experience: You can compare notes on this activity with other photo.net members in this Business Forum thread on Creative Visualization.
I believe that we all already know deep inside of us what our passion requires of us. The visualization I described was taught to me by a mentor of mine, the great author and Psychiatrist Dr. David who extensively studied the creative process and the challenges creative people experience. A visualization exercise such as this will help you to bring forward the image of what you need to do to lead a more fulfilling life. The first aspect of the visualization about completing the “Today I get to create” sentence opens the door to defining your career path. The second allows you to consider where you physically/geographically belong to realize your dream. The third gives you a chance to identify the people who will be most instrumental in making the dream a possibility. And the fourth gives you the opportunity to move beyond the obstacles that stand in your way toward leading a meaningful life. It is a simple exercise with profound implications.
I had the pleasure of meeting a wonderfully talented man a few years ago at a PhotoPlus conference. His name is Dr. Mark Alberhasky. At the time he was bursting at the seams to find out how to create a career path into photography. When he told me his story I was enthralled by his enthusiasm. He said that in college several decades ago, he had considered a career in photography, but followed family tradition into medicine instead, eventually becoming a pathologist. Still he never lost his love of capturing images, teaching himself and creating self-assignments.
On vacation in 2001, he decided to pretend he had been sent on assignment by National Geographic and shot a photo series of people windsurfing off the coast of Venezuela. The results in the processed film amazed him and everyone with whom he shared them. The Internet had become a viable resource, so he sent digitized versions to photo editors at windsurfing magazines around the world. Lo and behold they bought his work! With this encouragement he began attending photo conferences, showed more of his photography, and set out in earnest to establish himself as a professional.
His relentless passion, combined with talent, made his dream a reality, and he now shoots assignments for Nikon and teaches internationally. I was so moved by his story that I featured him in my book,
There are a number of things we can do to continually rediscover passion in our careers. One is to schedule time to candidly reflect on the lessons we have learned from our past. That is why the Timeline and the Asset Matching exercises I recommended in Part One of this article are so helpful. They give us a perspective on how to identify patterns of behavior that have helped us, and patterns that have hindered us. With that knowledge of past performance we can be better equipped to recognize opportunities and how to handle them more effectively.
Another is to be aware that, no matter how well, or poorly, things are going, change is inevitable. Change is all around us and it does not have to be feared if you are prepared for it. Actually change can be embraced as an opportunity to make things better. It all comes down to perception, attitude and action.
Thirdly, promote your successes, but don’t rest on your laurels. It’s okay to toot your own horn, just don’t blare it. Your successes must have substance, not just provide noise. Let people know that you are moving forward thoughtfully and they will respect your enthusiasm and perseverance, maybe even become inspired by it.
Also you must continually prepare for your transition to the next level, whatever that might be. Don’t become complacent and settle. Be inventive, be inquisitive, and be innovative. Look for opportunities because they are all around you. Take two old ideas and rub them together to provide the spark for a new concept.
And last I encourage you to seek out those who share your desire to pursue your passion. You may meet regularly with supportive colleagues. You may attend classes, lectures and workshops such as the ones I provide. You may wish to meet with myself, or other consultants, who will address your specific needs and create a plan to help you feel passionate again about your work. You might want to become an active member of a creative trade organization and network with innovative artists who share your skill sets. Or you may do all of the above, but get involved and interact with other artists who understand your need for expression.
Whatever you choose do not let yourself languish on the drab Plateau of Mediocrity, because, if you do, you will eventually backslide into that dreaded Valley of Despair, which I described in Part One of this series. Be proactive once you sense that you are losing your enthusiasm and look at this as an opportunity to advance the work you love most. There is no time to lose. There is everything to gain.
In future articles I plan to offer advice on how to run your photography business more effectively, and how to promote and market your work. I will also provide some thoughts on a variety of topics relating to the profession of commercial photography, a profession that has given me so much. For the most part, I will attempt to provide inspiration for you to keep creating art that is meaningful to you, and to help you share your vision.
You have a lot to offer and no one else in the entire world has your unique point of view; your unique perceptions and appreciation of the world and the human condition. I believe we are all here to collectively help one another raise the level of our creative consciousness. I adhere to the conviction that, in the end, one overwhelming reason we are here is to help each other follow our bliss.
Tony Luna—the President of Tony Luna Creative Services, a Creative Consultancy founded in 1971, and Artist Representative/Executive Producer with Wolfe and Company Films. Mr. Luna has been an Instructor at the Art Center College of Design since 1985 where he teaches “Career Perspectives” in the Photography and Imaging department, and “Crafting a Meaningful Career” and “Living the Dream” in Art Center’s Public Programs. He is the author of, How to Grow as a Photographer: Reinventing Your Career (Allworth Press): an informational and inspirational guide to career evolution. Tony will be presenting a lecture titled “Taking Your Career to the Next Level” at PDN PhotoPlus Expo in October 2008. He has helped well over a thousand artist-entrepreneurs begin, sustain and enhance their careers, and hundreds of companies to grow and prosper.
Text ©2008 Tony Luna. Photos © Hacob and Mark Alberhasky.
Text ©2008 Tony Luna. Photos © Hacob and Mark Alberhasky.