How many times have you found yourself wondering why after a period of feeling productive, you’re suddenly not shooting as much? You look out of your window and see perfect conditions yet you decide to stay in and rearrange your sock drawer instead.
You’ve hit the slump. Hard. The worst thing about it is that you’re aware of it, you aren’t comfortable with it and worse still, you don’t know how to get out of it.
Inspiration is illusive and more importantly, it resides in places where you least expect – it might be a memory of something, a book you haven’t yet picked up or a movie you haven’t seen.
Then when you get inspired, you question whether or not the new project you’re about to embark on fits in with your style, or whether it is heading in the overall direction you thought your work might be going in.
The thing is, photography is very much a journey where we fail and succeed and we sometimes forget that feeling frustrated and being knee-deep in the slump is part of the process. It allows us to reassess what we are doing and where our work is headed, and make adjustments and tweaks as our perceptions change and our inspiration shows itself.
I’m sure that if you ask any of your favorite photographers how they’ve arrived at a body of work, they would depress you with stories of failed outings, or hours spent on Lightroom only to scrap everything and question their ability to get it right.
But when we critique ourselves, and worse still, compare ourselves to others, we fail to realize that someone’s work took a lot of failure before being shared with the rest of the world.
I’m currently coming out of the slump – but only just, mind. I’m in a period where I’m shooting, but full of self doubt and wondering whether my work is just fleeting or whether there is something that binds it – even when it looks like it was put together by a color-blind toddler.
But having been here before, the knowledge that i will come out of it eases my fears. I guess it’s a bit like the week before payday – you’re broke, but the knowledge that the funds will be replenished soon eases your fears that life, once again, will be OK.
Photography isn’t like a math exam where you’re expected to show your steps. Your failure to success ratio can be unfavorable but it’s ultimately your end result that gets discussed and critiqued.
I say fail and then fail some more, and not because eventually you won’t fail again, but at least you’ll begin to understand what works and what doesn’t. Shoot color and shoot black and white. Shoot grainy film and shoot digital. Share all your work or share none.
People will tell you that your work needs to be cohesive or it needs to have a theme. While these things are not false, they are also not necessarily true. Photography is whatever you want it to be and does not exist within someone else’s definition. Harry Gruyaert famously once said when asked about his photography, “There is no story, it’s just a question of shapes and light.” There is a lot of truth to this statement, and not because I said so, but because he did—and I’m guessing he knows more about his own work than anyone else.
Embrace the slump, it can be a time for reflection and of emptying your mind of old ways of thinking and for new creative thought to take its place. I’m not going to lie, the slump terrifies me when I realize I’m in it, but spare a thought for what is to come; it’s usually just around the corner.
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