Although the name of this post is a literal representation of what our video shows today (because I’m an early bird and I am constantly early to everything, including the sunrise)…it is also a metaphorical nod at what I really want to dig into.
And I don’t just mean physically. In this new video we take a look at how I work 100% alone when I go out on shoots. That means using myself as a model while thinking about everything a photographer must consider: light quality/direction, background, lens choice, angle, wardrobe, props, pose, exposure settings, etc.
You work alone. I work alone. At some point, we find ourselves utterly alone.
Even if not literally – maybe you work in an office with people or have a loving partner or friends – but eventually, you will find yourself with a dream that only you has, and you won’t know how to achieve it. Your friends will think you’re a little nuts, the internet won’t give you any great answers, and you’re left alone.
That is the darkness I’m talking about. The want-it-so-bad-but-can’t-find-help kind of darkness. What to do? I think I’ve made a game out of working alone, or at least that’s how it feels. I’ve done it for so long and in so many ways.
“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs
and developing our wings on the way down.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
I’ve put together a list of what I’ve learned from being a professional loner.
1. Your mistakes will not break you.
The first time I wrote to galleries I was 22 years old. I put 100 gallery emails, after a ton of research, in the TO line of my email. Not the BCC line…And I hit send. It was a terrible move, the kind that many less optimistic people would give up at after receiving some very harsh emails back, such as I did.
Here’s the point in my telling you this. Nothing really matters. If you mess up trying to walk through one door, the world doesn’t close all other doors. I messed up a lot. I did stupid things like that mass email. I made prints and dented and scratched them. I misprinted. I broke frames in transit. I didn’t insure my pieces and they got damaged. I didn’t know how to talk to galleries. I wrote unprofessional emails. And despite making a TERRIBLE impression on a LOT of people, I still managed a career.
Please, please, I’m begging you: stop believing that one mistake will lead to your downfall. In my experience, the easiest way to fail at your goal is to stop trying because you made a mistake, not because of the mistake itself.
2. No one knows anything.
People look like they know a lot. People want you to think they know a lot. And some people do. About their industry, about their journey, but not about yours.
You know how we’re all adults pretending to be grown up but we’re not really grown up, we’re just pretending? What’s that? You don’t know what I’m talking about, and you really are a grown up and an adult at the same time? Well then, I misjudged you. But for the vast majority of us, we’re guessing. We’re playing this game where we look like adults and so we try to do things that make us adults, but really we’re children inside navigating a giant and scary world.
Don’t count on anyone to guide you. Don’t count on anyone to know your path. Just guess at it, like we do everything else.
Let’s get that straight right from the get-go. Yes, some people have been successful. Maybe even in what you’re looking to do. Yes, some people make a lot of money. Maybe even in what you’re looking to do. But if you try to pursue the same avenue they did, it won’t work. The more creative your endeavor, the more solidly you can expect that to be true.
Let’s take my journey as a fine art photographer. My dream was to exhibit in galleries. I asked around and couldn’t find any consistent advice.
“Make a ton of prints at once and then try to sell those over a few years,” one person told me. “Make prints as they are ordered and don’t waste your money,” another person said. “Number your prints out of 200” versus “number your prints out of 5″…and so on.
And yet, it worked out.
3. Could you please commit to being weird already?!
The most successful people (and I’m using successful not only to mean monetarily, but also through innovation and creativity) are people who did things differently. They thought differently, created differently, and dreamed differently.
You are an artist. You are already different – other, unusual, outside – so you know what it means to think differently. If someone said to you, “Your art is the same as everyone else’s art,” you would take that as an insult. But if someone said, “Your business is the same as everyone else’s business,” you might feel relief that you’re doing it “right”.
Something is broken in how we work. Artists should embrace the unknown in every aspect of what they do.
4. Stop searching the internet. Search your brain instead.
This will sound harsh, but think about it before you judge me:
How often do you reach for the closest search engine when you have a question, be it the never ending wait, what is that actor’s name?! to how do I become a professional artist?!, or some variation thereof?
Classes, workshops, mentors, Google searches, emails to professionals…it never stops.
What if you gave yourself a challenge that for one month you had to make every decision based on really and truly thinking it through with no outside aid, not even running it past a friend, coupled with a little help from your guts – your intuition?
Could you get through a month like that? I don’t think I know many people who are willing to make big decisions, especially about their creativity and business, without looking up something comparable.
I think this is severely hurting our ability to take risks and be confident in ourselves. We are so constantly looking for validation in our choices that it has become part of our habitual process. This needs to stop.
5. Failure to Fail.
I believe that because we are so unwilling to fail at so many things, we have developed an ironic failure to fail. Call it F to F syndrome. It happens when we are so afraid of messing up that we a) do nothing at all, or b) look for an exact roadmap until we start becoming someone else.
The shoe doesn’t fit. Stagnation does not become us. And the only way out is to make time to fail, and recognize that we will also, most likely, find the time to succeed.
I am most proud of my willingness to fail.
I fail at photo shoots about once ever 2 weeks or more. I fail at business attempts a few times a week. I receive rejection emails, I am told no often. I hear silence most of the time when I send an email out into the void.
Sometimes I end up covered in molasses half naked in the woods with no one around to help me and a picture that looks like crap.
You know, normal stuff.
And despite that…
No, because of that…
I feel that I am more successful than I have ever been, and certainly more so than I ever expected.
Listen, a lot goes into success. It isn’t just trying hard and trying often, trusting yourself and making mistakes. It is about producing great work. It is about developing a great work ethic. It is about learning and education – yes, take those workshops, put in those hours. But don’t let it be a crutch. Be great in your own right, not in someone else’s.
Today for White Wall Wednesday I celebrate this unique, personal, fulfilling and difficult journey we are all on. Today is another day. A day to say:
Screw this, I’m making choices for myself and by myself.
My failures will not end me and my successes will buoy me.
How will you proudly push
forward in your own darkness?
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