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Creative paralysis – a confessional

Coaley Church
Today I would like to talk about creative paralysis, a condition that struck me recently. First let me give it bit of background. For over a year I had been travelling around the world and returned back to the UK shortly before Christmas in 2006. I knew that at some point I would be moving to Edinburgh with my partner, Viv, but until that point I didn’t really have too much on. Prior to actually being back home I thought:

‘Great! All this free time, I can get out and about with my camera all the time, I could even go away for a whole week and just do photography and I’ll be in the really great position of being able to view my own country with a fresh pair of eyes. It will be a fantastically inspired time, I can’t wait!’

And then I didn’t pick up my camera for over a month.

I’m not sure I ever could have prepared myself for it, but coming back after that long time away is tough and I found it very stressful. In a way I’m starting off all over again, moving to a new city I’d not even visited before, having to get a new job and the associated doubting of one’s ability that goes with it after having not worked for so long. And that was really only the tip of it.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to do far too many things in much too short a time and as a result felt like I was achieving nothing, or worse still failing at everything. I had an underlying tension in my stomach that followed me everywhere and at times it made me a not very nice person to be around and I got pretty low and disheartened by it all. The Streets’ lyric “When you most need to get up, you got no energy” had never rang truer.

Back to the photography and I was racking my brains for a photographic project to embark upon. I prefer not to just photograph ‘stuff’ and would rather have a specific end in mind. I think that this adds extra depth to my photography as there is more meaning behind it. That’s not to say I’m averse to a random photographic wander – this can often be a great way to experiment and plant seeds of ideas in my head. But through the fog of stress I just couldn’t think clearly about a photographic direction and dismissed many an idea on the basis that it had been done before or that I didn’t have the ability to be able to create in photographs the vision that I held in my head. Self doubt was more than creeping into my photography world – it had firmly set up home, put it’s feet up on table of my head and was generally making itself an unwelcome guest every time I tried to think.

There are some great photographic communities and resources on the internet that can really help and inspire but I began to view them as competition and reasons for not taking out my camera as I saw that much great photography and convinced myself that there were that many great photographers out there and why should should I ever have the right to think that I could succeed? What was the point in photography if I there was someone out there who could always do it better than me? Viewing great photographs became a drain rather than the inspiration it would have been had my head been in its normal state.

I’ve come through it now though, little by little I have things back in perspective. Once I had started applying for jobs and realising that I actually did have skills that people would employ me for gave me a lot of confidence and lifted one layer of stress away. I also started managing my time better, I have my (far more organised than me) partner Viv to thank for that. By making a realistic plan of all the tasks that need to be completed, no matter how small, really helped. Just getting the seemingly never-ending to-do list out of my head and onto paper lifted another layer of stress because now the tasks I had to do were known, tangible and completable. I then started interacting in online photographic communities again and received some positive feedback on my photographs. I wasn’t a total photographic basket case after all – oh the relief! I soon reverted to being inspired by others rather than feel as though I was in competition with them and soon photography became fun again.

I feel as though I am learning more now about myself as a photographic artist than I ever have before and also realising that I have a photographic voice that is uniquely my own and that I should embrace it. I’m beginning to feel liberated and it feels great.

And that brings this little story to a conclusion although I’m sure there’s many more chapters yet to be written. I have enjoyed writing this one and I think it has helped me too, to put down in words how I have been feeling. Should I encounter a similar situation in the future I would hope that I’d handle it all better and so it will at least have been a learning experience and not a waste of time.

Before I leave you I’d like to give a shout out to some sites that have inspired me recently:

  • The Creative Instinct – My good friend Andy’s blog. Andy is a life coach with a particular focus on the arts, his blog is both highly enlightening and a hugely enjoyable read in equal measure.
  • Concerning Photography – Ian is well studied in the art of photography and communicates this superbly through his own words and photographs.
  • Strobist – A fantastic community, ably led by David with a focus on getting really creative with flash photography, while spending as little as possible in doing so.
  • Talk Photography forums – I’m relatively new there but have found this to be the friendliest photographic forum on the internet. I also like that it’s not too big and you can get to know some of the personalities there.
  • Pete Carr’s photo blog – Pete is following his heart and giving a real go at making it as a photographer, at which he appears to be succeeding without losing his creative voice.

The photograph at the top of this post is another of Coaley Church that I took last week while down at my parents. You can read more about the processing and concept behind the photograph in my gallery.