Being a creative is hard. Photographers should admit it and help each other through it, says Jennifer McCord
All images by Jennifer McCord
It’s our motivation to be better, work harder and push ourselves further. But in the age of endless access to other people’s highlight reels, so few of us are talking about the real struggle behind the work. Because the truth is this: being a creative is really hard.
It’s a complex thing to try and explain. How is it that there are days when I’m convinced that everyone thinks my work is crap but no one will tell me to my face? When I wonder what on earth I'm doing with my life but somehow am still convinced deep down that I can do this, that my work is worth what I charge and that I'm good at my job? It’s a constant rollercoaster of emotions but I carry on. I get out of bed, I shoot and I edit through the feelings. It’s because deep down I know I can do this and it's just a case of talking down my demons.
Is any of this sounding familiar? Do you ever think about what will be “enough”? All your past achievements no longer feel like accomplishments, and the steady flow of peers who appear to be more successful, busier and, well, better than you seems never-ending. Then that feeling, that self-doubt, sinks into your skin and slides under your rib cage, nesting somewhere deep inside.
I'm here to tell you that you're not alone; in fact you're far from it. There are so many of us that feel this way but the thing is, no one talks about it. In a time where so many are vocal about advocating the end of mental health stigma, it's still hard to be honest and open about what's going on behind that perfectly curated Instagram feed. We're scared that our vulnerability might push clients away or even worse, that people might realise that we don't feel as successful as our social media presence makes us out to be.
An image from Jennifer's work as a music photographer
When we do eventually talk about it, it's with that famous British sarcasm and cynicism we all possess. We hide it with humour or we make out that we don't care. I've had countless conversations with other photographers where when talking about upcoming work one of us has said something along the lines of “Oh it's been a bit of a quiet month, but it'll pick up again soon,” and we act like we're okay with it.
The truth is we might be resigned to it but we're definitely not okay with it. The quiet months still make us panic and keep us up at night questioning all our decisions. Is my editing good enough? Could I be doing more? Should I be doing more? And yes, I think it's part of the creative complex. If you're not hungry for more then you're hitting a ceiling. I truly believe you should always be looking for ways to grow your art. But let's stop hiding behind our screens and stop comparing ourselves to each other's achievements. Let’s talk to each other. Let’s say, “Hey, I’m here and I know what you’re going through because I'm going through it too,” instead of bullshitting that we've got it all figured out.
And here’s a thought: fall in love with the process of learning. Fall in love with your failures and those missed shots, because those mistakes aren’t the end of the world. You’re learning, and if you’re learning then you can’t possibly be truly failing, right? The only way you fail is when you stop trying. It’s easy to get wrapped in what our clients and our followers want, but what do you want? What makes you jump out of bed in the morning and grab your camera? Are you doing it? And if not, why not?
About the Author