Friday, April 11, 2008

Professional, personal, passionate

I have been working pretty hard since the new year, thank goodness. It was scary at the end of last year as there was almost no work for three months. I seem to have turned a corner in the professional career. And then I was on the faculty of shooting home 2008 and I witnessed the personal struggles of the attendees and it made me wonder about my own personal work. I have been thinking about separate things, how can I be professional without losing my soul? How do I work on my personal vision without being self-indulgent? How are these two aspects related?

One of the participants from Shooting Home said that she enjoyed the course. She liked the photography that she did and said that she would rather not do photography professionally as commercial work would not be as fulfilling. I cannot see how to reach the higher levels of photography without being a full time practitioner. I may not be shooting personal projects, but I am practicing my craft daily. When I first started photography professionally, I was lucky that some interesting subjects modelled for me. But at that stage, it was about the basics of photography. Instead of making creative explorations, I was grappling with camera settings and lighting. In my professional work, this is something I grapple with daily. I am forced to know my equipment intimately. So when I do a personal project, I can focus on the creative exploration, not the basic equipment issues. So by being a professional photographer, I am not always doing creative work, but I am constantly honing my craft. I think that it is much harder to achieve creative heights if I am not seasoned with my equipment.

In my personal aesthetics, I like beautiful things. I struggled for a long time learning how to make beautiful images. And there is nothing wrong making beautiful images in itself, but I come to acknowledge the superficiality of beautiful images. I know some beautiful work can bring the viewer to places that they have not been to before. But I am leaning towards work that has an inner beauty, a beauty that is not immediately apparent. I think that there is beauty in truth, even if that truth is superficially repulsive. Like the horror of war photography, somewhere in the horror, is the hope that the truth revealed will lead to a change for the better. It is in my nature to shoot beautiful images and I will continue to do so. But to only shoot beautiful images would be self-indulgent, a continuous variation on a theme. At a point, it almost becomes a hollow repetitive exercise. I am challenging myself to break down this wall holding me in my comfort zone. I need to try new, more challenging photographic processes and subjects. I want to do work that is more than an aesthetic or conceptual exercise. I probably need to change the way I lead my life to start creating more engaged work. I need to constantly put myself outside my comfort zone, and forget about past success. And it is also not about looking for future success, it is simply about the journey of discovery. Sometimes as humans, we get attached to past success and simply repeat ourselves. But it means that we stop growing. Ultimately, the goal is personal growth, and photography is only the tool, success only a by-product. So I constantly break down old walls, to build new walls and then break down the new walls to build even newer ones. That is not just life, that is truly living.

What links professional work to passionate personal work, is attitude and discipline. Irregardless of the work being professional or personal, one has to always put heart and soul into it. It is not just brute effort, but creativity as well. One never knows when something professional becomes personal and vice versa. As hard as it is, I try never to take a job simply as work. I take all work as an opportunity to hone my craft. I also try not to be so attached to my personal work that I am unable to constructively critique it, to see what works and does not work about it. Always, and I mean always, striving for the best outcome, and still acknowledging the shortcomings that inevitably occur. One point to note here though, the shortcomings are not something to get depressed about. Nothing is perfect. Shortcomings are simply pointers to how we can do things better in future. It is the journey and the growth that is the most important.


Kevin said...

Your ideas on the value of being a professional for your personal work are similar to what David Hurn says in his book:

I agree but not completely. It's also possible for an amateur to put a lot of time into a passion, and if pursued consistently over a good period of time, can also build up the intimacy with tools, techniques, etc. that you refer to.

And thanks for your thoughts about beauty & truth. Truth - when it comes to photography - is a fuzzy concept, but it's a good distinction you make between beauty and the beauty of truth, whatever you happen to think the 'truth' is.

Heng said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for dropping by.

Yes, I do agree that a passionate amateur can be very good, but it is harder.

The truth is different for everyone, but it is that belief, that makes for an interesting viewpoint and interesting work.

laissezfaire said...

honest, thought provoking, inspiring....Thanks for sharing the process