For more than two years, I was struggling to create – without much success. I had been a photographer for almost a decade but now I felt more and more lost, and I couldn’t find the reason why. Then one day, I realized that I was in the wrong box.
I’d always seen photography as my passion. When I decided to quit my masters in computer science (didn’t get very far with that), I knew I wanted to become a photographer. My first job was as a school photographer – not very glamorous, but it taught me a lot.
I then went onto concert photography and later press photography. Next, I shot travel articles and feature stories for business magazines, before moving on to advertising and then towards a more artsy approach. I never stuck around for long in any genre. I’ve always had this restless urge to go on to the next project, explore something new.
It worked fine for the first 10 years. Then one day, it just didn’t anymore. It had slowly crept upon me, the sensation of being in the wrong place. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I was doing what I wanted to do in the first place, photography is my passion. Right? So why didn’t I feel the same passion about it anymore? I felt less and less about opening my laptop and editing images. It literally bored me.
How do you give up your passion?
The thought of doing something else struck me, from time to time. Before I started to learn photography, I did quite a bit of writing. Crafting stories was always my favorite in school. During several years, I wrote occasional concert reviews for the local newspaper and I ended up working there for a few summers.
I thought of focusing more on the writing and cut back doing photography? But if I did, I would throw away everything I’ve accomplished and learned during the last ten years. I would have to give up my passion. I was on the edge of giving up when It just hit me. What if photography was never my passion at all?
A carpenter with only one tool
Imagine a carpenter that was to build a playhouse. But he’s only allowed to use a hammer and nails to accomplish it. No other tools. He would most certainly feel confined and extremely frustrated. If he managed to complete it somehow, it would most certainly look like something built by a gang of colorblind sugar-high 8-year olds. A carpenter only using a hammer, is not a carpenter. He’s a Hammerer.
Photography is not my passion. Writing is not my passion. Just like the carpenters’ hammer, they are merely tools. Tools that I use to practice my true passion. Telling stories. Make people think. Create change and inspire. Create art.
I went through a lot of photography genres at the beginning of my career. I learned the differences between them and how to use them to tell different kinds of stories. I developed my own sense of storytelling. When I had mastered (well, at least learned how to use it decently), I put that tool in the toolbox and went on to learn the next one. And then one day, I had put all the photography tools that I wanted, into my creative toolbox.
Why we put labels on each other
Because I was telling myself – and everyone else – that I was a photographer, it stuck. I had gained all the tools I wanted, but the urge to learn how to tell better stories was stronger than ever. But my business cards said “Photographer”, and that had built a mental – but unscalable – wall around me. This was the box I was in, and everything I wanted to do had to fit inside the photography box.
We, the humans, do this all the times – labeling ourselves and others. It’s a leftover from when we quickly had to decide if the strange person or animal that we happened to end up in front of, is friendly or not. In today’s world, people tend to feel uncomfortable not being able to “place” someone into a specific box. What’s your title? As with everything, just because a lot of people are doing it, it doesn’t mean it is the right way to do it.
How to let yourself out of the box
The day I realized that photography and writing were only tools, I stopped calling myself a photographer and talked about myself as an artist and storyteller. The change was instantaneous.
First, I had given myself permission to use any means necessary to tell my stories. I was no longer limited to using photos, I could doodle or paint. I could use moving images or write on an old typewriter. I could sing (Well, I sure COULD sing but let’s hope we never get to that..) or craft a speech. I could try out and learn any kind of tool that I felt for. It was like I had lost my shackles and could move wherever I wanted.
It was not only my own view that changed. After just a few weeks, I started to get offers for commissions, collaborations, and jobs that didn’t have anything to do with photography. Others realized that I wasn’t just my camera. I didn’t lose any of what I had learned during my first 10 years. It took it all with me to my next step.
Be aware, so that you don’t mistake your tools for your passions. Your passion should be more of an answer to a “Why?” question. Why are you creating in the first place? Why do you create art? Why is it making the world a better place?
If you are a photographer, writer, singer, painter, sculptor, dancer or any kind of creator, and you want to be that for the rest of your life – without a doubt – that is amazing! But whether or not you know that already, make sure to open a gate in the box and give yourself the possibility to walk outside the walls if you ever feel like there might be something there for you.
Just be aware that you are allowed to go in any direction and pick up any tool.