Sometimes we have to take a step back—a break, so to speak. This seems to happen to me about once a year, where it’s essential that I get away from the internet—and sometimes the world in general—for a while. The circumstances are always different but the feeling remains the same: I’m not happy with myself, my habits, or my work. I’ve lost myself and my reasons for creating, and I’m solely focused on the public’s reaction to my work. I’m not afraid to admit this anymore (I once vehemently denied caring about such "trivialities" and acted above this—but that was a big front). I’m still young—27—and my self-worth is not as solid as I hope it will be one day. What’s happened recently is this: I’ll post a photo that is meaningful to me and that I feel so much for, and the response is minimal. Right next to it in my feed is someone else’s photo that garners massive attention and kind comments, and I can’t help but feel inadequate. It’s less so jealousy and more of a genuine sadness. I will say this occurs less and less as time goes on, but I am still susceptible. Sometimes I feel like my time has come and gone—that there was this one year or so that my work “blew up” and that I’m now old news. There are so many new photographers producing work more interesting than mine it seems. Is this the nature of art in the age of social media? Do we get one moment of recognition and then we’re forgotten? I’m not sure—my thoughts are skewed in a negative direction lately and not to be trusted.
One way or another, my photos mean so much more to me than anything that could ever be quantified by a number. But I’m only human, and I’m not above being affected by the reception of my work. But lately I’ve forgotten why I even make photos. It’s been strained and contrived, and something I’ve felt like I needed to do to prove to myself that I’m not “losing it.” But what if I am losing it—for now? What if it’s okay to lose it for a little while? I’ve been inspired by nothing. I spent a week alone in Europe (in two extraordinarily beautiful cities) and barely managed to shoot one roll of film. I hardly managed to make work in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, rural Bolivia, the month before that. Nothing has been natural, intuitive, or real in the way that I need it to be. I will not be one of those artists who never evolves, or worse, devolves. I will not repeat the same composition over and over again. I will not bore you with new, empty versions of old photos that once came straight from my soul. I will not do that disservice to myself or to you. I will have dignity and patience and I will step away from my work when my intuition is telling me to.
I only ever made photos that meant anything because I was completely, ridiculously, almost-embarrassingly obsessed with the art of photography. From understanding the functionality of a camera to the characteristics of film, I devoured every bit of it. I actually did carry a camera everywhere. My friends and I explored our natural environment and our physical relationship to it through photos multiple times a week. I lived for those days. Yesterday, for the first time in so long I can’t remember, I had one of those experiences. Sarah and I went out to a creek we’ve shot at and swam in many times before—nothing had changed about the scenery—but it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. We each had a camera and we were (and are) each struggling with the simple act of being alive at the moment. But I instinctively took my clothes off and jumped in the freezing water while she snapped photos of me and helped me with self-portraits. The very second I submerged myself and began to float and saw the sun and trees above me I knew—I had lost myself, and this was the beginning of coming back to myself. I felt alive for the first time in months. The Polaroids looked exactly like they looked when we very first started shooting together in 2012—messy snapshots of real moments, not “works of art.” I’ve never loved any set of photos more.
I am coming back, slowly. Yesterday reminded me of who I am. But I fear that if I start sharing work again the moment I make it, I’ll start evaluating it again and then devaluing it because it doesn’t blow up the internet. I just refuse to cheat myself of the thing I love the most in that way ever again. So I’m not on a hiatus, but I’m on a retreat. I’ll make photos when my heart desires, and I’ll share them sometime in the future when I’m feeling better. Sometimes we have to take care of ourselves, and sometimes that means disappearing into ourselves for a while, out of sight—and reconnecting with the people and the places that have made us.