Sometimes it’s the simplest things that help you appreciate your spare time. When you’re constantly driven to create, not having a personal project stewing can be agonizing the way nails to a chalkboard stab at more than just your ear drums.
Boredom has been something I’ve battled with for many years. Some might refer to it as depression, but I’ve learned that there’s an underlying cause to my depression: boredom. If I allow myself so much time, or more specifically, enough unproductive time to become bored and remain in that state of mind for long enough, I can count on anger and depression to soon follow. I don’t think my issue is uncommon, and I certainly don’t feel alone, however I’ve witnessed artists choose to speed on a destructive path as a way of dealing with their boredom. Crutches such as drugs and alcohol are commonly abused by artists who claim they need them to create and it’s a path that leads straight to the edge of a professional cliff in most cases. And when you’re teetering on the edge of a cliff, well, drugs and alcohol don’t help.
For a creative, boredom can come out of nowhere. I had been working on a commercial project for nearly six months before I one day realized I didn’t want to edit the images I had taken that day. Putting the editing off for a day lead to putting it off for a week, and after losing interest in the set, the work had just become laborious, tedious, time consuming, and you guessed it: boring.
As professional photographers, it’s understandable that there’s a portion of what we do that is going to actually feel like work. Those are often the jobs or projects that pay the bills, but how does one keep from becoming completely burned out when your workload is heavy from work you’re not 100 percent passionate about?
Personal projects are talked about often among the Fstoppers community. Over a year ago, I had started one of my own, which I later put to the side as my spare time began to seemingly evaporate. The project intended to focus on business owners in my small community who had owned a brick and mortar business for more that 10 years. The project was to be called “The People of Parker.” It was slow to get off the ground, and never got a chance to sore due to the guidelines I had set it my head. I had chose to ask for the time of my community's busiest people; of course I was faced with scheduling issues and a general lack of understanding by the local business community.
This year, faced with spare time and a looming feeling as though boredom is peeking at me from its dark little hideaway where it belongs, I’ve chosen to pick up the “People of Parker” project I had started over a year ago rather than beginning something new. Instead of focusing on business owners this time, I decided not to put any restrictive guidelines on the project, focusing on the people who live in my little desert community in Arizona whether they own a business or not.
A Few Suggestions Before Starting a Personal Photo Project
Do What Feels Good
Don’t listen to all of the “don’t give your work away” bullshit. If giving your time in exchange for a feeling of productivity makes you feel good, that is worth something. It’s worth a lot in my opinion.
Don’t set the bar so high you’ll never reach it. It’s always a bonus when you’re surprised by something exceeding your expectations. It typically sucks when things fall short of those same expectations. If you’re using personal photo projects to help battle boredom and depression, don’t set the bar so high that you’re setting yourself up for failure. That’s not going to help with anything. Instead, start with a small idea and expand on that as it feels right. Try allow personal photo projects to evolve on their own.
Roll With the Punches
The nice part about personal projects is that you get the steer the ship. There's no one to impress or to disappoint besides yourself, so when negativity rolls your way (which seems to be inevitable these days), don't let it influence you or your project, and definitely don't let it put out the fire that started the project in the first place.
For those who may suffer from boredom and depression from time to time, I encourage you to get out and create something. Don't be a perfectionist. Don't wait for the perfect time to start a personal project, or even the perfect project for that matter.
I'm not 100 percent sure what I'm going to do with my current personal project, and I think that's OK. I don't think I'd be as interested if I was sure of its outcome. What I do know is that I'll continue to photograph people in my community in a semi-candid setting for my own selfish reasons and perhaps in later years the project will serve as a historical reference. Perhaps one of the grandchildren of the subjects I photograph will smile and look at one of the pictures with appreciation. It's hard to say what will come of any personal project, but if that project keeps your demons at bay, the value is priceless.