Have you ever found yourself wondering where the passionate photographer in you has gone?
If you’ve been doing photography long enough and have met people of the same interest, you would have seen this happen a lot. One minute, you see a person spewing out images every day as if they do nothing else but shoot. Then, another minute, you see them dropping the craft entirely, selling or giving away their gear. But why does this happen? And no, for context, we aren’t talking about newbies who gave it a try for a couple of weeks. Let’s talk about people who did it for years as if they’d do it all their lives and suddenly didn’t.
It may be entirely different for you but personally, I find it tragic when someone who was so passionate about photography suddenly gives up on their dreams. They can be an aspiring professional who lives off of photography or they can be very passionate hobbyists who find refuge in shooting. No matter which category they fall under, it’s tragic to see one’s passion dying out. So, why does it happen? What are the factors that affect a photographer, or better yet, an artist’s motivation to keep doing what they love? And whether you’re a fellow creative looking out for another or just a concerned friend, what can we do to keep their passion burning?
This is probably more common in full-time professional creatives than in hobbyists. A lot of hobbyists do photography as a way to relax and vent. Many professionals also see the craft that way, and they can sometimes be the healthiest in this sense, but a lot of professionals can also dip into a muddy puddle of physical and/or psychological exhaustion, especially when they feel as though what they earn does not compensate for the hard work that they do. Burnout comes in many forms. It can manifest as easily getting tired at work or lack of enthusiasm, and it can end in two opposite ways. Many creatives bounce back and find new motivation, but some end up giving up and pursuing another career.
It’s safe to say that most photographers in the world (maybe even safe to say that 99.9% of us) compare ourselves to others. You can either be comparing yourself and your achievements to someone else, or you could be comparing your work to theirs. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because you could be taking some points for improvement for yourself and using it as a way to achieve better. What’s wrong is when you compare yourself to someone else and take it as a reason to stop. All types of creatives are prone to experience Impostor Syndrome. Many of us often feel inadequate or unworthy to give ourselves a pat on the back for a good job, and even more, many of us doubt ourselves when it matters the most. Impostor Syndrome can hit you when you’re publishing something when you’re showcasing your work when you’re promoting or marketing your craft or when you’re pitching to potential clients. There’s always that stinging blister of self-doubt. Sometimes, it’s a good measure, as it keeps you grounded or at least reminds you to refine your work even more. But sometimes, it can be a huge hindrance when you allow it to keep you from taking risks and seeking bigger things. Remember that art and beauty are subjective and that the goal is not to be the best (because such a person does not exist) but instead, to be better than yourself yesterday. Real progress always happens in small increments and very rarely in huge and drastic leaps.
Pressure and Trauma
Yes, trauma can happen in this context, especially now that the internet and social media have broken barriers among photographers all over the world. It can still be a good thing, of course, since inspiration and learning can be shared very easily from one person to another, and the fun of being able to socialize with people of similar interests can often be encouraging. But, we have to acknowledge that amidst all that, social media can be a very toxic thing. While there are people who will compliment and encourage you to keep doing what you do, there are also thousands of people online who will bring someone down for not living up to their expectations (even if they don’t really matter). The internet is a valuable source of feedback, but the key is to determine which feedback is actually of value. Many photographers think that just because another photographer can’t or hasn’t produced what they can, then they have the right to put them down. In reality, these people forget that at one point in their lives, they were just as bad and most likely, even worse than the person they are criticizing. Whether you’re the one being criticized or even bashed for the quality of your work or you’re the one lashing out, it’s important to remember that we all started as newbies, and we all have different paces of learning and progressing. One person being better than the other never makes it anyone’s right to put someone down enough to make them give up something they love doing. Some people can withstand intense negativity, some people can’t. But no one has the right to throw negativity at others anyway, so resilience shouldn’t even matter.
There is a multitude of things that can hinder one from pursuing what they are passionate about. Of course, the obvious example is the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of photographers and other creatives were forced to change routes due to hindrances of lockdowns in their area, a decline in demand for their craft, or worse, having to sell their investments (mainly their gear) for quick cash to survive at the height of the crisis. There are other more subtle hindrances as well, and these are the more modifiable ones. Much like any form of success, a good support system is vital in this craft or in this industry. To say the least, the most vital, yet often missing source of support are those of the artist’s family and friends. Support comes in many forms, of course. It can be in the patronage and actual availing of their services or purchasing their work. It can also be in referring them to friends and family who might need something that they can offer. It can even be something as small as a social media like, follow, or share. As shallow as that sounds, it is true, not because it’s a valid measure of how good they are, because it’s not. But because in this day and age, social media is the strongest marketing tool for any brand, product, or service.
If you’re reading this, then you could be one of many different types of people in this context. You could be the struggling artist whose passion is running almost out or you could be the one shoving their enthusiasm and hopes down as an unnecessary toxic person. Or you could be an untapped support system. Either way, the death of a creative’s passion is definitely tragic but can be averted very easily. It may not seem as crucial as physically saving someone’s life, but in many cases, they could mean the exact same thing.