Each year I refuse to participate in the game of sharing new year’s resolutions. Every year I refuse to make resolutions. I understand however, that for many people they are an important start to the year and new years resolutions offer a chance to at least pretend for a little while that this year will be better than the last even if just by wishing it so.
I do agree, however, that January is a fine time to ponder a few issues as one sits on a comfy sofa on a freezing and rainy Sunday afternoon, broke and waiting for the next pay day.
January gives us a lot of time to think about the year ahead, if for no other reason than there is very little else to look forward to. This strikes me as being apt as it is a time of year when we can start to see Old Father Time turning his mind towards the rebirth of spring and it seems a natural time for humans to ponder what the rest of the year may hold. The coming of a new year is also for many of us a suitable time to start to make changes – the sweep of a new broom as it were.
In mid winter and in middle age, this January I have stopped drinking alcohol, initially just for January, but as the end of the month approaches, I am thinking about keeping my abstinence going through February and maybe into March. I have also been going to the gym three times a week throughout the month. I am very much in favour of self reflection.
In the interests of promoting self reflection, I know that I am not a great photographer, probably not even a very good one. Every now and again, however, I do take images which I think are pretty good. I think that the overall quality of my photographic output, my ‘body of work’, is decent enough and a small part of my inner photographer has started to whisper in my ear that some of the images are too good to just keep on my computer screen. Also, if I only keep them to myself, how will I ever learn anything, how will I ever be critiqued, how will I ever improve, or will I be doomed to just keep taking similar pictures for the rest of my life and watch as my photography atrophies?
Such pondering leads to much bigger questions, more difficult questions of what sort of photographers we are and why do we take photographs? Those are too much for me to think about right now. What I do know is that I take photographs because it gives me joy and because I enjoy being creative. I also know that I have absolutely no desire to even contemplate making photographs for a living. But in what sense do ‘non professional’ photographers have the right to show their work to the public? What forms can that take and how should I take my photography to the next step….and what is the next step?
The internet is rammed full of articles and videos about moving your photography on, but these seemed to be aimed at the beginner (which I am not) and about technique (which I know) or gear (which I have), but there does not seem much about what to do when you have mastered the techniques and know your style and what you want to visualise. The presumption seems to be that everyone who makes photographic images will want to become a full time professional. But where does that leave the presumably thousands of photographers who, like me, do not?
I do have an instagram account but I do not want to dive too far down the social media rabbit hole and pursue the ‘likes’ as this seems to me to have breadth but no depth (and I am too old a rabbit to learn new tricks). I generally tend to take pictures around London and the south of England, usually on days off or trips to see family and friends as well as for work. Ideally I would like to be lightly known as a local photographer and instagram does not really help with that goal. I don’t like (or understand) the mentality behind social media. It would be great to earn a little bit of ‘pocket money’ also, as however I may try to deny it, we do, on some level, equate payment with quality.
Therefore it seems to me that if I want to take my images off my computer and into the big wide world, I have a few options. I could try to host an exhibition which would be nerve wracking and has some practical hurdles to overcome, not least of which is what gallery would be willing to show pictures created by a complete unknown? I could set up my own website but surely this means that I have to be on it every day, chasing leads, trying to improve my web exposure, getting tech savvy and answering questions? I spend enough time on a laptop at work and one of the reasons why I love photography so much is it gets me off the computer, so I do not really want to spend my spare time managing a website. I could create a lovely photo book… but how do I get it out to the public and how to sell it and who to? Should it have words as well as pictures? What should the theme be?
The answers to these questions are all out there and deep down I know what they are, I just need to convince myself that I know what they are. I need to make some decisions and I need to be brave, to put myself out there and follow through with the promises that I make myself. Yes, it will mean spending some money and yes, it will mean effort and probably also time on the computer. But it will be worth it. I will grow as a photographer and learn a lot; I will find out if I am a decent photographer and if any of my images chime with the public.
On another level, the idea of publishing my images and putting them on public display in any form scares me, not least because it will mean that, on some level, that I have to start admitting to myself and others that I see myself as an artist and that is not something that I have ever considered myself to be and I would never hope to put myself in the same bracket as ‘proper’ artists. Nor do I believe that being an artist is a label that should be freely handed out to anyone just because they make art – it needs to be earned not adopted.
By putting my thoughts down and stating my fears into this article, part of me is also forcing my own hand, making sure that I cannot hide behind my natural introvert, my embarrassment and my fear of putting my work in the public eye. By publicly stating that this is what I intend to do through 2023 as the next step on my photographic journey I have to follow through; I cannot keep those thoughts to myself. This is surely of value in itself and will help me grow as a person.
It seems that, after all, January is a good time to set new challenges.
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