Creative Blocks and How to Kill Them
I’m just going to go back to being honest. Remember when I used to write really honestly on that old blog of mine way back 4 years ago? And occasionally on Breed but not for a few years now? Yeah, I’ve been quiet for too long now and I’m finally going to “out” myself and speak up!
First of all, I’m going to go ahead and admit that I have been suffering from one of the worse creative/writing blocks in my 30+ career. This one has lasted for years. As in, yearssssss. This one has lasted SO long that I pretty much just accepted that the jig was up, the curtain has fallen, and it’s time to look for another career. Or perhaps, early retirement. I always liked gardening, right? I’m getting those AARP letters in the mail now, maybe it’s a sign. Maybe I’m toast. I had a good long run, maybe it’s time to pass the torch.
Yeah, I have had my “reasons” and there are “feelings” contributing to this painful era that I have been enduring and here’s the list:
#1: Sadness. Our industry is tanking and it’s sad. I see it, my colleagues see it, my dog even sees it. Clients don’t want to pay what they used to pay, if they even want to pay at all. Instagram has become the new “badge of honor” where nowadays you don’t really have to pay your dues anymore or even be remotely talented. As long as you have a bunch of followers, you’re considered hirable. Or worse yet, usable.
#2: Anger. Yep, I’m angry that I had to pay my dues for years until I could get published and I then had to be published for years before I could land those big paying ad campaigns. The way I handle anger is I just shut down. I retreat inside myself, inside my world and I tune out. AKA: creative block.
#3: Fear. I own one of the biggest educational online resources for fashion photographers and here I am, the face, the voice, THE ROLE MODEL for all of us and I’m having a meltdown. I am watching our industry literally fall apart and I have lost my voice because I can’t fix it and make it better. I can’t lie and tell you it’s all going to be okay, that we’re just going through a “phase” and I can’t even help guide you to a better way of navigation if you’re wanting to pursue this as a career because the industry has changed. And it’s changed in a not-so-good way. The emails I get from my members, and I get them through my personal email account, my Breed email account, my firstname.lastname@example.org account, my Instagram account, my Twitter account and my Facebook account, all echo the same hurt, angry and frustrated theme: photographers are humiliated that clients don’t want to pay them for their work or usage for their images, they aren’t being respected anymore, they are disheartened by the pretentiousness of Instagram, the lack of talent, the lack of taste, the lack of substance and at the end of their emails, the same question is asked, “Is this industry behavior normal?”
The answer is No. It’s not “normal”. But it’s what is going on now and so I guess the answer honestly is “well, no it’s not normal but it’s becoming the norm”.
I’ll tell you a story that was kind of part of the catalyst behind why I stopped shooting for awhile. In the summer of 2015 I threw myself into a lot of shooting. I had decided to start a rock and roll ‘slash” fashion magazine and use my strong influence of music in my fashion editorials. I was really excited about these shoots I had planned and went about creating all these mood boards and plans to shoot.
14 editorial shoots later and I wanted to fucking shoot myself. At one point, on one particular day, on set, I sat back and watched the team go about doing their job. Everyone was unhappy. Team members didn’t like each other, model seemed annoyed. It was really hot in the studio, the air conditioning didn’t work that well. Everyone was complaining. I sat back and realized that every single person on that shoot was getting paid. Except me. I was paying for everyone to be there. I even paid for lunch. I paid for coffee, bagels and waters. And then I bought lunch. I paid for stylists’ assistants, Ubers, studio rental, EQ rental, model fee, etc. etc. etc. I was out about $1,000 for just one of these shoots. And everyone walked around like they were being held at gunpoint to be there. Something clicked in me that day and I told myself, “No more”.
I walked out of that studio that day and stopped shooting. I was tired of paying to be published in even MY OWN MAGAZINE, for God sakes! It’s one thing if you want to pay a bunch of money to be published in an International Edition of a rather large magazine but my OWN? Please.
So for the last few years I’ve shot very little. In fact, this year, I’ve shot one editorial. ONE. Do you know what happens to a creative person when they’re not creating? They either become incredibly self-destructive and implode on themselves, or they become so depressed that doing normal, daily activities seem like taking a calculus exam so they just stay in bed, waiting for it to “go away”. I’ve seen it happen in other colleagues of mine over the years when someone throws in the towel because they have a family to support or they’re just tired of having to pawn their cameras every month to avoid getting eviction notices on their door. I’ve seen them a few years later and they “act” happy but you can see the seething contempt in their eyes when I’ve told them “Yeah, I’m still shooting!”
So, Melissa, when does this post start to get happy?
Yes, I’m veering towards it, stay with me!
I hate whiners. I really do! And I’ve been doing a lot of whining lately. So I decided to kick my own ass, shut the fuck up and take some action. Because sitting around and feeling sorry for myself for the fact that the industry has changed isn’t going to make it change back to better days. Instead of isolating and checking out in Denial Land, I took some time out for myself to check IN and see what I could do to turn this horrible hamster-wheel of ruminating around and stop the depression and anxiety. The first thing I did was to shut down the noise in my head. You know that committee that sits up there, analyzing and critiquing every Goddamn thing you do? Yeah, those guys. I shut them up. I did some reading. I even googled, “how to get your mojo back”. Yep, I’m embarrassed to write that but I promised to be honest, so that’s what I did. I dug deep and did a lot of painful self-analysis without the help of some greedy therapist Uh huh’ing me while she was secretly choosing the paint color on her new BMW she was going to purchase with my misery dollars. And here’s where I am at today:
My “feelings’ don’t rule me. They do not own me. They’re not the boss of me. And Action, above all, brings change. There ARE steps an artist can take to get out of these slumps and I’m taking them. One thing I read in this amazing book by Amy Alkon called, “Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence” was this one line:
“There are people who keep wring “pure” by doing it only when they feel inspired. We call these people “independently wealthy”.
For the rest of us, there’s that daily terror of the blank page. Come anywhere near it and it sneers, “You suck. You’re not interesting. You have nothing to say to anyone. But hey, go ahead and type something.”
She was writing about the fact that every artist has an inner critic that just bullies the shit out of them and the only way to overcome this jerk is to take action. Write even when you don’t have something to say. Pick up a camera (Melissa) even when you have nothing to shoot. Just F*cking Do It.
Since making this commitment to start writing again, and even though I have no good news at the end the tunnel folks, and I can’t promise we’re all sailing into happy territories from now on, I’m still going to write. And I’m going to write honestly. It’s my style, and it’s what I’m known for and if I can do ANYTHING for you guys, it’s to be completely transparent and honest about this industry we’re all in. Because I couldn’t lie to you in the past, I lost my voice. But I can no longer stay silent. I won’t lie, but I will tell you the truth. Here’s a big truth candy bar for you:
WE ARE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT!
Just like most of you guys, I have to do OTHER things to bring in an income because clients don’t pay me like they used to. What do I do? You’re reading it! I started Breed. I started Breed back in 2008 with a different name and then segued it to what it is now. I started Breed because I saw the industry starting to go downhill allllll the wayyyy back then. And I knew I was going to have to do something related to fashion photography if I was going to survive in this industry and still shoot. Because no, I didn’t get a degree in nursing like my mother urged me to do. And I like to live nicely. I at least like to not have to worry about eviction notices every month.
I’ve also have made a commitment to shoot again. And it doesn’t have to be big staged editorials with lions and trapeze artists and fire eaters. I’m just going to get a studio, grab some models and just shoot. I have to start somewhere again and I’m going to start there.
I recently posted a picture on my Instagram account that I had shot in late ’80’s of a friend who also happened to be a model. I shot with my 4 x 5 view camera and she was wearing something I owned. We were just fucking around, having fun. I remembered that day vividly when I posted the picture and I remember being happy. I was so happy just shooting.
So I can’t promise you rainbows and happy endings. But I CAN promise to share my insight and knowledge about every aspect I know about fashion photography and the industry there of. And I’m going to do just that. We have a lot of fun things planned, Industry Talks, BTS of my upcoming shoots, experimenting with different camera systems. I can show you how to shoot better pictures and be a better photographer.
Maybe that’s all I needed to do in the first place. Oh well, no more complaining. I’m back.
Images: Melissa Rodwell
Retouching: Tyler Mitchell (except for 4x5 portrait)