Well, after a bit of soul-searching and thinking, I’ve come to a realization — I’m in a funk of the photographic variety. Part less than typical level of freelance work, part multiple rejections on the application front, and maybe a little part dreary winter weather that seems to just…keep…stretching…on. (Update: As I’m posting this, the grip of winter seems to have eased and given way to some pleasant spring days and open water on the nearby lakes of Madison)
This isn’t my first such creative funk and I’m pretty damn sure it won’t be the last. My most recent memory that felt like this was back in the Spring of 2013. I’d just completed an internship in lovely Salt Lake City, Utah at the Deseret News under the coaching of photo editor Chuck Wing. While it wasn’t my first internship in photojournalism, it was by far one of the most challenging, rewarding photography (and for that matter, life) experiences I had had up until that point.
After I returned home to Minneapolis at the close of the internship, I was gradually hit was a feeling of emptiness in my work — no longer did I wake up each morning the with the challenge to produce front page-worthy content with every assignment I received.
And not having that inner challenge to push you…sucks.
So, snap back to today, writing this for all you: Where does one go when you find yourself in the funk? Obviously there’s no one answer to that question; it would have been bottled up and sold by the truckload if that were the case. I can only preach to what brings me out of the funks, what brings me back to the land of the creative “living.” Maybe some of these click with your creative style, and maybe not. But here are just a few of the ways I work to re-center myself and get the creative juices flowing again:
BUILD THE FOUNDATION
For me, though it usually takes until I’m well inside of it to realize it, a common predictor of “the funk” is going through a lapse period where I don’t take proper care of my body. Building that physical strength and endurance back boosts my mood, energy levels, and overall well-being (that I truly believe is required) to create photography and art at a high level. Only once I’ve brought that physical self back can I start chipping away at the creative blocks getting in my way.
KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID
After creating the physical building blocks for creative thought, the next step for me is always decluttering and simplifying—in photography and in life. Inevitably, as I get farther and farther into the funk, my physical space and mind becomes more and more cluttered. So just K.I.S.S. and CLEAN. IT. UP. My favorite way to keep it simple in photography is to go back to the basics and buy and shoot a few rolls of B/W film on my Nikon S2 rangefinder — No Meter, No Problem. There is something so simultaneously liberating and constraining about shooting with no zoom, no battery, and no light meter. It creates an artificial challenge and starts to stoke the fires of creativity that had been only quietly smoldering previously.
Once I’ve began to build back the strength of my mind/body and started challenging myself creatively, I DON’T dive back into client work. Each time I’ve done that, it’s been a recipe for disaster. At this point—unless money is a factor— I make every effort to choose projects that are personally meaningful to me. For whatever reason, by actively seeking out photography projects that appeal on a personal level or being picky on what freelance assignments are taken on, one nurtures a stronger connection to the work and in turn builds accountability to the creative process. Your work grows because you care, and you care because your work is growing.
Obviously the items mentioned here aren’t some fool-proof, fixer-upper for every creative funk or rough patch. But all of these have helped me at one point or another in my career to rebuild and grow as a photographer. Do any of these strategies resonate with you? How do you pull yourself out of the creative swamp and get back to doing what you do best?