Why Taking Two Years Off My Photography Made Me A Better Photographer
Last Friday, I published a post about how I got started with photography. If you've missed that post, you can read it here. This is a continuation of that story.
When I moved to Cornwall, and had finished my foundation degree, I knew already that I wanted to be a fashion photographer. Fashion had been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I'd loved magazines from a very young age, but what I loved about them was the photography inside. Images have captivated my life forever, so it was only natural to me that I would want to pursue a career in photography.
I'd say that the first two years of my fashion photography degree were brilliant. I made incredible friends. We were a small and extremely close cohort, and being the first ever students on a Fashion Photography degree in Falmouth University, we were definitely used as guinea pigs a bit. We didn't mind, and got on with our work. We helped each other out, gave each other advice, and it felt like a really creative place to be.
As I approached the end of my second year, my health had been taking a turn for the worse, I was extremely unhappy in my relationship at the time, suffering from panic attacks on a weekly basis, and finding it very hard to muster the courage to organise shoots. Despite all of that, I did carry on. I shot because I felt like I had to. I had a reputation to maintain, and for so long I had been saying how much "I loved photography and I was going to be a fashion photographer." I won't lie about this: the last thing I wanted to do was take photos. Somewhere along the line, my creativity left me. It was obviously a mixture of the depression, anxiety and health issues that I was facing, but it was terrifying. The one thing I had loved the most, the one thing I thought I would pursue for the rest of my life, the one thing that gave me happiness, was gone. I felt ashamed of myself. I felt extremely frustrated. The worst part was: I still had to shoot. I had another year of my degree left! So I continued to force it out. Needless to say, some of my favourite images stem from that difficult year.
As the end of my third year drew closer and closer, I was steadily becoming happier and happier. My anxiety was gone, I was no longer depressed, and I was in a new, and very happy relationship. Atlas was also doing better than ever, so I was happy. Was I feeling particularly creative yet? Nope. Not in the slightest.
I couldn't explain it. I just didn't have any desire to shoot. I put it down to not actually liking the practice of photography. Maybe I had never actually like taking photos? Maybe it had all just been in my head? So what did I do? As soon as my degree was finished, I basically stopped taking photos. Ok, that's a bit of a lie. I took the odd portrait, did the odd thing here and there, but ultimately, I had stopped. For a couple of months, I told myself I was crazy and tried to force it. I even did a couple of shoots, but they were all terrible. So eventually, I just gave in and said to myself that I would no longer force it; I was no longer a photographer.
It was the best thing that I could have ever done.
By taking the pressure off of myself, I gave myself the freedom to let creativity come to me. And it did. After almost two years of practically no desire, no interest, and no creativity in photography, my creativity came back. Call it a two years writers block. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe two years was how long it actually took me to properly overcome my mental health issues. I don't really care. All I know is that I let myself be. I didn't tell myself anymore that I "had" to do anything. One day, I was doing some work on Atlas and I found myself browsing the website of a photographer that I love, Emily Soto. I've been a follower and a fan of her work since she started, and seeing what she produces now is what makes me dream. It makes my heart flutter... It makes me want to shoot.
I don't think I'll ever forget that evening. I sat there for hours, just clicking, feeling excited, loving it all. Ideas were coming to mind. Things began to form in my head. A desire to pick up a camera and photograph someone was there. So I went with it. I didn't rush anything, and I've certainly not had the time to shoot as much as I used to, but in a way I don't think that's a bad thing. I used to feel so rushed, like if I wasn't ALWAYS producing work that I'd get left behind. I don't feel like that anymore. I've understood now that it's ok to have creative blocks. It's ok for that passion to subside, because it's not really gone... it's just sleeping inside you.