Creative integrity – or, the Struggling Artist Myth explained

H51-B0006603 copy

For the past six years, I’ve shot for pay full time, and occasionally for the better part of the preceding ten years before that. During the last six, the proportion of images of any sort shot with my own creative vision as primary motivation vs those shot with somebody else’s – i.e. for a client or as part of a commercial assignment – has swung from 100-0 to perhaps 5-95. This is expected, and both good and bad. It’s what actually had me stumped in my early pro days: every time I met a successful or established photographer, they almost never had a camera with them – or if they saw something spontaneous, they’d use their phone to shoot it. I wondered why, especially given their access to ‘better’. I think I know the answer to this, and to be honest: I’m not sure I or anybody else is going to like it. Read on if you dare.

Like most people, I started photographing because I had an interest in it and wanted to record things – and at a subconscious level, there was some emotional return/ satisfaction derived from the creative process. It was something I could do to fill small gaps of time, and there was undeniably some geek factor to the equipment. I photographed whatever took my fancy, and nothing else; at that point my work was so bad nobody would have thought twice about asking me to shoot anything, even ‘for exposure’. At some point I started photographing watches – because the nice collectors who owned them allowed me to, and because there was no way in hell I could afford to buy the ones I liked. I photographed more and more watches because I wanted to capture them in the way I saw them; at some point this became commercially attractive to some watch companies, and the first assignments started.

I was fortunate that the early jobs were still very much ‘shoot as you see it’ – this lead me to believe the (false) notion that photographers were always hired for their creative vision. At this point, I still had, and would continue to have, a normal corporate employer for many more years. I did some editorial work for a photography magazine on the side – though in hindsight, it was really a camera magazine (important difference: is the focus on images, or hardware?). This taught me another important lesson: in the commercial world, there’s honesty, there’s an unfavourable review, and then there’s when the silence speaks volumes but doesn’t annoy your advertisers. There’s also the catch-22: be honest and you lose your advertisers; say little or be dishonest and you lose your subscribers. As you might have guessed, that’s the reason why this site has never had and will never have advertisers or paid content: I don’t want to have to make that choice.

H51-B0013002 copy

Photographing commercially has taught me that my initial impression of this industry was completely wrong: whilst at some levels and for some clients – albeit very high, and very few – you are hired on the strength of your portfolio and you’re allowed to do some really experimental stuff (example one, example two) without any limits – that’s extremely rare. I count myself fortunate that I’ve had more than my fair share of this type of client, and obstinate enough to keep looking for them and not willing to settle for being a photocopier.

But – the photocopier-type job is inevitable, especially when you need to pay your rent. It is any job where the visual presentation of the subject is decided for you; whether the client art director has their own ideas and refuses to take input even though some things are physically impossible or would look very awkward/ unflattering – or they’ve simply handed you somebody else’s work and said ‘copy this’. The latter seems to be especially common in Asia where for some odd reason originality is verboten, and one must copy what was hot in Europe and the US last season. It is difficult to describe how this kind of job makes you feel; it’s not quite soul destroying (like being a first year audit trainee, for instance) – but it’s definitely not good. Perhaps the best analogy is astroturf: the grass really is greener (you’re not stuck pushing paper) but it’s not really grass: it’s merely somebody else’s idea of what grass should be.

H61C-B0001451 copy

Even in a halfway situation where you do have some creative input – it feels like design by consortium. The result is an average decision whose aim was to keep everybody happy, but in reality makes nobody particularly unhappy, but also doesn’t really leave anybody inspired and in love, either. It’s corporate mediocrity at its very best; a bit like the look of a modern Toyota. It’s good enough work but not special – call it the output of a craftsman rather than an artist. What’s missing is usually the consistency and singular vision: you can tell when a product has been designed (and designed well) by one person, because every decision has a logical defense – even if individually they may not make sense, at least you’ve got a scalpel instead of a Swiss Army Knife. Think of it as an Otus instead of a 16-400/6.3 superzoom. This is of course complete anathema to both what construes art and what gives maximum satisfaction to the creator: the purest work is when we make something because we are compelled to.

With enough time in the game, your mindset shifts – our personalities are nothing more than a reflection of our experiences. If we only experience groupthink, having the imagination to create an original idea and the confidence to push it through become difficult, and risky. We don’t want to lose the client – especially in the current environment of continual creative budget cuts – so we slit our wrists and slowly sink into that warm bath. In the meantime, because we’re now thinking and seeing commercially – this is after all, what the clients want – we’re getting more of the same kind of work, which is of course self-reinforcing. We see less raw, less personal application, and we wouldn’t want to shoot something without lights, tripod, art department touch up etc. – which of course means we don’t shoot at all outside work. That personal vision has now shrunk. What makes us better commercial service providers has in reality made us worse creatives.

I realize this only when I found earlier this year I had to force myself to shoot for practice and to make material for the weekly PS sessions; it wasn’t because I was inspired or seeing opportunities. I didn’t even photograph my two year old much. The sense of potential I used to feel when walking through an unfamiliar location or encountering great light anywhere had left: photography had become another job. This really hit home when I experienced nothing but a sense of ‘not again’ when packing for a job several months ago, and more so when I started turning down work and not bothering taking opportunities to shoot.

Perhaps it was because I had two new mistresses occupying a lot of time and headspace – Hasselblad/ DJI and designing watches – or perhaps it was because I’d changed the way I work so much, I lost sight of why I enjoyed photographing in the first place.

X1D5_B0001606 copy

If you’re getting a sense of what’s coming next – you’d be right. I feel that continuing as a commercial photographer and delivering anything less than 110% would be a disservice to my clients and a hypocrisy to myself. The same goes for teaching. It would completely kill my enjoyment of the art and probably also my ability to see; that fire is still alive, but requires some careful tending.

If anything, the last six years of doing pretty much nothing but living and breathing photography 24/7 has taught me that one cannot go full steam into a single passion without running the risk of losing context and drive; there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But I’m fortunate that I can happily say I’ve done far more than I ever expected as a professional photographer, and I’m looking forward to being an amateur photographer for more of the time, and shooting for nobody but myself. The reality is that the images that appeal to me personally and that I like, I have no commercial application or value – forget about art, that market an entire world to itself that I have no intention of doing the required things to penetrate. And in an odd way, I’ve made my peace with that. And this time, with focus spread over three rather different fields – I think I’ll actually do a better job at all of them. MT

Coda: The obvious questions from the readership are a) whether I am still shooting commercially: yes, but only with the right creative fit of commission and client; b) whether this site continues: it does, though the content and subject matter may shift as I photograph differently; c) whether my role at Hasselblad continues: it does, and the level of time and involvement of this is one of the reasons something has to give. Finally d) there’s also the watch company we set up – at www.ming.watch.

__________________

Visit the Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including workshop videos, and the individual Email School of Photography. You can also support the site by purchasing from B&H and Amazon – thanks!

We are also on Facebook and there is a curated reader Flickr pool.

Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. Way to go. You have the experience and opportunity to to do something truly your own while you continue to make a living. That’s such a rare opportunity, you’d be foolish to not take advantage of it.

  2. John Brady says:

    Ming, I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s commentary in Tom Sawyer: “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. […] There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign.”

    I hope you rediscover your love of play.

  3. Jaap Veldman says:

    Hi Ming,

    Wise decision.
    You must have been reading Dear Susan last week! 😊

    Hope to see more creative work from you in the future.
    I e.g. loved your “organic / emotional aspects of decaying industrial machines” photography.

    All the best!

    • Actually, no…I tend not to look at other photography sites these days – not enough time!

      • Jaap Veldman says:

        Post nr. 686. You can finf the text easily because your name is written in red.

        • Jaap Veldman says:

          Not finf but find

        • Actually, it’s not correct: I’m posting at the same frequency as before and I’ve never paid a cent for marketing.

          • Jaap Veldman says:

            In the article there was no statement about you paying for marketing.
            The main conclusion was that you probably were too busy with the plethora of activities.
            As a matter of fact I regarded the comments concerning you as positive.

            • “…who marketed his Web activities into all our bookmark lists.”

              No, I didn’t…wha happened was I wrote about some equipment, and the internet being the internet, it was quickly found because that’s all the internet searches for. For most people, I wonder when the last time they searched for something like ‘philosophy of photography’ vs ‘xxx review?’

              • Jaap Veldman says:

                Marketing your web activities doesn’t mean per defintion that you paid for it.
                I indeed also think people found you on the gear related articles and not on the philosophy.
                And I can imagine a remark about ‘marketing’ hurts but I’m still under the impression that
                the remarks about you were intended as positive.
                My conclusion was: ‘MT highly regarded, very full agenda, will have to make choices’.
                And a week later you wrote this article on the choices you made.
                To me that was a funny coincidence and the reason to point you towards the blog post on DS.

                • Okay, that’s clear…

                  What rings more is the irony that most people search for gear, ignore the photography parts (which is 95% of the site) and then accuse me of being an equipment whore… 😦

  4. Alex Carnes says:

    Ming – could you elaborate a little on what things you think you’d have to do to penetrate the art market? You’ve obviously thought about it, wanted it, tried it, and presumably come up against barriers you deem insurmountable. May I ask what they are?

    • It’s who you know, and which city you live in, not how good you are.

      • Your characterization of the art world is not quite correct. It is true that it is always important who you know and where you’ve been but… The art world continuously redefines what art is and where the boundaries are. There is no other definition of art but the one the art world produces. Photography has always had a difficult position and only some photographers are let in. There’s plenty of photography in contemporary art galleries but often they are taken by artists and the photo is only one face work of the artist.

        Galleries are interested in the “meaning” of a body of work in the context of the life of the artist and the history of art and the history of society. Generally speaking the work has to be part of a body of work that fits all of the above. Growing up in the art world or spending 20 years at art schools enables you to tie these things together in a convincing way. Other routes are the exception. There is also a high social and commercial risk for a gallerist when misjudging the quality of an artist.

        So there tends to be some truth in the struggling artist myth insofar that I don’t thing many/any can maintain the headspace to develop a fully fledged career as an artist whilst doing several other stimulating and demanding things. For many that emptiness headspace and single mindedness is required. You can of course naively stumble over your “thing” that fits right in to what the art world want’s and just keep doing it but it does look rare from my horizon.

        I’ve worked with the buildings (architect) of a number of international art galleries and large museum institutions that’s where my knowledge comes from.

        • “Galleries are interested in the “meaning” of a body of work in the context of the life of the artist and the history of art and the history of society. Generally speaking the work has to be part of a body of work that fits all of the above. Growing up in the art world or spending 20 years at art schools enables you to tie these things together in a convincing way. Other routes are the exception. There is also a high social and commercial risk for a gallerist when misjudging the quality of an artist.”
          Some, perhaps, but not all. 99% of the galleries I’ve spoken to are only interested in whether they can peddle a good story to the next mark. If all of these contextual elements help that, great. At the end of the day, art isn’t about art: it’s about making money. If you can’t stay in business – and make a good profit to continue the illusion that you know what you’re doing – then you’re in no position to dictate what is ‘art’.

          • 99% of the galleries I’ve spoken to are only interested in whether they can peddle a good story to the next mark… At the end of the day, art isn’t about art: it’s about making money.

            Very much agree!

            I actually had one gallery owner tell me, “Green. I don’t like green. It doesn’t go with people’s furniture.”

            I took home my magnificent tree that was “too green,” and brought him back a lovely sunset silhouetting a non-green tree. “Too many colours. People are buying taupe sofas this year.”

            So, it seems, it’s all about furniture. 🙂

            • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

              You can buy ANYTHING with money? No you can’t – you cannot buy “taste” – you cannot buy “brains” (although you can try hiring someone else who has some 🙂 ) – you cannot buy “manners”.
              So – the opinions of the people you are referring to, Jan, aren’t worth a snap of the fingers. I do appreciate that sometimes we find afterwards that their comments have been hurtful, and that it may take a few days to recover from the wounds they inflict. But in the end, they aren’t worth two cents of your time. That’s why I don’t engage in discussions with trolls, whenever they surface on sites like this.

              • The bit I can’t figure out is why people like that tend to be the opinion leaders and taste makers in society :S

                • Alex Carnes says:

                  Perhaps a case of those who shout the loudest…

                  One of the problems in the UK is the hyper left-wing agenda of pretty much every academic in the arts and humanities. Provided one’s third rate tat promulgates some crackpot Marxist agenda, shakes its fist at white heterosexual English men, is an’i eli’est, has some strange LGBTQYZH agenda, it’s art.

                • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

                  No – they merely think they are. But as the Pokemons keep reminding us, there’s too much stupid out there!

            • I think the only conclusion we can come to is: if they think they can sell it, ‘it’ doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is. If not…again, it doesn’t matter what it is. As far as art being a commentary on time/ place and society etc – I agree, but that’s probably because art that has a story that sells has a story period regardless of the original intention of the art.

  5. Ming, being an amateur is not a bad thing, since »amateur« comes from the latin word »amare« – to love …

  6. Ahh yes, the stages of a professional photographer. Do it for love. Do it for money. Try to do it for love and money. Find the love again and shoot for yourself. Do it for money too.

    The key to this is to serve one master at a time. You can indulge your inner voice that compels you to photograph, just for yourself. Or you can shoot for your clients and their needs. It’s very difficult to satisfy yourself and your client at the same time. If you try, both will be disappointed.

    I’ve been very lucky to have been able to make my living as a photographer since 1979! I’m not someone anyone has ever heard of, and I’m not well off, but I’ve supported my family, put my kids through higher education, am paying for a house, have health benefits and a retirement account. I don’t come from a wealthy family, as it seems most super successful photographers do. I’m a grinder, and I work hard at my art and craft. I’ve been much more successful than my background might have suggested I would be. And for that, I am grateful.

    Early on I tried to tie my personal vision to my client work, and like I mentioned earlier, my client and my vision were both disappointed. I never wanted to be like some of the photographers that I met on my way up, who only took out a camera when a client was waving money. What I did take away from them though was that they only served one purpose, to please the client.

    Eventually I drew a line in the sand, one side was what I did for money and the other was what I did for myself. Fortunately I have always made work just for me throughout the decades. This personal work is what has kept me in touch as to why I became a photographer in the first place. The passion I feel for the work I create for myself keeps me excited to be a photographer and feeds my client work.

    Funny thing is, in the past 15 – 20 years, the longer I’ve been in business clients have come to hire me based on my personal vision. However no matter how much a client may like my personal work they also have their own vision of what they need. My job is to collaborate with them, listen to their needs, and use my own creativity to bring my take on their vision to fruition. After all, they are paying the bill and they have something in mind. If I don’t bring it to life, they’ll look for someone who will.

    But I make no mistake about what I’m doing. No matter how much I may like a shot made on assignment for a client, it will never be a pure expression of my personal vision. The good thing is at this stage of my life is that I am not at all conflicted about who I am or what I’m doing. I haven’t ruined a great hobby by doing it for a living. Nor do I feel as if I’m compromising myself by being a problem solver for clients. I can be true to my vision and be true to my clients, but only one at a time.

    Mike

    • Very solid advice. Actually, I managed to keep the two largely separate until two things happened: 1. I started to get hired for my own vision rather than as an executor; 2. there was so much other stuff that required doing (this site, Hasselblad etc) that there was simply no more time. #1 started the blurring of the lines, and #2 killed it in the name of efficiency. Back to simplification and separation.

  7. Sounds like a wise and very reasonable decision. There are easier ways to earn a living, right? So why struggle if the passion is lacking. Though as long as you keep on publishing, someone will reach out for assignments, so you surely won’t miss out entirely. Best of luck for the next 6 years (and beyond)!

  8. Best of luck, MT. I’m sure that however you choose to change your course it will be done with prudence and based on sure knowledge of where you are and where you’re going.

  9. I know exactly how you feel and how the Business is alien to the discovery and enjoyment aspects of photography. That is why after five years i left it as a profession. I was lucky to be a lawyer. Since that I have been a Professional Amateur, it is a luxury for sure. I shoot at a professional level but for ME and family with no one over my shoulder and no time limits. So I hope you win the lottery so you can again enjoy photography.

  10. John Pangilinan says:

    I almost want to say “Congratulations”, in the hope that the commercial work that you do in the future is in line with your personal values and desires for photography. And I hope the 6 years you put in commercially has put you in a position where you can pick and choose the jobs that you want to take on, which in turn may actually improve the output of both your future personal and commercial work.

    I’m not sure how you’re able to put up with client’s demands, especially if their creative vision is completely out of whack with yours. I helped a friend of a friend with a product shoot last year, and it wasn’t my favorite experience because there wasn’t a clear vision of what was to be done, and I didn’t have much experience doing product shoots so it was hard for me to help direct the final output. But somehow we figured out something they seemed happy with, so at least it turned out well, but I can’t say I have a personal pride in any of the final images I put out. I imagine that trying to figure out what client wants, and using your skills to deliver that result is part of this commercial process though?

    • I hope so too. Oddly enough I seem to be getting more requests than ever this year, and yes, time to be a lot more picky.

      “I’m not sure how you’re able to put up with client’s demands, especially if their creative vision is completely out of whack with yours. “
      Good question: mostly by suppressing it, reminding yourself they’re paying you, and you don’t need to publicly admit to it later. Figuring out what the client wants is usually easy until they change their minds halfway through – then you have to guide them and hope they’re at least somewhat rational. Chasing payment afterwards is another thing altogether…

      • John Pangilinan says:

        Ah well perhaps there’s more of an awareness of your work over time? There’s definitely an awareness of your work on places like Flickr, Reddit, dpreview, and elsewhere from what I’ve seen.

        I’m starting to become of the opinion that commercial and passionate pursuits are two roads that sometimes intersect, but planning for one in the goal of getting the other doesn’t usually pan out in the way we want. I think what this means in this case is that doing more commercial work leads to more commercial work, but not necessarily work that we’re passionate about. But, on the flipside, doing some of the “work” work is necessary, because it can open up doors that we wouldn’t have access to if we didn’t have the resources.

        In my case, being a software dev allows me to afford glass that I probably wouldn’t be able to, had I been a photographer by profession. Hopefully 6+ years as a commercial photographer has opened up new doors, doors that you can now walk through and set aside the focus on commercial work for now.

        Regarding clients, now that you put it that way, I’m kind of glad in a way that I took on that avenue, it was more of a favor, but it did open my eyes more to the idea of shooting for others vs shooting for yourself. I know this year I’d like to get more serious about my photography, but what direction and how serious is hard for me to define, other than to keep trying different things and learning from the experience afterwards.

        Anyways, I’m looking forward to seeing where your photography goes, once you find the time for it!

        • “I’m starting to become of the opinion that commercial and passionate pursuits are two roads that sometimes intersect, but planning for one in the goal of getting the other doesn’t usually pan out in the way we want. I think what this means in this case is that doing more commercial work leads to more commercial work, but not necessarily work that we’re passionate about. But, on the flipside, doing some of the “work” work is necessary, because it can open up doors that we wouldn’t have access to if we didn’t have the resources.”
          This is true, and it’s a nearly impossible balance to keep to be honest. That said, most commercial clients stay commercial and never progress beyond that – especially in Asia.

          ‘Seriousness’ is really around having some sort of clear objective/ goal: if you don’t, then you can’t take steps to come closer to it 🙂

          • John Pangilinan says:

            It sounds like I better pick a clear goal, progress towards it and alter it later if needed!

            I think that’s why it’s important to have our financial house in order, commercial meeting our own creative needs/passions seem to be happy coincidences, and the only way I’ve found so far to focus on my own passions is to save aggressively with the goal of “buying back” my time from what would be spent at a corporation.

            I’ve been to SE/East Asia several times in the last few years, but never worked there, are you saying that companies tend to think strictly commercially, and never delve further into artistically or creatively? (i.e. results/money/business oriented)

            • “I’ve been to SE/East Asia several times in the last few years, but never worked there, are you saying that companies tend to think strictly commercially, and never delve further into artistically or creatively? (i.e. results/money/business oriented)”
              I’m saying EXACTLY that.

  11. Good. May the force be with you.
    I look forward to more of your deeply creative photographic rabbit holes once the mood takes you.

  12. …provocative…to some…who need to be provoked…gracefully articulate to all…

  13. Ming, another thought provoking post. Having only one client to please, me, has enabled me to enjoy photography for decades.

    No one has commented so far, so perhaps this is unique to me, but the second images has notable vertical banding, and something odd has happened to the last one. Are you seeing these?

  14. Very well spoken, and outstandingly artistic images!
    Make your path of life fulfilling and enjoyable! Good luck to you, Ming!

  15. You are releasing your grip on the illusion of control and following the pull of your true destiny. You will end up in the authentic art world without even trying. More importantly you will do what you are meant to do.

  16. The same goes for teaching. It would completely kill my enjoyment of the art and probably also my ability to see

    Really? I find teaching re-invigorates me, and I sometimes learn as much from students as they do from me!

    In some ways, teaching reverses the contract photography roles. You get to “give assignments,” and they are the ones who must comply with your wishes — which is hopefully driven more by a desire to see your students grow, then a need to feed your own ego.

    Another thing worth mentioning is what David Fleming calls “slack time” in his wonderful book, Lean Logic. David writes of the need to be less than fully employed, partially in order to satisfy creative needs. This means you downsize your life: live in a smaller house, upgrade your equipment less often, travel less. That way, you can afford to only work 20 hours a week if working 40 or more would compromise your creativity, and you can spend the rest of the time (for example) volunteering to take the local high school photo club on field trips.

    I’ve felt your angst many, many times, which is why I find it difficult to settle on a “career” for more than five or ten years or so. I go through periods of angst in-between, and sometimes, I’m not sure where the mortgage payment will come from, but it allows me to explore options I never even considered. Selling my own (“what I want to shoot”) photography for five years was a real eye-opener. I learned a lot about not yielding to compromise, and what that costs. These days, I get a kick out of custom-modding photo gear, probably similar to the kick you’re getting out of designing watches. But no one is really willing to pay me for it. Too bad, so sad. 🙂

    • Up to a point, yes, because it forces you to deconstruct your own philosophy and process in a way that can be explained. In doing so, you understand and refine your own methodology – a sort of minimalist reduction. However, you need to be able to complete the assignments you set, under the same conditions, and at a higher level than any of your students – otherwise you have no right to be the teacher. I’ve seen far too many cases of photography ‘teachers’ not actually shooting, which is a bit problematic for obvious reasons…

      I don’t think downsizing would help, actually. I only travel for work (i.e. no additional travel costs, though associating travel with work may not necessarily be a good thing either), fortunately the house is paid off, and equipment purchases have strict ROI rules – that, and I work for a camera company. The other thing I’ve learned is that if there’s something you want badly enough, it can be made, and inevitably there are other people who want it, too – be it camera widgets of watches. The tricky part is a) making the business case work and b) reaching the right audience. But do it right, and that too becomes self sustaining. For some odd reason this works with physical objects/ goods, but not with creative services/ images – I don’t know why. I think it may be the difficulty for most in seeing tangible value in something intangible, and not knowing how to assign a dollar sign to it.

      I find these days things come in unpleasant bursts – I’m either so busy I have no time to breathe, or there are a few hours where there’s really absolutely nothing that needs doing. And in that time you feel oddly empty and rapidly bored…not enough time to do something meaningful, but too much to sit idle.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I cannot say what it feels like to be “bored” – I tried looking it up in a dictionary, but that was just words. Boredom is one “bad” that I’ve never experienced. Swamped by too many interests, yes – frequently – but not “bored”. Ever! (Or should that be “never”? – is there a pedant in the audience? Je m’en fous, I don’t care – je suis un fromage!)

    • So glad it’s not just me having my mind blown by Lean Logic! A whole new paradigm for work. And the rest…

      • I must be missing something here. Surely living below your means is the only way you’re going to have any chance at retirement…I thought most people did this?

        • So glad it’s not just me having my mind blown by Lean Logic!

          I’m actually reading Surviving the Future at the moment: sort of a recipe book, rather than Lean Logic’s dictionary approach. And waiting for another Chelsea Green sale to pick up the latter… missed a chance to get it for 70% off!

        • Surely living below your means is the only way you’re going to have any chance at retirement…

          Fleming takes this much, much further.

          He submits that our entire civilization is “living beyond its means,” and that a crash is inevitable, and that most people’s best chance of survival is a voluntary “pre-crash,” so you’ll have the skills and knowledge to make it after a real crash. One of the ways to do that is to “get off the economy” to the greatest extent possible.

          You said you own your house free and clear. Good for you! Most people do not! So the next step might be to plant as big a garden as you can get away with, so you aren’t so dependent on food coming in on trucks.

          Sorry, I don’t mean to hijack this thread. It’s something I’m passionate about.

          • A garden might be quite difficult in a condominium 😛 But okay, I get your point…it’s a question of efficiency rather than continual consumption. Doesn’t help the entire economy is based on envy, want, malcontention, aspiring to meaningless ‘stuff’ and then showing it off…

  17. Change is inevitable. I understand what you mean about the job sucking the enthusiasm out of you, in a sense. I’m somewhat lucky : my side job occasionally requires me to take pictures (for publication) and the only reason that I get (more or less) carte blanche is because (and this is not a reflection on my skills, but on the general state of “photography” as an art form) almost nobody else at the company in question can take a decent image to save their life, and the website I shoot for depends on visually arresting images as part of its appeal. In other words, I’m the least worst option 🙂 And I’m fine with that.

    I’ve heard that more than a few well-known photographers continually state that it is critical to always do personal work as well as professional. I guess they are hinting at what you’re talking about here. Who knows – your job at Hasselblad may be the catalyst to bring back the original drive and enthusiasm…

    A somewhat skewed analogy, but : I’ve been living in Japan for almost 15 years now, and something I’m always aware of is the risk of taking it for granted. So now and then I go back to the “why” of my being here. Why did I originally come here? What was the motivation? I find that going back to that can give you back a slice of that original enthusiasm.

    In any case, Im sure I (and others) will continue to read the blog with interest.

    • I’m sure you’re a lot better than you give yourself credit for 🙂

      I was in that situation once too – de facto company photographer, but in that case, the company was simply too cheapskate to pay to hire one (though they’d spend a fortune on alcohol every week – go figure). It was fun up to the point they started expecting pro+ level work but in my own time, of course – by day (and longer) I’d still have to do the senior corporate job.

      Hasselblad: whilst being involved in the planning and design process is genuinely interesting, and testing new stuff is fun, the unspoken part – being personal customer service for every random person with a problem (usually, very angry and rude) is not…

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      ?? – you say “In other words, I’m the least worst option 🙂 And I’m fine with that.” But hang on – you shouldn’t sell yourself short or make self deprecating comments about yourself like that, Mark. It’s not good for anyone to think of themselves like that. Besides, you are shooting “visually arresting images”, which is what they want. 🙂 Clearly you stand head and shoulders above them – just smile back at them, that’s enough. (I could give lectures on the do’s and don’ts of wrecking your self-confidence. I was always unsure of myself, and it’s taken me a whole life time to deal with it. DON ‘T go down that path!)

      I’ve obviously no idea why you’re in Japan. But while you ARE there, indulge yourself. It’s one of the most photographable and interesting places on this planet. Maybe you could do a shoot with one particular camera – Fuji might be appropriate, given your location, but most of the other cams are Japanese anyway – and then persuade Ming or Robin to let you post your shots here, with a suitable description.

      • Haha, my comment was half in jest – and I’m British; self-deprecating humour is as much a part of our national character as are sarcasm and complaining about the weather.

        I know that I am actually improving as a photographer (I never stop shooting and rarely stop trying to learn new stuff, so improvement is the only real option), but it’s also good to keep one’s ego in check. Looking at photobooks by the great photographers (I have books by Nick Brandt, HCB, Steve McCurry and Salgado) serves that purpose while also inspiring me. In fact I recently bought a particular piece of gear (having sold some other gear) in order to push myself even harder (it’s a piece of equipment which is currently above my skill level, so I have to improve further to be worthy of using it).

        As for Japan, I moved here 14 and a half years ago and never looked back. You’re absolutely right with your observation that it’s a great place to photograph; I’m pretty sure Ming has a similar opinion. There’s a social aspect to it too; people seem to be less bothered about being photographed (or the non-confrontational nature of Japanese society means that they won’t make public displays of resistance to it).

        • That and you have a very cool built environment, with pockets of the traditional, nature, and some very weird results of urban decay that fall somewhere in the middle…plus the density of the place means that you don’t have to go very far to find something you’ve probably never seen (or shot) before.

  18. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    You’ve never lost your creativity, Ming, and you are now widely regarded as one of the best photographes in the world.

    But of course when you shoot for other people, it’s not about “you” – it’s about their product, and they’re paying, so of COURSE they are going to tell you what they want.

    It is also why I never considered doing as you’ve done. I was prepared to put up with “clients” when I was running my own consulting practice – and each night as I closed the office, turning that key to lock the front door was my symbol for freedom, and regaining my own life & space. Unlike a lot of other people I’ve known over the years, I NEVER took work home – either physically, to do some more after dinner – or in my head, because I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I DID stop – as soon as I turned that key. Worrying didn’t resume till I turned it the opposite direction, next door. I was iron willed about it – to protect my mental health from the unreasonable demands of people who paid my overheads and gave me my income.

    And I also learned music from the age of 9, studying eventually for some 5 years at the State Conservatorium.

    Both in my music and in my photography, I have kept pretty much to myself. My choice. Because I enjoy them. And because I don’t care for the opinions of other people about either of my favourite interests. Any more than I care for the opinions of ignorant people who think they have the right to say my dog is “vicious” or “aggressive” and should have a muzzle, when I am simply walking her quietly, on leash, around my local suburb. (The last one who said it was told “Really? – well for your information, she’s nowhere NEAR as aggressive as YOU appear to be!”

    Perhaps I lack your moral courage Ming. I’ve never been remotely interested in taking that last step, and turning my loves of either music or photography into something exposed to the public, and all its opinions. I did it with my consulting work instead, and protected my real interests from that aspect of human behaviour.

    Sorry to run on like this – just before I saw your post, I saw a post about a well known and popular figure – and after the article and a couple of photos of him, the comments – every single one of which was written by a rude, ignorant, spiteful troll.

    • Impossible to have that separation now. Clients call at all hours demanding all sorts of things, and if you say no, they’ll go elsewhere to somebody who won’t – this is modern business, I think, and not just limited to photography. It’s a competitive world, and we have to do what we have to do to survive. I do believe that there needs to be better segregation between personal and professional, but boy oh boy do the lines become blurred when you really care. I suppose it’s like dating a colleague or working with your spouse…good and bad gets amplified tenfold.

      “I saw a post about a well known and popular figure – and after the article and a couple of photos of him, the comments – every single one of which was written by a rude, ignorant, spiteful troll.”
      Sad, but true: the internet somehow manages to bring out the nasty in people. I have no idea why. Doesn’t normal social behaviour dictate you be polite to unfamiliar people and only make sarcastic jokes when you know the other person won’t misinterpret them (or you) wrongly?

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I must be a maverick then – that consulting business was a partnership between me and a very nice lady, over 10 years younger than me – we no longer have the business, but we still have each other – I fell in love with her and married her! 🙂 (And there’s no “bad”! – it’s all good 🙂 )
        For me, the attraction of photography groups is that they are people with a common interest, sharing their knowledge and experience, trying to improve their skill set and their photos. There is no space in them for trolls. I was raised on the principle that if you haven’t anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything. But I do use sarcasm occasionally – to burn off people with no manners, mostly.

        • Similar story here, though we worked for one of the big three (after which frankly I lost all respect for that business for so many reasons) and I left first because I’d either become her boss, or be permanently doomed to foreign assignments and weekly travel.

          “For me, the attraction of photography groups is that they are people with a common interest, sharing their knowledge and experience, trying to improve their skill set and their photos. There is no space in them for trolls.”
          Actually, this is a good point. Sites that are about gear are full of trolls and no pictures, and generally the opposite is also true…

        • I was raised on the principle that if you haven’t anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything.

          I used the “Mom’s reading” rule. I go back and re-read, pretending I’m my Mom. Does what I’ve written make her proud? Or does it make her cringe? Then go back and edit. 🙂

Thoughts? Leave a comment here and I'll get back to you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: