At the end of 2010, after further considering some of my goals for 2011, I realized that I had developed a number of action items without having a strong sense of the values and motivations behind them. It was easy to say I wanted to read one book per week, write one blog post per week, complete one photo shoot per month for my personal portfolio, etc. Why? Why do I want to accomplish these tasks/projects? What is my motivation? I decided to take a step back and consider some of my values that were driving my goals for the new year. In that process I developed a number of themes that will guide my goals, tasks, projects, and the kind of jobs that I am willing to take on. Here is the quick list: Generosity, Collaboration, Relationship, Courage, Remarkability, Non-Conformance.
Last year, as I was getting my business started, I worried a lot about generating enough income to support my family and pay the bills. I began to view ideas and opportunities through the lens of financial profitability. I began to view my time as money. My vision began to succumb to economic demands. There is no doubt I need to give due consideration to my finances. I need to earn income in order to stay in business. However, I got my priorities flipped around. I was beginning to lose sight of the reason I decided to pursue photography as my vocation in the first place.
I have a vision for my work, and part of my vision is to give the gift of story through photography (and other forms of media such as video, audio, web). I desire my art to bless people, challenge people, and produce positive change in the world. I desire to serve people; both my clients, as well as the people who view my work. As my vision was developing, never did I think to myself, "I want to bless people, challenge people, and produce positive change in the world...but only if I make loads of money while I'm at it!" So why was I approaching my art through the filter of financial gain? Why was I rejecting some creative pursuits if I didn't anticipate that they would earn me income? Why was I accepting some creative pursuits that would earn income but fell out of line with my vision? Again, my priorities got flipped around. It was time to refocus my vision and my values.
I love people. I love the world in which I live. I believe that love is a prerequisite to truly being generous (thanks to David Sacks for reminding me of this). I'm slowly learning to love people better. Financial concerns often get in the way of truly loving people, and thus truly being generous. So this coming year and beyond, I have refocused my heart and mind to consider my art through the filter of generosity (and love). My business and financial sustainability will be taken care of in the process.
I don't create art in a vacuum. I can't create art in a vacuum. When I do, my art suffers. Collaboration is one way in which I can spur growth in my work and in the work of others. This value/theme, along with every other one that I listed above, relates back to generosity. Through collaboration, I have the opportunity to give generously to those with whom I am working. Each of us working in collaboration have the opportunity to give generously to one another. My work will be better. My friends' work will be better. The people who view our art will be better off. And we'll all have a lot more fun! Additionally, through collaboration I will be able to develop deeper relationships and foster a more vibrant community.
One of my passions is to see stronger communities of artists developed locally, regionally, and internationally. Stronger community is built through stronger relationships, one person at a time. This also relates back to generosity and my love for people, and by developing more meaningful relationships with people, (clients, collaborators, photography subjects, the people who view my art) I will hopefully be a blessing to them, and ultimately encourage more positive change in the world. I don't want my art to be an impersonal communication to other people. Hopefully my art, both the process and the finished works, will bring me into deeper relationship with people, and bring people into deeper, healthier relationship with those around them. Whether humanitarian/travel work on the other side of the world, or portrait work in my studio, I love the opportunity to engage people, to get to know them, to learn from them, and to hear their stories. Building relationships with others is a fundamental part of my creative process.
Courage takes many forms, and it is a process for me to develop greater courage in all situations. What are some ways I need my courage to grow? I need to have the courage to succeed. I need to have the courage to fail. I need to have the courage to try new things. I need to have the courage to step out of my comfort zone. I need to have the courage to go against the flow (see non-conformance below). I need to have the courage to engage my subjects on a deeper level rather than simply capturing an image. I need to have the courage refrain from taking an image when it does not affirm the dignity and honor of an individual or culture. I need to have the courage to persevere through hard times (business, creative, relational, spiritual). I need to have the courage to do the hard things. I need to have the courage to love well and truly be generous.
Our culture celebrates mediocrity. Our schools train us to follow the rules, to fit in, to go with the flow. Many of our jobs reward conformity. Many photographers are happy simply to create an average image or be inspired by (i.e. copy) great photographers' work. Those who strive to be remarkable are in the minority. I want to be in the minority. I want to defy mediocrity. I want to always pursue excellence and remarkability. On a related note, I'm not interested in perfection. Perfection is for the machines and trained monkeys. Those who are remarkable are too busy creating, failing, experimenting, challenging the status quo, and creating their own map. People who create their own map aren't perfect, but they are often remarkable.
I'm not interested in rocking the boat just for the sake of doing it. I'm also not interested in rejecting the status quo simply to stand out. Non-conformance is important to me because I don't want to simply follow the crowd. I don't want to jump off the cliff because everyone else is doing it. I don't want to follow the same map that everyone else is. I want to chart my own course. I want to create my own map. I want to be myself.
Along with just about everyone else in our culture, I have been trained to conform. I have been taught the same recipe for success. I have been told what the American dream looks like and that I am supposed to pursue it. I say that's bull. What kind of life is that? There has to be more than simply the formula that someone else came up with. There has to be more than doing what everyone else is already doing. Non-conformance is important to me because my life will look differently than everyone else's. I'm out to find it, discover it, create it. I would encourage you to do the same.
Thus endeth the short list of some of my values that will guide me in 2011 and beyond. I have other values, some that are even more fundamental than the ones listed above. Perhaps I will write about some of them at some point. However, I think this is a good list to get me started and help me pursue, and remain faithful to, my vision as a photographer...well, simply as a human. Thoughts? Reactions? Values that guide you as a photographer, artist, human? I would love to hear about them.