2017 was a hard year and for many reasons beyond the current events taking place back home. This year my family has known many new, good, hard, beautiful and strange situations that can only be summed up (what I feel any way) in photos. We travelled and we cried, we laughed and we grew... but we never lost faith in ourselves and our abilities to make sound but risky decisions.
This year began with the affirmation that it was time to leave our beloved home and is ending with a question... where do we go from here? I had hoped that Denmark would bring us more answers than questions but, living life is mostly about acquiring knowledge and the best way to gain new knowledge is to continue to ask questions you hope to answer... eventually.
When I graduated high school, many years ago, I succumbed to monumental failure. I entered a rather prestigious art school and had to eventually leave for many reasons... mostly because of my inability to work for the answers to questions I had accumulated in my youth. I felt that, in my leaving, I brought with me the large burden that is loosing faith. And not only loosing faith in myself but having faith lost in me by other people.
Since then I have felt both a little lost and ambitious to regain that faith. To prove to the world and to me that I can do anything I set my mind to... that I am not like the person I was or like the people around me, that I am a little more determined and unique in my drive now.
When young photographers ask me about my career I try to be positive and honest with them without giving away too much of the painful reality. That choosing to take on the challenges of being a full-time artist requires a lot of stubborn ambition as well as a lot of, sometimes, false self-promotion. There is no success earned that doesn't deserve a place online. But how does one determine actual success? Is it fame? Is it gobs of expendable income? Is it diamond rings and fancy new cars? Is it the ability to go out every night drinking and partying? Is it children? New homes? Is it moving to a foreign land? Instagram likes? Or is it simply finding happiness and pride in yourself? Can we gauge our success alone? Or is it determined by what we can post on the internet?
I think, of all the lessons I have learned in this new year, the most valuable has been that my life's worth and the quality of my life's work is not based solely on how it is received by social media... But rather how I feel when I send it out into the world. For every image I post online and every painting I make, every story I tell and every friend I meet… I feel an immense sense of pride for who I am. These things rarely bring me lots of money, maybe my photos bring me enough to live off of, but rarely do they ever bring me so much that I can advertise “making a 6-figure income.” But I can advertise a fulfilling joy, a satisfaction with myself and a willingness to be a good friend to anyone that wants one.
And I argue that most of the photographers out there selling workshops and videos for making such an income don't actually make the money they claim. It’s a tough, soul-crushing, agonizing life to strive to be the next “top wedding photographer”… to be the next top anything photographer really… it makes you cynical and critical, rough around the edges and hungry for attention… but rarely does it ever bring you the riches many of the great online photography marketers tell you it will.
This is true for any creative field really… there are a lot of people making a lot of money off of folks quitting their stable jobs to be “artists” because there are that many people in the world who are unhappy with their 9-5 lives. But if you could go back in time and talk to any of the great artists in history, they would tell you that their ability to move forward in their careers came from being willing to form crucial relationships with people who wanted to help them. They did not do it alone.
So choose that path wisely, go into it firmly and never stop thanking the people that have helped you make it to each and every step above the one you were just at. Instead of taking calculated photos for Instagram and your newest blog to gain superficial “followers”, just take photos of what you like and make a real following of loved ones. Be what you like, do what you like, work hard and good things will come your way in any field you pick. Who you really are, underneath that online picture of yourself, will come out whether you want it to or not and that person will be the person to reap the benefits (or disappointments) of your choices.
As we go into a new year, I’ve tried to remember to be as thankful as possible to everyone that has helped us get here… even though “here” hasn’t been as idyllic as I originally thought. A lot of my time spent living in Denmark has been working harder than I have ever worked in my entire life… relying selflessly on people that have only really known me for a few days or weeks and repaying them with my heart… not doubting myself or my artistic abilities and refusing to waiver from my stylistic approach in photography or art making just because everyone else has been. It has also been a real test in humility and being willing to humble myself in order to acclimate to a new culture… pushing myself out of my comfort zone to find that just outside this circle lies a plethora of wonderful people who are so worth having in my life… it’s just magic.
So thank you to everyone out there that reads my rambling, emotional words and looks at my images with positivity… you are the reason I can still make it through a day without wanting to quit and go home. Thank you to my ever-supportive family and friends for sending me messages of love and support almost daily, you keep me going and are helping me realize that I am not worthless in a place where I continue to remain unemployed no matter how diligently I work at finding a job. Thank you to the Danes for having a life and a place that drives me to work harder than I’ve ever worked so I can stay in it…. even if only for a few years (please employ me!). Thank you to my beautiful daughter for finding joy and happiness in this new place making it easier on me and Aaron and giving us a reason to train dogs, send out dozens of applications and walk miles on end for a single photo just to break even. And, most especially, thank you Aaron my wonderful husband for being endlessly supportive…. I hope that the new year brings us both the peace and accomplishment we so crave.
Happy New Year to us all.