As we come to the end of this amazing year, it’s time to reflect on the past and to make plans for the future. I feel fortunate to have had another year of success in photography and business, and am looking forward with a sense of optimism and freedom. As an independent artist I am fortunate to be able to pursue any avenue I can make sustainable. This year, I’m markedly moving my focus toward the creation and business of art, and I think there’s a good case for anyone in a creative field to start moving in this direction as well. Here’s why.
1. Personal Vision – There is really only one reason that I feel able to justify selling my work to private collectors or commercial institutions at a rate that affords a sustainable lifestyle. That reason? Personal Vision. If I can’t bring something unique and captivating to the table throughout my career, I’m just a commodity, easily replaced by a cheaper version. But if I’m in a constant process of refining a truly personal view of the world, then I’m the only one who can create the work that I create. Refined art from the soul is irreplaceable and has immense value.
2. Creative Freedom – If Personal Vision is the end, Creative Freedom is the means. As I look back on my body of work after three years as an independent artist, much of the work that speaks to me most strongly was created in the days before I had steady commercial work. It was created when I was on missions of exploration, self funded and self driven. I’ve had the good fortune to have collaborated with some fantastic, creative people at some great companies in the recent years, but one approaches the creative process differently when there is a defined deliverable and there’s cash on the table. My current mode is one of hunger to get back to a state of pure exploration, literally and artistically. From this wellspring comes my energy, my vision and my sustenance.
3. Safety – The wilderness can be a harsh and unforgiving place. Survival requires preparation, luck and a great deal of clarity. There are a lot of people who have merged the worlds of commercialism and adventure. There are big dollars attached to many a life-or-death pursuit in the outdoors. Projects built on this foundation are in danger of lacking that critical element of clarity that makes long term survival possible. I intend to continue to explore the rugged and remote places of the world, but my aim is to keep my plans liquid, my goals artistic and to place the safety of myself and my partners at the pinnacle. When creating art, the experience, whatever that may be, is the destination. When working on assignments, ‘success’ is the destination. I seek to create art.
4. Longevity – Hardcore adventuring in the mountains with professional camera gear is a young person’s game. I train hard to keep up with the athletes I shoot, while carrying more gear and covering the same technical terrain. For the time being, this is a viable pursuit for me, but there will come a time when I can no longer hang with the fast kids. It’s just life. If my entire identity as a photographer is based on this foundation, then my career is a ticking time bomb. On the other hand, if my foundation is one of unique artistic vision, I can apply the vision to infinite subjects and it can evolve with me as my interests and skills change.
5. Permanence – If you’re in any way involved in the creation of content these days, whether it’s photography, writing or making cat videos, you have probably experienced disappointment around the fact that a piece of work that cost you blood, sweat and tears to create is just an infinitesimal blip on the screen. It will invariably be replaced almost immediately by the next photo, story or cat video with some mass appeal. This is neither the fault of the content consumer, nor the next creator who bumps your content out of the spotlight. It’s just the nature of a world wherein we have access to an unending stream of amazing work. But this impermanence has limits. Printed art beautifully displayed tends to stay put. Incredible photography books are not frequently replaced. Museums do not rotate their exhibits at the whim of an algorithm. Work that is elevated above the concept of ‘content’ and respected as art has a chance of leaving a lasting impression. I seek to chisel my way into this pantheon as I continue to refine my craft.
This is my framework for creating a lasting legacy. I’m interested to hear what you’re doing in your craft to play the long game and to stay engaged and relevant throughout your career. Holler in the comments, I can’t wait to hear your game plans.