I think it's human nature to consider life in temporal chunks. The work week. The fiscal year. The semester. Overtime. The day rate. Etc. We create plans and goals and we set times and dates for their undertaking and their completion. If the project isn't tied to a paycheck the likelihood of getting it done on time (or ever) is less likely than the projects we plan for clients.
At the end of every year I like to sit down at my desk and review what I've done in the past year. I go through the receipts for the paying work because they are a good trigger for my memory of exactly what I shot and how the jobs went. I look at the jobs that weren't as much fun and factor that into my plans going forward. I look at the jobs I really enjoyed and try to plan ways to work with clients to create more like them. At the end of the invoice exercise I look at what I got paid versus the time and energy the job took, and just how profitable each job was when I consider the trade of time for money. I almost always resolve to raise my fees the next time around.
But the most valuable exercise for me is to look back and try to gauge whether or not I made creative work for myself that I really liked. Work that might end up in my portfolio, or on my blog site of the top 100 portraits I like best. This is the category that usually causes little tickles of sadness because I usually end up trading out the time and energy I need for personal portrait projects to take paying assignments instead. Some years the tickles of sadness are more like sharp jabs in the ribs.
While 2015 was a wonderful year in which to pursue client projects and make good money it was a fallow year for personal projects, for great portraits and for a sense of artistic well being and accomplishment.
But that's what today's introspective exercise is all about. Reviewing all the work (person and professional) helps to show me where things have become out of balance, and it gives me a fighting chance of righting the listing ship before the whole thing capsizes and everything just goes to hell.
There are so many excuses. I keep waiting on edge to jump in a be a dutiful son as my parents age and become less independent. I'm reticent to trade the opportunity to do paying work for the time to do personal work because I worry that the cash flow machine that funds the boy's college adventures will grind to a halt at the wrong time. With Belinda having worked downtown for most of the year I'm torn sometimes by.......the idea of leaving Studio Dog alone for long periods of time. (To dog lovers that will make perfect sense, to non-dog people that will seem insane).
But all of the things I've listed are just excuses. If you are passionate to get something done you can work to create the space and time to do the work. I seem to always make time to swim but I rationalize that it seems harder to find people to photograph now that general interest in photography seems to have waned these days. The glamor seems to have melted away from the portrait process when the newness and mystery of it dissipated like fog in the sunlight.
The exercise of seeing where I've been and figuring out where I want to go is bountiful because it reminds me of the power of intentions. If I intend to stay in good shape then I usually find a way (and the time) to do so. If I intend to be more profitable I tend to find pathways (consciously and unconsciously) to get there. When I find an area where I've fallen down I learn to look past the excuses I've made and look to see where my intentions were. Was it comfort over risk? Am I using all the easy excuses to hide the fact from myself that everything worth doing has it's own momentum?
My desire for 2016 is to totally refresh my vision of what a photographic portrait is. My intention is to experiment with the process, the lighting and the subjects with much more passion. To do so means working on my collaborative skills; not just in working with portrait subjects, but also in finding people who help serve as conduits between me and potential models.
We all tend to get tunnel vision when we work from a place of fear or nervous apprehension. My block last year was mostly about being sure I made the money to make the wheels of family life turn. Making sure to fund retirement accounts (because the reality of aging was made more real and clear to me) as well as to invest wisely for new ventures (because too much reading on the web had me believing that imaging was a "dying" industry). And in some sense, replenishing the accounts that got punished by the economic collapse of 2007-2011.
I did a good job with those anxiety driven goals and I think I've proven to myself that there is still a rich market for all kinds of commercial imaging (still photography, video and combinations of all media). I've come to grips better with the relentlessness of our individual demise. The thing that sticks in my craw is all the lost opportunity of shooting portraits for myself last year.
So the culmination of today's work/art/life meditation is the understanding that an artistic goal is like the "object" in the physics lesson; an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. My intention to create new work has to be translated into the unbalanced force that creates momentum (inertia) for the object = goal. It's a psychological re-understanding of the law of inertia.
It's also good to understand that objects in motion continue to stay in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Momentum with no decay or entropy only happens in a vacuum. In real life physical objects are acted upon by gravity and friction. It's good to identify what constitutes "gravity and friction" in your creative practice and be on guard to offset the effects by adding more energy to whatever it is you intend to do. In other words, you can't just depend on getting the creative passion ball rolling and then presuming it will keep on rolling without your active intervention. You may have to re-group in order to push the ball up a steep hill or two. But, if you want to make your own art you really do have to grapple with the psychological laws of conservation.
It's all a matter of balance. Add up all the minutes you spend randomly checking your cellphone screen or tablet for new e-mail or texts, add that to all the boring TV shows you watch in the evening, and all the inefficiencies that slide into our days and you'll likely find you do have the time to get everything you need done. You just need to add the intention and the energy. And a goal.
More challenging portraits in 2016. Your goals may be different.