Hard work stands as the highest virtue for our society. In the past, people could contemplate the example set by saints as a guide to virtuous behaviour. Today, our ‘enlightened’ society has secular equivalents. Bezos, Musk, and Zuckerberg.
If we work hard, make sacrifices, and maintain our focus, we just might be next in line for canonisation. The chance of this happening is slim. The fantasy of imminent ascension to Silicon Valley sugar-coats a bitter truth – the marketplace now demands more of us for less. We all now work hard just to survive. My parent’s generation was probably the last in the western world who really did have the opportunity to live better than their parents.
While my talent appears to be of value, the opportunity to exercise it is attenuated by the marketplace.
There are many reasons why this situation has come to be, however I’m not going to discuss them. I want to talk about the deleterious effect the constant cycle of hard work has on me. The only thing I feel I have to offer that is not easily replicated is talent. A talent for both words and pictures. While my talent appears to be of value, the opportunity to exercise it is attenuated by the marketplace. Content, both written and photographic, must sit within narrow parameters. Our culture claims it wants originality, but few will pay for it. Paradoxically, the talent that lands me a gig starts to atrophy through lack of exercise.
After a hard work week, the last thing I want to do is create just for myself. I’d rather hit the bottle, watch Netflix, or find some other way to medicate against an unpalatable truth. I’m not being true to the creative voice within me. I’m worried that if I continue to ignore it, the voice will no longer call out to me. It will eventually abandon me, and I’ll be an empty vessel.
Against this cheerful background, I sat down to eat lunch in the kitchen at work. My colleague, a photographer himself, sat opposite me. He had just relinquished his expensive camera to save money. A not uncommon strategy in cash strapped times. He expressed misgivings that he was not out shooting photos on the weekend. I felt a blush of shame. I have access to three camera bodies, a GoPro sports camera, and my phone, yet I shoot very little. I write even less.
After a hard work week, the last thing I want to do is create just for myself. I’d rather hit the bottle, watch Netflix, or find some other way to medicate against an unpalatable truth.
My work mate decided he’d obtain a cheaper camera, one that would not be a financial burden on him. We both made a pact to take more photos from now on. The first step on the road to my creative renaissance was a week ago. I rarely use my long lens, because when I do take photos, my camera is encased in a waterproof housing while I freedive, and only the smaller lens will fit. I carefully removed the zoom lens from its bubble wrap, and attached it to the camera body. Where would I go to take photos?
I let the question hang until it metastasised into full blown procrastination. I did not feel like driving anywhere. I was unshaven and my appearance unkempt. Tracksuit pants, an almost thread bare pullover, and a shabby beanie my attire. It would be easier to fall back into a stupor, let another weekend pass with nothing to show for it. I chose the hard option. I did not shower or change. I climbed into my car and drove to Berowra Waters, north east of Sydney.
I parked the car and wandered the marina between the café and the ferry. I felt sorry for the well-groomed families sitting at the café tables, the Sunday ambience upset by my shambling form on the dock below them. I knew I looked like a homeless person, and they’d politely avert their gaze when I looked back up at them. I was desperate to capture one of the million-dollar motor yachts with my camera. My long lens however prevented me from composing a wide enough shot. The scenery was cramped and busy. I decided to go home.
It would be easier to fall back into a stupor, let another weekend pass with nothing to show for it. I chose the hard option.
Hang on, If I was being paid to capture an image, I would not be going home, I’d get something. Sullenly I walked over to the kayaks for hire and sat down beside them, carefully avoiding all the bird shit on the dock. That’s it, birds! I made myself sit still until a local avian approached me.
A seagull fell into dark water south of me, the obsidian surface momentarily cracked. As it regained composure, I framed the shot.
A duck, red eye aflame within an emerald head glided past. It is shadowed by a faded twin. The mirror universe version of itself. I changed exposure.
Another seagull, just to the north of me. I twisted around and zoomed in. It strutted on the upturned hull of a kayak. Blue spill tinted its belly, giving the common bird an exotic sheen. I adjusted my shutter speed.
Birds came and went, doing their bird things. My battery went flat. I had sat on the dock for almost two hours. It felt like twenty minutes. I swapped batteries but discovered I had neglected to charge my spare. I’m rusty. A little out of shape, but no longer completely out of shape.
I returned home and left the images on the camera. A week of responsibility passes before I get to them. This brings me to this weekend. I sort the images, discard the not quite good enough and sit down to write a story to accompany them. This story.
Do you feel talentless? You do have talent, you’re just not making space for it. My hack is to just sit down and do something. I know, it’s hard, but don’t prepare. If you hate what you’re doing after twenty minutes, stop. Go back and watch Netflix.
If you manage to scratch your creative itch, you’ll keep going. Do it once a week and you’ll soon amass a body of work to be proud of. Writing, photography, cooking, gardening… anything creative.