It was a surprisingly brisk, dew-drenched morning that brilliantly reflected the golden California sunshine up into my face as I walked down to the barn for morning chores. With the dogs playing at my heels, I opened the warped, wooden barn door and was immediately greeted by a bouquet of fresh straw and the sight of dozens of young lambs beginning their routine stretches in the morning and preparing for a day full of frolicking and playing king of the hill on the resident straw pile. As I rationed out flakes of alfalfa, fresh scoops of molasses soaked grain, and scrubbed and filled water buckets to the cleanliness standards of a surgery center, I would always take a second to relax and enjoy the sight and expectations of this year’s lamb crop that we would sell to 4-H and FFA members across the State.
As usual, my mom was right there with me, helping me do chores, formulate the best nutritional rations for our ewes, and just chat about what we were seeing. An accomplished horse trainer, she had a certain way of life that just exuded knowledge about the blending of livestock and life. Little did I know, this everyday meeting would be different.
My mom and I started evaluating the year’s lamb crop and talking about what direction we wanted to go when purchasing rams and ewes to help improve our flock for next year. After several back and forth exchanges on viewpoints, I decided to win this argument once and for all, “knowing” I was right. I mean, I was a teenager after all. I exclaimed “We have to go to Berry’s Farm to purchase stock from him, he’s the most popular person right now, and he’ll help us become popular breeders too.” Taking a second to think of a response, she replied “But Scott, You don’t even like his stock or style.” I thought to myself in all my infinite teenage wisdom that it didn’t matter, I wanted to get customers, and I wanted notoriety in the show ring. What came next was a lesson beyond the barn.
“You see, every day you and I wake up at sunrise and come out here to the barn to feed, water, and complete all the chores that are needed. We’re up at 2 am just to check on the health of our ewes who we are expecting to lamb, and we are out here till sunset practicing. We’ve had a lot of great memories in this barn…and a lot of heart breaks too. Whether its freezing or 110 degrees, we are out here working with our only company being the sheep.” At this point, I have to guess my eyes were beginning to roll, but that’s when she got right to the point. “You can’t go chasing after the trends. With all this work, you have to like what’s in the barn.”
In other words, when you are giving all that you are to your work, you better enjoy the taste of the fruit of your labor the most. Even if no one else appreciates it, you need to. Now how does this lesson in the barn have anything to do with photography? It’s quite simple, as most important things truly are.
As artists, we often thrive on positive affirmation to validate our worth as photographers. There’s nothing wrong looking for positive feedback, in fact, it is always appreciated. However, as a creative I can place too much emphasis on the feedback and too little of it on creating art that inspires me and makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I desperately want to please my clients beyond their expectations, but I ultimately want to do that by becoming an inspired and fulfilled photographer ,who, by creating work that he enjoys, overflows that joy to my clients. After all, my clients hire me for who I am, not just my work. I can’t enter into that place of creative Zen without first creating images I love. And in reality, if I don’t love my images, how can I expect anyone else to?
I’m reminded of the contrasting lifestyles of Howard Roark and Peter Keating in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. One created for the pure joy of creating things that he enjoyed, and the other was too consumed with creating what others wanted and neglected creating work that inspires his heart. Keating found temporary notoriety and success, while Roark found fulfillment and ultimately great unnecessary fame.
I’ve been realizing a few things lately, with the first being that I need to create for myself. I sat down to coffee with a good friend and heart the other day, and he said something that has stuck with me. “Scott, skill wise you can technically pull off any photograph you want, but what I want to see is YOU in the photograph.” He didn’t mean a literal “YOU.” I mean, who would want to see that? My morning sit up routine involves the transition of my bed to my espresso machine. What he advised was a creation of art that demonstrated who I am and my heart in every image by simply creating art that I enjoyed and made me happy.
So that’s my goal. I’m going to be removing the “comment” section of my blog page simply because I’m the type of person who chases after affirmation too much. I want to focus on only one thing, creating artwork that inspires me and, in turn, inspires my clients beyond what they could ever image.
As the memory of dew and the smell of fresh straw fill my nose and heart while I drink my morning espresso, I sit down to edit my latest photographs with one thing in mind…I have to like what’s in the barn, even if no one else does. If I stay true to that idea, hopefully I find people that like what is in my barn too.
This post wouldn’t be complete without several embarrassing pictures of me growing up, but hey, I’m not ashamed because it was a life I enjoyed in the barn. Don’t ask about the hats and ties…I had to wear them