Why Personal Work is the Most Important Work and Ways to Accomplish It.
Let what you see ignite the fire within your soul. See beauty in the mundane.
How I started photographing Ballerinas
There are a million reasons why I stopped dancing. And not one of those reasons included me not loving dancing anymore. I loved it. I still love it. Being in a studio, feeling the resistance of Marley flooring under my ballet slippers, the pliability of my legs as I bent into plies and controlled them in and out of a battement gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I knew the strength it took to execute these movements that look so beautiful from afar, the attention to each and every muscle down to the muscles in your toe to be the right level of precision you had to have even in a piece that looked easy and mellow. Then being on the stage, the lights bright and hot, the pomp and circumstance of waiting for an audience to take their seats, listening to the chatter, hearing them clap at the “right” moments, and taking the adrenaline from it all to have energy behind every movement for every show. It was exhilarating. It was the best feeling. But in the end, I did stop dancing, and it was the healthy and right thing for me. And yet, I couldn’t let go of it completely.
When I started to really think of photography as something I could do to make a living, I knew that I needed to photograph dancers. It was just something I never questioned until I got more involved in the wedding industry, and it was something I circled back to fairly quickly. I spent a few years doing all the wedding styled shoots, trying to pad my portfolio with only the things that I thought would bring weddings and bring clients and encourage vendors to look at my work. Finally, I met a mentor who encouraged me to bring my ballet work back into my life.
I began to create a series photographing dancers. I wanted to show the strength, the lines, the incredible precision that each dancer brings to the table. I wanted to create pieces that allowed for the movement to be felt by the audience. I didn’t want to create something that was merely pretty.
I didn’t set out to photograph ballet dancers because it was pretty or trendy, I did it as a way to connect with a part of myself I felt was drifting away.
This project is part of my personal work, which, in my opinion, is the most important thing you can possibly do for yourself as an artist.
Why Do Personal Work?
Personal work can bring us closer to who we truly are as artists and farther from copying the works of other people. It allows us to feel ready when we get in front of a paid client, to see things we may not have seen before and to experience situations that may be difficult to maneuver.
It’s not about going viral or padding your portfolio or creating work that can pass as paid work. It’s about creating work that means something to you or challenges you or allows you to grow and experiment. It’s about creating a ritual, a consistent practice that gets you in the mindset of creativity.
When we, as artists, pledge to create work, we often wait for the “muse” to inspire us. We think of our art as something that comes to us, not something we create. I used to believe this as well. I used to believe it, that is until I read books by Elizabeth Gilbert and Twyla Tharp and Seth Godin among others. And they all shared one similar idea. The Muse doesn’t come to us. We create our own inspiration through doing the work, through sitting down to write or take a photograph or paint on a consistent basis. Maybe that’s every day, maybe that’s every week, maybe it’s creating a series and executing it as much as possible. By doing these practices consistently, we bring inspiration out of ourselves.
So How do we start?
Personal work has to come from you, first and foremost. A good place to start is always looking inward. Think about what sparks you, where you come from, what makes your perspective on the world unique. That’s the best place. For me, ballet dancers were people I could never stop being inspired by. I had a poster on my wall from when I was a little girl, and I don’t remember a time not loving the lines of this ballerina in arabesque on a ripple of water. Ballet was fused to me like hot glue on the skin. I couldn’t shake it. That’s how personal it always has been.
Read a lot. Read all the things. At one point in time, I will be in the middle of 3 or 4 books. I have an audiobook for when I’m working with my hands, doing laundry or cooking or cleaning or doing the dishes, I have an art book, a business book, and a fictional book. I will work through all of those a few pages at a time in order to keep the reading going. I try to have a book on my phone so that when I pick it up to check social media, I read instead. It doesn’t always happen, but this is my strategy.
Ideas for Personal Work
A Frame a Day
• Could be nature
• Inanimate objects around your house (I once photographed the connection between the tray and seat on my son’s high chair)
• Your kids
• Your pets
Create a series (mine was ballerinas) and keep it going throughout your career
Set up the same shoot several times and photograph it in different ways
Create prompts for yourself
Don’t Be afraid to keep it simple
All you need is a subject, yourself, and your camera.
Check back for separate posts that will highlight each image, how I created it, and what it taught me in my photography career.