Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. New York. August 2012.
Today marks 100 days.
I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety and how that fuels the creative process to an artist. How in particular, anxiety affects me and how it effects me creating my art.
I only create art, or I should say, good art, when I am anxious.
I dont suffer anxiety or panic attacks but I get very anxious. I am a feeler. My art is an entire emotional reaction to whatever I am feeling at that present moment.
The biggest thing I have learnt in my journey in becoming a photographer, a creative and an artist, is learning to pay attention to myself and learn about my peculiar personality traits. Learning about what makes me anxious, what makes me stressed.. most importantly what makes me feel. The best advice I could give to someone starting out, is learn to pay attention to who you are, to how you feel, to why you react. The how and the why are so important.
I remember a few years ago, so many photographers where giving out the advice “just be yourself” and you will find success. It’s true. It is perfect advice. But what happens if you do not know who the hell you are?
I was one of these people. I had no idea who I was. I know the things I liked and did not like. But I was not very good at knowing myself. I can place labels on myself. Labels are easy. I can place a thousand different labels on me but still not have much of an idea of who I am. I found in my search in trying to find myself as an artist, I had to move beyond the labels I had placed on myself. I learnt it has more to do with what defines you, through what makes you feel and what and why it makes you react.
A few years ago, going back to 2009 mostly, my business was the most busiest it has ever been. I photographed 60 weddings that year and basically did everything in house. I edited all 60 weddings and designed all the wedding albums to go with it. As you could probably imagine I was a busy person and as a result I was emotionally dead inside. Working 80 hours a week will do that to you. I really do not recommend it.
I was saving to buy a house. I was so proud I bought a house at 25 years of age all with my own hard earned money. I am still proud of that achievement, kind of, but it was stupid of me to buy that home. I put it on the market only 18 months after I bought it. I lost a far chunk of money on that house because I wanted it out of my life so badly. Why the hell did I feel the need to buy a house so badly at age 25? Why was I valuing material procession over experience and adventure? I would now choose the latter any day.
I remember thinking at the end of 2009 that I was the most uncreative person alive. I was completely burnt out as an artist, leaving me emotionally dead and completely drained. I was working on auto pilot mode. I was trying to find short immediate solutions to the problem, but I had no idea what the problem was. I was not really paying attention to myself. I just knew I was not happy and my creativity had all dried up.
It was only when I began to travel on a regular basis that things started to come a lot more clear. It is obvious to me now why this is so, because I actually stopped working for once. I created adventure, I broke my routine and allowed myself the down time, to read books, enjoy being outside without guilt, immerse myself in new cultures, hang out with friends, meet new people, putting myself in uncomfortable situations.
Little by little, it all started to unravel and make sense to me. Creativity does not come when I am stressed and consumed in the mundane runnings of a full time business. Creativity does not live there. Creativity lives and grows when your mind is allowed to wonder and explore. Creativity comes to me when I am in some state of anxiety, because I allowed my mind enough time to go wonder and explore and it came back feeling uncomfortable. I allowed myself to feel vulnerable and uncomfortable and as a result, left with a dire need in express how I am feeling through the creation of something.
I have learnt I make my best art when I am at a very high level of feeling anxious. I try to embrace the discomfort of it, because I know something always good comes because of it now. I came up with my Alone portrait series because one night, I was the most alone I had ever felt in my life and wondered why on earth would anybody choose to be alone. I thought about the differences in people, the ones who choose to live alone out of choice or the ones who live alone by circumstance, through either relationship breakdowns or deaths.
I lived all of 2011 by myself and hated every minute of it. But I filled my days creating art, working on projects and creating a new business. I was creating. I moved to Melbourne at the end of that year and moved into a share house. I started to create less art because there were distractions in the home. There was finally someone to talk to.
At the end of May I started my big adventure to the USA and Europe. I traveled with a friend for the first 10 weeks and I did not create any art in that time. I just took a thousand iphone photos to document my time away.
August rolls around and I was on my own again. I decide to live in a foreign city by myself for two months and it put me in the highest state of anxiety I have been in a very long time. I have never created as much I have in the last 4 weeks. It has been truly amazing. New York City is bringing out the best in me.
I was walking the streets of Bushwick in Brooklyn late last night, it was raining and was the eve of my 100th day away. I acknowledged to myself I had finally found peace with the role anxiety plays on my ability to create art.
It has been said that the greatest love songs ever written are by people who are heart broken. While creating these love songs, their hurting hearts and anxious minds, had no choice but create.
For me, I have learnt that I need periods of being alone in order to create. The uncomfortableness I feel when alone is what pushes me forth. I need to feel uncomfortable, so I travel constantly. I’ve become a vagabond of sorts. I live my life in stranger’s apartments I find on Airbnb or craigslist.
It is important to acknowledge the environment you need to be in order to create your best work. If you are not sure what environment that is yet, my best advice is to get out and explore the world, however far or near to home you can go, make your life one giant big daring adventure and you will find yourself and the right environment that you able to create your best art in the process of exploring.
“MEASURE THE WALLS. COUNT THE RIBS. NOTCH THE LONG DAYS.
LOOK UP FOR BLUE SKY THROUGH THE SPOUT. MAKE SMALL FIRES
WITH THE BROKEN HULLS OF FISHING BOATS. PRACTICE SMOKE SIGNALS.
CALL OLD FRIENDS, AND LISTEN FOR ECHOES OF DISTANT VOICES.
ORGANIZE YOUR CALENDAR. DREAM OF THE BEACH. LOOK EACH WAY
FOR THE DIM GLOW OF LIGHT. WORK ON YOUR REPORTS. REVIEW
EACH OF YOUR LIFE’S TEN MILLION CHOICES. ENDURE MOMENTS
OF SELF-LOATHING. FIND THE EVIDENCE OF THOSE BEFORE YOU.
DESTROY IT. TRY TO BE VERY QUIET, AND LISTEN FOR THE SOUND
OF GEARS AND MOVING WATER. LISTEN FOR THE SOUND OF YOUR HEART.
BE THANKFUL THAT YOU ARE HERE, SWALLOWED WITH ALL HOPE,
WHERE YOU CAN REST AND WAIT. BE NOSTALGIC. THINK OF ALL
THE THINGS YOU DID AND COULD HAVE DONE. REMEMBER
TREADING WATER IN THE CENTER OF THE STILL NIGHT SEA, YOUR TOES
POINTING AGAIN AND AGAIN DOWN, DOWN INTO THE BLACK DEPTHS.”
— Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale, by Dan Albergotti