You will very rarely, if ever, catch me wearing a pair of matching socks.
I never match my socks. Ever. And not because I think it looks cool, or I lost some random bet or something, but for an entirely different reason.
Years ago (maybe 10? 12?), I read a published study that had broken down the amount of time the average person spends doing certain tasks in their lifetime. How much time they spend watching television, commuting in traffic, sleeping, and you guessed it, matching their socks.
It completely changed me.
The average person, I learned, spent about a month of their lives matching their socks.
In the scale of your entire life, one month might not seem like a shocking amount of time to spend matching socks, but to me, it was terrifying. I instantly pictured myself as an old woman, laying on my deathbed. A reel of my entire life was playing like a drive-thru movie, projecting on the wall in front of me.
I see my loving husband, alone, cooking dinner in our kitchen, the camera pans around the room to find me, but I’m not there. I’m in the laundry room, matching socks. A phone rings and I see it’s a call from my mom, but I ignore it because I can’t talk right now, I’m matching socks. Our family dog drops a Frisbee at my feet, but I can’t throw it, because I’m too busy matching socks. A comet streaks across the sky, my grandmother plays the piano, entire seasons come and go and I miss them all because I’m matching socks. In a small episode of admittedly, completely nonsensical paranoia, I pictured my entire life flashing before my eyes – and me missing all of it – because I was too busy, matching socks.
Right in that second, I vowed to never again, for any reason, spend any given amount of time searching for matching socks.
Then I had my daughter.
Being a mom was an entirely new role I wasn’t sure I would fit into. Babies are fragile, delicate little things and let’s be honest, no one has ever entrusted me with anything fragile or delicate in my entire life. That bag of flour “baby” they give you in high-school Home Economics class to keep “alive” for the semester? I baked a cake with that bitch and moved on. Babies have just…never really been my thing.
So as my due date loomed closer and closer, I became increasingly more anxious of what my future relationship would be with my newborn daughter. Would I stare lovingly into her eyes? Would I see a younger version of myself? Would she laugh at my jokes?
God I hope she laughs at my jokes…
But all that worrying was for nothing; on September 24th at 4:43 in the morning, my husband and I found ourselves holding the healthiest, hands down most beautiful baby girl we had ever seen. All that sappy Hallmark crap they tell you about holding your child for the first time – totally true. I was a mom, through and through.
After we got our bearings we did what every new parent does nowadays: took our announcement to social media. “Look what we made!” I proudly exclaimed on Instagram and Facebook. “Look at our adorable baby girl! Look how perfect she is! LOOK AT HER GODDAMNIT!”
We spent the entire day in the hospital, learning how to hold her, change her diaper and breastfeed. We learned that the little bit of dry skin around her hands and feet were totally normal, and just because she flipped off the lab technician that drew her blood doesn’t necessarily mean she’s a genius…although it could mean she does take after her mother.
As the day drew to a close, my husband lay sleeping on the couch, while I held our sleeping daughter against my chest. Very carefully, I reached for my cellphone.
I opened Facebook and read the many congratulatory comments from friends and family. My heart swelled with pride. I couldn’t wait for everyone to meet her! I stared at her picture again, then the photo of my husband holding his daughter for the first time. What an unbelievably emotional day. Just as I was about to put my phone down I hit the “news” section of my mobile Facebook app, and it took me to my feed. And out of complete habit, I did what every other person would naturally do…I started scrolling.
Before I knew it, I was browsing my Facebook feed like it was any other day: meme, pumpkin spice latte, clickbait article, diet product sales pitch, funny puppy video, sunset photo, political article, meme, baby, meme, baby meme…
For seven minutes.
After I put my phone down I looked at my little girl, and my heart sank. She was awake. What had she been doing for those seven minutes? Had she opened her eyes for a second to look at her mother? Did her mouth do one of those tiny, adorable reflex smiles? Did she open her hand to look for mine? And what was I occupied with that was so important to miss any of those moments? Browsing memes and latte photos? Oh dear god…
Almost instantaneously, a decade’s worth of worst fears was realized. While real life was happening right in front of me, I was missing it. I was elsewhere.
I was matching socks.
Look, I’m not going to condemn social media or delete all my accounts the second after I upload this post. I love social media. I love that in just a few seconds I was able to announce the birth of my daughter to almost all of my family and friends. I also love that standing in line at the post office or DMV is infinitely less boring when you’re browsing photos of cats with Trump hair. Hell I spent 20 minutes laughing at this video yesterday and at the end of my life you can bet your ass I’ll still consider it time well spent.
But social media can have its downsides, and for me, it’s the ability to pull focus from what’s happening right in front of me, right now. My mind is already a swirling pool of chaos, so when you throw in a mess of kittens, memes, political rants, cookie recipes and God knows what else, you end up with Pandora’s box of distraction.
So it’s time for me to address my relationship with social media. If one sock symbolizes actual, legitimate interaction with my online community, its partner sock would be the mindless, constant scrolling that comes with it. And how much time, at the end of my life, am I giving up to this scrolling? Will I really be laying on my deathbed, thinking to myself, “You know, I really wish I would’ve spent more time browsing Facebook.” Probably the same amount of time I would’ve wished I had spent more time matching socks.
And as you guys already know, I no longer have any room in my life for matching socks :).
Today is my 31st birthday!
But before I get on to that, I have to write this post. I need to write this post. And I’ll warn you now…this one’s got some language.
I used to be a birthday hater. I dreaded it. And not because I hated being the center of attention or because I was getting older or anything like that, but because I had been straight-up conditioned to hate my birthday.
My childhood, without getting too much into it, wasn’t the greatest. Our household was run by my adopted father, who was a literal – diagnosed and everything – psychopath. Birthdays (along with Christmas of course) were his favorite days. He’d give us gifts, only to make us watch him destroy them. He handed out abusive, creative punishments, without any reason except to “test them out for later”. Each week leading up to our birthday he’d grow giddy with anticipation, while the rest of the family lost sleep and wondered what horrible thing he would come up with. Each year, as my special day got closer and closer I’d plead to any powerful existential being willing to listen to please, please let my birthday go unnoticed this year…but it never did.
Every birthday I could ever remember had been controlled by this man, so even when I moved out, I remained terrified of my own birthday. The thought alone still made my hands shake and my stomach queasy. I kept it a secret from everyone I met. I wanted absolutely no part in it.
Then, one day, as a freshman in college, I got a phone-call from my dad. He screamed at me from the other end of the line. I placed the phone on the dresser and sat on my bed. I could hear his voice, but not what he was saying. I didn’t want to know what he was saying.
My roommate pointed to the phone and asked, “Who’s that?”
“My dad,” I answered.
“What’s he yelling about?”
“Nothing, really. He just calls to yell.”
She stared at me, then asked, “Then why don’t you just hang up the phone?”
I stared back for a second while I considered it. I hadn’t lived at home for years. He’s 8 hours away in a different state. He doesn’t pay for a cent of college. Everything I own (car, cell phone, etc.) is all in my name. There is literally nothing he could do.
So I hung up the phone.
“Better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. Then out of nowhere, I confessed, “My birthday was 2 weeks ago.”
“Really?!” she shouted, “We should celebrate!” and darted off into the kitchen.
Sitting in the kitchen of my dorm room, watching my roommate bake some cupcakes, it occurred to me that for the first time, I was actually going to celebrate my birthday.
And I. Felt. Free.
I’m not sure why it took so long. I had moved out long before I was 18. I’d had plenty of birthdays without him, but I still had the same frame of mind: that no matter where I was or who I was with, every year on October 16th my life would turn into a living hell.
What a bullshit way of thinking.
As understandable as it is that I should hate my own birthday, there comes a point when I’ve got to make the choice: let someone drain me of happiness 1 day of every year for the rest of my life, or to take back something that is rightfully mine, and goddamnit, it’s my motherfucking birthday.
So I’ve been making up for stolen time. Now, every year, I want a cake, loaded with candles. If I’m at a bar, I want a free shot. If I’m at a restaurant, I want free desert with the entire staff singing a horribly embarrassing version of ‘Happy Birthday’. I also want balloons and streamers and a birthday hat and any other cheesy birthday item that I’m technically too old to have. I want to be a kid again, every year, on my birthday.
And it’s worked – my birthday is now one of my favorite days of the year. There have been surprise parties and get-togethers with friends, quiet movie nights at home and long walks around the neighborhood. Hell my husband even asked me to marry him on my birthday.
Even if every single thing goes wrong, it doesn’t matter. My birthday is mine again. I have one extra day every year that I never had before.
We all have a part of our past that is holding us back in some way. Some sort of insecurity that just keeps hanging on or an outdated fear we’ve never confronted. Something that’s robbing us of a better day, a better relationship, a better career…a better life.
What do you have that is stealing thunder in your life? Is it a toxic person? A job that hasn’t challenged you in years? A reoccurring negative thought process? Whatever it is, there is always an opportunity to do something about it, and it might be something as small and simple as hanging up the phone.
Take a look around. If something is holding you back, I beg of you, sit down, take a few deep breaths, and confront it.
As for me, today is my birthday. I turn 31, it’s going to be awesome, and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
Support is a funny thing.
As an artist, 96% of our career is spent dealing with rejection. Rejection from friends, family, other artists and even the art world itself. Making a living from art can be a very long and lonely, misunderstood journey, especially in the beginning, and having a decent support system can help make that early journey a little more bearable.
But just as we’re often learning the ropes of how to be an artist, we also know that you’re learning the ropes of how to best support us. We need you, and here are the best ways you can help us out.
Please Respect What We Do
All of that time you spent devoting yourself to learning your craft, whether it be accounting, nursing or even actual rocket science, we’ve devoted to learning ours too, so don’t diminish our ability by saying your kid could do what we do, or you yourself could probably do the same thing if you just had a little extra time. No, you couldn’t. I certainly couldn’t carry out nursing duties for a full day anymore than you could shoot an entire wedding or make a composite of 60 photographs into one believable art piece. Every profession has a learning curve that people spend years to overcome, and ours is no different.
This IS Our “Real” Job
Any job that puts real food on the table and real money in our pocket is a real job. Some of us have part-time jobs, some of us have full-time jobs and some of us have reached the point where we can survive off our art alone. Some of us don’t want to strictly survive off our art. We’re all different, and no matter how we bring income into our home, including from our artistic endeavors, it all still counts as a real job.
As a photographer, I have several real jobs. I sell prints through galleries and license images for use on book covers, but I also teach and even shoot the occasional wedding. Each of these jobs are just as real as any other – none of them better or worse.
It’s Okay if You Don’t Understand
We know we’re odd. Frankly, if we weren’t at least a little quirky we’d probably make some pretty boring art. So even if you don’t understand our process, like locking ourselves in a room and listening to the same song on repeat for 16 hours, or hiking back to some remote cabin to get us out of a slump, that’s okay. You don’t need to understand it, and we really don’t expect you to. All you need to understand is that this is our process, and this is what we need to be most creative and most productive. Please don’t criticize us for the weird things we do to find inspiration – we promise we’ve already attempted the more socially acceptable ways, and they just didn’t work.
Don’t Ask Us To Work For Free
Please, please don’t ask us to work for free. We have to put the same amount of work into each piece we create, regardless of the price. The fact is, asking us to work for free puts us in a really awkward situation. It’s tough to say no to close friends or family. Don’t do that to us. If you want a piece of mine hanging in your home, buy it just as everyone else does. If you want several of my pieces hanging in your office, ask to lease them, just as everyone else does. It may seem like great exposure, but really, it’s a couple thousand dollars to print a whole collection and have it hung. On the off chance that one is sold (not a whole lot of art buyers walking through the halls of a tanning salon), it still doesn’t make my money back. Please, please don’t ask us to work for free.
Promote Our Work
And if you can’t buy our work (totally understandable) than at least try and promote it. Sharing my work through social media is the easiest way to help me out. Seeing that someone pushed the little share button next to a photo of mine is an incredible boost of encouragement.
Get to Know Our Craft
Sometimes, the reason it’s so difficult to support us is because you don’t realize what we really do. My mom thought it was impossible to make any money as a wedding photographer until I had her tag along one day on a 12-hour wedding shoot. The next day, I had her come over to the house while I showed her the process of culling down the images and editing them to perfection, then briefly showed her how I order prints, albums and everything else. I still had a good week’s worth of editing to do, I explained. She looked at me with complete exhaustion in her eyes, and asked how much the couple paid me for this amount of work. About $5,000, I replied.
Of course there’s more to it than that, but just those 2 days were enough to open her eyes a little bit. I’m doing a lot of work for a comparable amount of money, just like any other job.
When I slowly moved out of weddings and concentrated more on the art and teaching side of photography, she didn’t doubt me for a second. Now that she knew the logistics of what I was doing, she trusted me enough to make a smart decision for myself.
If you’re having trouble letting us pursue our dreams for fear that you’re watching us “throw our lives away”, get to know our profession first. You might be surprised how similar a career in art is to other, more traditional career paths.
Accept That Our Work Will Evolve
I started out my photography business shooting weddings, but then I started making singular art pieces and after that I began teaching. Now I absolutely love teaching and I can’t imagine giving that up. I’m very, very selective about the weddings I now shoot (I maybe only do 2 or 3 a year), and I spend most of my time creating and selling art and teaching others.
It may seem like we’re bouncing all over the place, but that’s okay. Just as anyone tries to find their niche, we’re trying to find ours too.
Stop With The Jokes
Let me be very, very clear on this one – your jokes, as lighthearted as you think they are, are not funny.
To you, it may seem like a clever bit of humor every now and then, something we just need to “lighten up” about, but understand that you are not the only ones making fun of us. Those little jokes don’t seem like much, but when you’re getting them from all angles, all the time, they can really add up. From an artist’s point of view, it’s a never-ending, constant bombardment of utter humility. For our entire lives we’ve been a little different, and people have always been very keen on making sure we’re well aware of it.
When we chose a career on the artistic side of the tracks, we knew what we were getting into. We accepted the fact that we’re going to have to put up with a lot of negativity and a lot of ridicule – but not from you. If you’re going to be on our side you’ve got to be on our side all the way. No backhanded comments, no sly double-meanings; and no slipping back and forth between encouraging and demoralizing. If someone makes a joke on our behalf, we expect you to stand up for us. That’s what a supportive person would do.
Allow For Open Lines of Communication
It’s going to be tough for us to make a living, especially in the beginning. And if we’re constantly trying something that isn’t working, while we bang our heads on the counter and our life savings slowly drains away, we’re going to need someone to talk to. Don’t berate us with “I told you so” and suggest we hang this shit up and get a “real” job already – help us with the logistics. Is there a reason why we aren’t making sales? Maybe we need to adjust our marketing campaign. Maybe our work just flat out sucks right now and we need to supplement our income in other ways while we work on improving. If we’re not making money, suggesting we get a second job isn’t mean – it’s realistic. Help us brainstorm ways to make this work.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Your words and your actions speak very different. You can’t give us the thumbs up but then point and laugh as soon as we can’t see you.
Think of it this way: if you were a football coach, you’d want me to come to your games. It shows I support what you do. It doesn’t matter if your team is any good or even if the game is an important one; just the fact that I come is appreciated. But everything gets canceled out if I’m ass about it. If I sit in the stands and complain that football is the most boring, pointless sport ever, and keep asking when we can leave, that’s not supportive. If I crack jokes with friends about how sad and pathetic your fans are for actually enjoying this, that’s not supportive either. As a coach, you’re part of a community, and respecting that entire community is part of supporting you.
It’s the same in the art world. You can’t come to my show and then sit in the corner, complain about how bored you are and make fun of the other artists. You can’t come to my live music performance and then mock the “idiots” in the crowd that “actually like this kind of music”. This is my community, and I’m a part of it. If you’re going to support me, you’ve got to support my community as well.
Speaking of My Community…
While we’re on the subject of community: all those people that come to my shows like the men with the weird beards and the funny scarves or the girls with crazy makeup, odd haircuts and homemade clothes? Yeah, a few things about that:
1.) These people are either my friends or my clients, both of which are incredibly valuable to me. Without them, I’d have a pretty difficult time making it in this industry. So if you want me to succeed, you better hope more and more of these strange little misfit creatures keep showing up, and on the off chance you get to interact with one, be nice.
2.) Keep in mind – I’m one of these misfit creatures too! I’m just as slightly off-kilter as everyone else, and when you make fun of them you’re also making fun of me.
3.) Take a look around – you’re in very, very unfamiliar territory. We might seem like awkward, fragile little things in general everyday life, but at one of our shows – we’re kind of the shit…and you’re vastly outnumbered. As Seth Rogan’s character wondered aloud in the movie Funny People:
“I wonder if Tom (from MySpace) and Craig from Craigslist ever got in a fight, who would win? Tom has more friends…Craig has weirder friends though…Craig has friends that are willing to do a lot more for cash, I’ll say that.”
Trust me, you do not want to piss off a collective group of people that don’t follow the same logic that you do.
Know That We Want You With Us
In the end, you’re more important than you realize. Sometimes we’ve got to just shrug it off, say we don’t need any kind of approval from anyone and who gives a shit what anyone thinks (believe me, I’ve been there too), but no one wants to do this alone. We want to be able to come to you when we make our first print sale or when we book our first huge event. We want to be able to talk to you when we’re feeling frustrated and hopeless. We want you on our side. In all honesty, we’re doubting ourselves 90% of time we’re creating anything, so having someone standing beside us is a really, really big deal. Even the slightest bit of encouragement from you can really go a long way towards helping us along, and that’s what you can provide for us.
Plus, a healthy support system also helps us create better art. New and interesting interpretations of our work help challenge us and help us to develop further, and as someone that we know has our best interests in mind, we can fully open ourselves up to your input. That’s a pretty safe space we’re letting you in there.
So keep supporting your artists, and we’ll keep putting great art back into the world :).
And if you’re looking for a little support yourself, know that I’ve been there too! Feel free to send me a message on my Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter, and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE HERE for more posts like these!
If you’re reading this article in secret, calm down – we’ve all been there. We’ve all struggled with that little voice in the back of our heads that takes every situation and spins it around to show us everything that could possibly go wrong:
“You know no one is ever going to print this…”
“Have you seen their work? Wow you’re so far behind…”
“What if no one hires you? Like, literally…what if not one single person hires you?
“What makes you think you know the first thing about running a business? Give me one example of another business you’ve successfully run.”
“What if all of this has been for nothing?”
These sentences are barely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to negative self talk. And even with the abundance of articles gently suggesting that you just, you know, “trust yourself” or “think happy thoughts,” I wanted to offer something a bit more practical. So instead of sticking with the rainbows and butterflies approach, I’ve made a list of my top 10 tried and true methods for combating self doubt.
1.) Find The Source
I’m not saying you have to go all the way back to childhood to figure yourself out. Sure, there was that one time when you were 8 years old and you drew a picture of a rainbow for your grandma and she told you it was rubbish and ever since then you’ve been unable to feel a sense of self-confidence. Get over it. You were 8, you’ve probably done better rainbow work since then, and we both know your grandma was usually drunk anyway.
But there is always a starting point. Is it the second you hear about a new assignment, or are you usually pretty excited about it until you get home and a concerned family member starts worrying aloud? Or are you an “end of the project” kind of person, like myself. I’m excited the entire time and then just as I finish up the editing process I begin thinking of everything I should’ve done differently.
By identifying the exact moment negativity starts creeping into our minds, you’re able to start nailing down a pattern, and this helps you determine if there is a specific situation or person that is making you feel this way. The sooner you know the source, the sooner you can nip it in the bud.
2.) Write It Down
Sometimes self doubt is all in your head and sometimes it isn’t. Writing your fears down allows you to see them as tangible problems in the real world, which is the first step in addressing them. Go ahead and write down any thoughts of self doubt. Then begin to examine them.
Let’s say you’re afraid of submitting to magazines because you’re afraid no one will write back. Ok, fair enough – now let’s examine that. What would happen? Would your career be over? Would you ruin your reputation? Would you lose money? What is literally the worst thing that could happen?
3.) Plan For The Worst
Go ahead. Think of the worst possible case scenario and then plan for it.
Let’s go back to our magazine example from Tip #2. First of all, understand that you will receive some rejections. Hell, just while writing this article I received a submission rejection. But what’s the worst thing that could happen? Drumroll please…you feel shitty. You feel a little embarrassed because no one liked your work enough to publish it. Okay, that’s life, but that doesn’t mean your career is over or you’ve ruined your reputation as a photographer. In this worst case scenario, the risk really isn’t as terrifying as your mind is making it out to be.
And in other cases, that risk really is a pretty big deal and planning for the worst case scenario is absolutely necessary. Maybe you’re considering taking out a loan to open a studio, for example. In this case, your partner isn’t being negative when they ask if you might go broke, they’re being a realist. By writing it down and discussing it, you can address many of the issues you both may have and determine whether or not this is a risk really worth taking. And if it is, you can plan for the worst in case things don’t work out how you hope they do. By creating a plan, you take away the fear of the unknown that naturally comes with so many of these risks. This will allow you to focus on what you need to do to move forward.
4.) Take It Step-By-Step
I’m a runner. I usually run a minimum of 6 miles a day, but other days I’ll go all the way to a full 13.1 miles, just to see if I can do it. I never walk out of my front door knowing I’ll be running 10 miles today though, instead I tell myself I’ll run for 20 minutes. I run in one direction – ensuring I have to also run 20 minutes back. At the end of the first 20, I’ll decide if I feel good enough to run another 10 minutes, and then maybe another (always in the same direction). The farther I run in one direction the farther I have to run to get back. I don’t think about the total 10 mile stretch, only the first 2 miles, and then one mile at a time after that.
It’s the same with business. In the beginning, it can feel overwhelming: build a website, create a price list, make social media sites, order sample items, streamline your portfolio, order business cards, draw up client contracts, contact other vendors and businesses, create marketing flyers, and so many other things. But you can’t look at it that way or you’ll never get past the first mile. Make a list of steps and then break those steps down into even smaller steps. Create a timeline. Determine exactly what it is you need to do and set a goal date for each step to be completed by. By creating a clear cut list, you simplify the process in your mind, thereby leaving less room for doubt to creep in.
5.) Set Yourself Up For Success
I write in the morning. As in, 2:30 in the morning. I don’t know what it is, but writing during the day is incredibly difficult for me. I can’t find my vocabulary, my brain is fuzzy and it takes forever to bust out an article. I get nowhere and I feel like a complete failure. Early morning hits though and I’m on fire. So I don’t write at 2:30 in the afternoon, I write at 2:30 in the morning. Don’t make things harder on yourself than they already are.
6.) Cultivate A Support System
We all need a little push now and then, and that’s where your support system needs to kick in. Are you dragging your feet for serious reasons or are you just being a pansy? Do you need someone to gently feed your ego or do you need someone to light a fire under your ass? Your support system can help point you in the right direction and help give you what you need when you need it most.
7.) How Would I Say This To My Best Friend?
The main problem with negative self talk is we say to ourselves what we would never say to anyone else. You’d never, in a million years tell your best friend, “Are you kidding me? No way you’d get accepted into that gallery! What are you even trying for? God, just give up already.” But when it comes to critiquing ourselves, our manners go right out the window. Next time you hear that voice talking down to you, try and think about how you would phrase it to someone you really care about, you know, like yourself. And speaking of being nice to yourself…
8.) Take Care Of Yourself
It’s pretty easy to think poorly of yourself when you’re already in a downward spiral. I can choose to start a project after I’ve binge-watched the entire last season of Game Of Thrones while eating a stuffed-crust pizza, or I can start a project after I’ve run 6 miles, taken a shower and had a fruit smoothie. Which one do you think is going to have a better effect on that little voice in charge of all my self-talk?
9.) Get Answers
The main reason we doubt our ability to do something is because we have no idea where to start. So figure it out! Find someone that knows something about the area you’re struggling in and ask them for help! Get on Google or spend some time on YouTube. Stop wasting time feeling sorry for yourself for not knowing anything when there is this thing called the freaking INTERNET right at your fingertips.
10.) Just Do It Already
Yes, you’ve gone through all the planning and you’re still unsure of yourself. Well…suck it up. I’m sorry to say but that is probably never going away. It’s likely there will probably never be a time when you will feel completely safe and comfortable as an artist, but isn’t that part of the excitement of it all?
If you’re really stuck in the mud, here’s a little tip: count to three, and when you reach three, go for it. Press the send button, sign the papers, post the image. It’s like diving into a pool or trying escargot for the first time. Sometimes you just have to go ahead even with that little voice screaming like mad.
“They stole my idea.”
Oh, honey, sure they did.
Ok, bearing in mind that we all tend to get a little defensive when we think of something brilliant and then aren’t given credit for it, yes, getting your idea stolen sucks. But here’s another little tidbit to keep in mind:
Get over yourself.
Side note: I understand this can be counterintuitive in the world where our art is our living. A person going around and stealing our work could be a very dangerous thing. But I’m not talking about straight up stealing our work. I’m talking about someone that creates something, all on their own, that ends up looking remarkably similar to something you have already created.
Your Ideas Are Not As Unique As You Think They Are
Yeah, this might sting a little, but we’ve got to address it. Thinking you were the first one to ever think of a concept is just plain egotistical. Just because you’ve never heard of a concept doesn’t mean the thought hasn’t already existed – all it means is that you don’t know anyone in your immediate circle with the same idea. In fact, it really only means that you haven’t casually come across anyone else, online or in person, that has actively expressed the same idea. And when it comes to having the “original” – all that means is that of all the people in the world with the same exact thought, you were the first one with the resources to execute it.
Having the “original” doesn’t make anyone any better or worse than any other artist out there. It doesn’t give anyone the right to shame all those that come after them for being “unoriginal” or “uninventive”. Contrary to popular opinion, the timestamp is not more important than the art itself. Who executed it first, who marketed it first, who put it out into the world in a widely receivable form before someone else could claim its “genius” – that’s not what makes a true artist.
A true artist creates. A true artist is inspired by something, then puts the effort into creating the concept they have in their mind. They don’t do it so they can stalk the web and condemn anything similar that comes their way. Having the “original” doesn’t devalue any work following it. They came up with an idea, all by themselves. They babied it, they took care of it, they molded it into perfect piece of art they had dreamt up in their head. Why wouldn’t they deserve to have just as much credit as anyone else with the same idea that just happened to post their finished artwork first?
I remember the first time I saw an image similar to mine. One of my fans left this comment on my photo on the left, “American Beauty”, on my Facebook page: “Reminds me a lot of this image” with a link to the image on the right (belonging to Mandy Rosen). As innocent as it seems, I was crushed. I genuinely thought I had created something that hadn’t been done before. I put in so much work, so much blood, sweat and tears, only to find my whole world blown apart. .
Now come on, these look pretty damn similar. Granted, her dress is made of butterflies and mine is made of rose petals, but look at the bigger picture. The colors (red standing apart from a muted, brown palate), the horizon line, even the arm positioning. If I were Mandy perusing the internet at 3:14 am, with maybe a small bottle of tequila, I might have a bone to pick.
And here’s the weird thing – even though I hadn’t even slightly copied (I’d never seen the image before, nor had I ever heard of Mandy Rosen, who does awesome work, btw), I felt like I had. I felt like even though I’d had a brilliant idea and spent countless hours bringing it to fruition, I was too late in executing it. All that work I had put in was wasted because someone else had already posted something similar.
It’s the same feeling I got when I wanted to show one of my friends my “Dreaming in Key” photo – so I Googled it, thinking it would come right up. But instead, I found many others, like this one by Anka Zhuravleva, and was again, crushed. You mean someone else thought of this photo idea? I wasn’t as brilliant and creative as I thought I was? I had been so proud of myself…
It took awhile to get over that shot to the gut, but soon I realized that just because someone else had the same idea with a timestamp earlier than my own, it doesn’t mean that my image is any less significant. Plus, I made leaps and bounds in editing skills putting this thing together. If I had seen her photo before mine, I probably would’ve scrapped my idea and done something different. And I’m glad that didn’t happen. I love the image I created.
Here’s another example. My image, “Rough Drafts” is on the left and Von Wong’s is on the right.
I actually did get called out on this one, with a random message in my inbox reading, “Hey, you didn’t happen to see our image, did you?” Which, honestly, was pretty annoying. Not because of the message itself (which I still haven’t been able to figure out the tone…), but because the photo I ended up with wasn’t even my original idea. In the image I wanted to create, I was going to be standing on the beach with the typewriter floating in the air in front of me. I didn’t want to be sitting on the ground typing; I figured it would be too easy. After hauling it down to the beach though, it became very apparent; that typewriter was heavy as fuck, and there was no way I was going to be able to hold it in any kind of realistic position in front of me. So I said screw it and sat it on the ground in front of me instead. This wasn’t a copy – it was the result of a botched idea to begin with. An entirely new idea was concocted in just enough time to get something done as the light was running out.
And this is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever made, regardless of how similar it accidentally looks like someone else’s. Which brings me to my next point…
An Idea Is Not A Physical Object
If you stole my camera I’d have a real problem. I wouldn’t be able to take pictures, and I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills. I’d also have to buy a new camera, and in the meantime I would spend a large portion of my day figuring out what the hell I could steal of yours that would ruin your life. Not to be vindictive or anything, just because…well, I’m a little crazy.
Also I like to steal shit.
But ideas are different. Ideas aren’t all-inclusive objects that come in a nice, neat little package. If you steal my idea it’s still just a concept – it’s up to you to nurture it, mold it and bring it to realization. And if you do have the dedication and drive to bring it to fruition, good for you! That kind of work ethic should be respected, not condemned.
Just a couple weeks ago I was browsing Instagram when I came across this image, belonging to Brei Olivier (once again, fantastic work). Mine is on the left, hers is on the right.
This is freaky – this could literally be the same model in each photo! And if I had run across this earlier in my career, I would’ve freaked the hell out. I was still so arrogant, so full of myself, that I probably would’ve thought she had copied. That there was no way anyone else on the planet could’ve possibly come up with a similar concept all on their own.
But I didn’t freak out, because of the examples above. The fact is, this kind of shit happens, and it’s no one’s fault. After I contacted her I learned that even as similar as these two images are, the thought process was even more similar. She said she was inside and wanted to practice dropping an image in the background. In my case, I was locked inside doing literally the exact same thing. So how the hell does that make mine “better”? Just because mine was “technically” posted first on some social media site doesn’t take a single thing away from her photo. In fact, if anything, it shows how similar we both are. If we ever get to meet in person, I’d have to have a pic of both of us holding up our own version of this photo – proof that we were meant to be friends from the beginning.
What’s more, are so many artists are feeling paralyzed, because they come up with an idea, see it already done and then scrap their own concept even though they thought of it with no influence from anyone else. They were just so afraid of being accused of copying, that they stop producing work. How the hell does that facilitate growth in the art community?
To be honest, I’m glad there are so many ideas already out there. Not only does it force us to be even more creative, but it forces us to develop our own specific style. Plus, it helps us discover other artists that are similar to ourselves. I have met an amazing community of fine art photographers, and I never would’ve met any of them if we didn’t all start out with somewhat similar images. We actually laugh about the fact that so many of us have similar images in the beginning of our careers:
Yup, two of those are mine (the other two belong to Tara Denny and Two Creative Birds). What’s really funny, is the one on the bottom left is a stock image. That means there are enough images on the internet of people floating through windows that it’s become a stock image. Does that mean people are all copying each other? No, it probably means they are creating the same idea. And good for them! It’s how you learn! Is each image copyright? Of course! Is the concept of levitating through a window copyright? Of course not.
Now I’m not saying copying in general is a good thing – yes, be original, and push yourself to come up with new ideas, but don’t be so arrogant as to think that every idea you have ever had is original – it isn’t. Sometimes, believe it or not, someone else has already had the same idea and brought it to life. And in that case it’s not copying; it’s two people executing the same concept – a concept they each dreamt up without any help from each other.
Here’s another example: a few years ago, I thought of a book that I wanted to write. I wanted to interview various photographers about the best photo they haven’t taken. What was the photo? Why didn’t they take it? Maybe they didn’t have their camera, or maybe the situation was one that warranted no pictures, but I wanted to write an entire book where photographers had to describe, in words, the most amazing photo they missed. I would call it “The Photograph Never Taken.” And it would be awesome.
Then, while buying some photo gear on Amazon, the little, “Other people that bought this also bought…” tag came up, and look at what was right there, staring me in the face:
My first thought was that this was my idea. Someone else had “stolen” it. But no, they didn’t. I only told maybe 5 people about this idea before. Surely Will Steacy wasn’t hiding in the bushes the day I decided to tell one of my friends about it. And honestly, I may even still write the book I have in my head, but this book, already being published, doesn’t take away from my own creativity. He had the same idea, with the means and resources to execute it. And I’m glad he did, because my second thought was, “Damn…I really want that book…”
So if you see one of those articles where one artist is bashing another for “copying” their idea, tell them to shove it. We don’t have copyright on our ideas, we have copyright on the result of the execution of that idea, and no one has any right to destroy another artist for having a similar artistic thought process.
How about you guys – have you ever run into this before? Have you ever seen another image that looked uncannily similar to yours? How did you feel? What did you do? I want to know!
And if you ever need someone to talk to, feel free to talk to me – I answer best through email or on my Facebook page, Jenna Martin Photography :).
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In all reality, I shot this photo because I wanted an excuse to wear my new white dress :).
I got it for $12 at Goodwill and I’m pretty sure it was used as a wedding dress at some point. Thing is though, it’s HUGE on me, so unless I cinch it with a belt and wear a few inches of footwear, it’s barely manageable to walk in. All that extra fabric really helps when it comes to taking a floating photograph though.
The funny thing is, this photo is nothing like how I imagined it would be. I actually arrived at the idea that I wanted to be floating away on an umbrella, very Mary Poppins-ish. Through editing though, I decided the umbrella was really just getting in the way. I didn’t want to appear that I was using the umbrella as a crutch, I wanted to be floating on my own. So hence, the umbrella got cut.
This was also done in a field close to my house and since it was taken around 5:00 am, I didn’t have to worry about getting in trouble for trespassing…which, um…I totally wasn’t.