What a tough year, 2020. There were bushfires. There’s COVID. There’s the recession. The overall tone of the year is bleak, with only patience and perseverance driving most of us through one distress after another. As I reach the precipice that is 2021, I’m reminded of what made the past year so much more than what I felt through it all.
For a long time, I valued authorship — credit to self over contribution to the zeitgeist.
As a photographer, the camera is my tool of communication. It’s my means for self-expression, a way for me to carve my individuality.
For years, I thought my work; therefore, my self-expression was mine. My voice has been hidden behind years of built-up adolescent angst and overlooked psychological pitfalls that I used photography to prove to the world and myself that I have a purpose. But because of this, I failed to realise that I was actually holding myself back.
If this year has taught me anything, it is that nothing lasts. With the current state of our society and the world in general, what we all knew as truth is now challenged by a “new normal.” Whilst some are able to navigate this time more comfortably, I recognise there are others who don’t have it as easy.
As I revel in what has gotten me, my firm and the people around me to where we are today, I have come to realise something painfully humbling: That my personal mark is but a footnote and the only way I’m going to let any remnants of who I am live beyond me is if I let go of my ownership. It is how I approach work in our firm, and how our team works together to produce quality results.
Watching many of my peers, my heroes, my mentees and myself confuse plagiarism with interpretation, extortion with collaboration, and art with content, I find that many of us have lost our way in the creative field.
We’ve become so caught up with owning that we’ve forgotten the real reason we do what we do in the first place: to share a part of ourselves in our work and share in others’ work.
What’s the use of making our own mark when we hold it back from living on? For our work to grow beyond us, it must be interpreted, destroyed, bastardised, revised and plagiarised. It must be used. It can’t live in our archives with a watermark or remain stagnant on our feeds in a post from five years ago.
As hard as I found this realisation to be, I’ve concluded that I am not just my work and my work isn’t all mine. If I genuinely wanted to make sense of what I do and give weight to it, I’d have to learn to let it go.
As we leave behind the growing pains we all experienced this past year, 2021 is the perfect time to do so. With a renewed openness to go beyond what we consider our own, let’s take it as an opportunity to focus not on competition but collaboration. When we work together with creatives whose work is different from ours, we are bound to discover knowledge that pushes our boundaries and propels us forward. Competition is not a destroyer of things, but an enabler of growth. It’s not about us as creatives, it’s about our impact.
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