What's some of the best career advice you've been given?
The best advice I've been given would be to just remember why you do it. I've got notes all over the place reminding me to think about that. Any photographer will get the little ego boost when your stuff starts to do well on social media. It's a pat on the back but it can lead to taking photos for the wrong reasons. I mean, we all start out shooting for ourselves, but eventually the business aspect of things can take over and then, the creative time can vanish. I know for me I'm not at my best when I haven't been out in the field for ages. When I'm not at my best I just need to remind myself why I got into this business: "Okay, you know why I started? Because I like to be out in the wilderness and I need to get out. Today, I'm going to make some time for that. I'm going to shoot stuff that I would shoot. I'm going to try to shoot the way I would regardless of the online influences. I'm going to try to not press the shutter and think, 'Well, will people like this?'"
It's an easy trap to fall into with social media. It's easy to start robotically creating recipe-based shots that I know people will like. From a creative standpoint, they don't really do a whole lot for me. I look at the image and I'm like: "You know what? That will do well on the various platforms, but I know it's hardly cutting edge work. It's not something that I was ever excited about at any point, so why did I even bother?"
Right. I mean, it's easy to get caught up in just harvesting likes in the social sphere. You're saying that: "Don't just do work to harvest likes. Root yourself in the 'why' instead?"
Absolutely. At the same time, I'd be lying if I said, "Well, who cares about the followings and the following and the likes and all that?" When you start doing photography for a living, you have to have some sort of following on social media; when it's time to sell workshops or prints, that's just the reality of it. There's still a way to gather a following and still be true to what you like to shoot. I feel like I've definitely been guilty of shooting stuff just because I know people will like it and I know it'll do well. I think I'm getting better and better though. I remind myself that I'm going to shoot because I love the way it feels and the way it looks.
When there's following of a certain size, you know you can't please everybody anyway. You just put it out there and say: "I hope you like it, I like it, I hope it makes you feel a certain way. If not, well, that's just how it is." I encourage everyone to shoot the same way and just put it out there. Keep your work personal and true to yourself. There's always going to be someone out there who won't jive with it, but that's just art, right? It's a personal experience.
So, why do you do what you do and what makes it all worth it?
I think it's something that I've had trouble describing. I think sometimes I'll go out in the field and everything just works out. Then, I see the creative side within me just come alive and I realize that it's always there, but it's dormant a lot of the time because it's obscured by a whole bunch of other stuff. When I really get in tune with that feeling and I have a really great time in the field–even if I don't come up with images that are groundbreaking or anything–I'm just happy. I almost feel like a little kid again creating for the sake of creating, regardless of the outcome. For me, it's kind of a rush, it's kind of addictive. I love to go in the field and feel that creative side of me come out.
That's also why I love teaching and so much of my time is spent on workshops now. I love to bring that feeling out in other people. I love to go out on workshops and with people who say, "Oh, I'm really not a creative person" and then after a few days with them, they realize, "Jeez ... Yeah. It is truly in everyone." I see them go beyond the idea that they're not a creative person and just embrace the fact that, yeah, they have a creative side to them. I want to make other people aware that they have that same creative spirit to tap into. I think in our society, as it is now, that being creative is not something that we're steered towards very much. If anything, it's the opposite. There's so much that gets in the way of our creative selves. For me, it's all about that state of mind that I get in when I'm out in the field–when I'm in tune with the wilderness–and I'm able to document some of that magic that happens out there.
That alone is worth it, but then if I can come back home with an image that I can share with the rest of the community, it's even better. I see people relate to the image even though they've never been anywhere close to that area, or they've never been anywhere close to ice climbing and they're like, "Oh, it's like I'm there." The image makes them feel a certain way and it can stir up some strong emotion. In an online world that sometimes feels dry and lacking, in terms of emotion, if you can stir things up that way, it's very rewarding. I'd say the combination of those things is why I like to get out there.
Is there anyone you'd like to see featured on Ways We Work?
I would say Doug Urquhart who's a video time-lapse guy. I've never figured out how he manages to get that stuff that he does and yet he has twenty four hours a day like everybody else. I'd be really curious to hear his thoughts on that.
Then, someone who'd have really great things to share also is a good friend, Dave Brosha, who's a photographer out of PEI. He has a huge following, three kids and just probably the busiest person I know. I would love to know how he makes it work. I mean, I spend a lot of time with him, but how he maintains that level of energy through everything that he does and enthusiasm is quite remarkable.