Creating Art Doesn't Always Make It Better

Not every life has a Disney moment.  That might be tough for some of the 'positive people' to understand.  I was listening to my favorite podcast the other day, The Shoot With Matt Day, and he was interviewing photographer Ryan Muirhead.  In the interview Ryan is raw and real about his struggles with depression and creating work in that space.  How it can be difficult to make things when you're so low.  He also brings up something that I've heard a lot; people who think that creating something in that space of depression will suddenly bring you out of the darkness.  As if expressing yourself with your art is a cure for depression.  Sometimes it's nothing more than a expression, the pain is still there.  The cure isn't found inside of a viewfinder or in the sale of a print, and for some that's hard to understand.

My feelings are not that far from Ryan's, though I would say my social anxiety causes more of my pain than depression.  Anyone that looks at my work can tell I'm not a people photographer.  Most of my shots are of architecture and landscapes.  Old buildings, overgrown cemeteries, and empty towns.  I shy away from people because it is they who have brought me so much pain.  I latch on to the few that understand and stay away from those that don't.  I want to create everyday but my anxiety makes the rules.  I can't count the amount of times I've driven to a the city or a specific place and had my anxiety drive me away without taking a shot.  Or rushed through five or six shots and left because I felt uncomfortable.

Everyone has anxiety from time to time but most don't understand having crippling anxiety.  They think all anxiety is the same and that you should just be able to overcome.  It doesn't work that way; your brain isn't the same as mine.  The anxiety is less when you're all alone; there's no stress, no eyes watching you.  Just you and your camera trying to create something meaningful but meaningful to who?  If you're all alone, who will care about the art you create?  Who will see your art?  It is the danger of the cycle of Social Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.  Anxiety drives you to be alone, then you get depressed because you are alone.  It's like being on a marry-go-round going 100 mph without knowing how to get off.  You don't want to be around people but you do.  You want to share your work but you fear rejection.  You want to make people happy but you don't want to be uneasy.  

It is the battle that some of us have been chosen to fight.  A life of struggle that may never have a Disney moment.  Our photography may bring us some solace, creating may allow us to express our feelings, but art may be nothing more than that.  

Check out Matt Day's podcast 'The Shoot With Matt Day' on itunes or at 

You can find Ryan Muirhead's work at


Why 85?

Most photographers nowadays will tell you that the most popular walk around lens is a 50mm or 35mm lens.  The 50mm being a great focal length as it basically gives you the same field of view as the human eye.  The 35mm is also great with being able to get a wider field of view to incorporate more of the background in your shots.  Whether shooting digital or film, these are the standard prime lenses you'll see the most out on the street.

But as someone who doesn't always follow the standard line of thinking, my favorite walk around lens is the 85mm.  Why the 85mm length?  It forces me to focus on the details; to look closer for the subject of the shot.  It can be harder to get what I want but it also forces me to think outside the box.  Once I really started getting into photography, I realized that a lot of my photos are just wide landscapes.  It's easy, and easy can become boring.  Finding beauty in the details is harder and more rewarding because those details can be the things that people overlook.

Another reason the 85mm is good for me is, because of my anxiety, it keeps me at length while not feeling too much like a voyeur.  On my K1000 the lens really isn't that much bigger than my 50mm.  When walking around Philly recently I was able to shoot some candid shots of people while remaining out of the way.  The ability to get shallow depth of field on someone crossing the street and not having to try and crop an image afterwards is great.  Sometimes purposely making things more difficult can make things more rewarding.


I have trouble even saying the phrase, "I am a photographer."  To me, a photographer is someone with advanced skills, years of quality work, and can make money with a camera.  When someone in the general public says, that's a good photo, I'm skeptical of the appreciation.  People outside of the photography community seem to have a low bar as to what is good work.  Take a shot of the mountains in the fall, make sure it's bright, crank up the saturation in post to make the leaves pop and wallah, everyone loves it.  But is that photo really that good?

I'm sure all artist, no mater what their craft, have self doubt.  I unfortunately have tons of it as someone who suffers with anxiety and depression.  I look at my work and I always focus on the mistakes.  It pains me to look at a photo and say I got it right.  The struggle with this moves beyond just looking at my work.  As I get down on myself, I start to wonder why I should continue shooting.  I'll drag my camera out with me to purposely go somewhere and shoot, only to either see nothing inspiring or to have anxiety wreck my plans.  I doubt people really understand how hard it is to want to do something you love, have the means to do it, and have your mind betray you.

People say to me sometimes that I should have a show or enter a contest but I don't believe I could bear the rejection or disappointment.  When you create, I believe you do it not only for yourself, but in some small way you want to be acknowledged and appreciated by your peers.  Sure it would be nice to make money from your passion but maybe being a photographer is more about personal expression, feeling appreciated by your contemporaries and being part of the community.  

Artist In The Shadows

I have noticed that being a successful, working artist requires more than just good work, it requires personality.  There are many artist better than the well know names but their personality just out shined the others.  Some of the worlds most incredible artist worked in the shadows, only finding financial success by having their work stumbled upon by an influential personality or never finding an audience until after death.  Being outgoing, confident and personable can matter just as much, if not more, than the work itself.  So where does that leave the artist in the shadows?

As someone who is diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder & Major Depressive Disorder, success for those in the shadows can be something dreamed about but extremely hard to attain.  The work is there, the passion is there, the personality isn't.  Selling your work is usually more about selling yourself, the networking, the relationship building.  When you work from the shadows, you avoid the human aspect part of success.  I'm sure there are a lot of artist out there who would rather just create but without the personality, success will be always just out of reach.  So how can we bring light to the shadows?

It starts with a support group.  Not mom and dad, but artist, and it doesn't have to be artist from your discipline.  A creative support group if you will.  Maybe to help with questions, to encourage, to 'network', or just to review work.  The key though is to have a 'personality' be a part of that group.  Someone who's attained some success, someone who has that personality to sell themselves, someone who has walked the road and lived to tell the tale.  Some artist in the shadows are people like me, without confidence or self esteem.  There is a fear of rejection a fear of the unknown.  Having that successful personality in the group to provide comfort and guidance gives hope and can help push artist out of their comfort zone to become that next success.

And hopefully when they attain that success, they'll make themselves available to help shine a light on other artist in the shadows.