“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” –e.e. Cummings
Each week we share a piece of us on our photographic journey. We have titled this series, “Courage to Grow”. We hope that our own soul searching will inspire similar introspection in our readers and that together we can make our best art and live our best lives.
Last week towards the end of an incredibly busy day full of session editing, website changing, soul searching, children playing and at the time, dinner cooking, our doorbell rang. I opened the door to find a well dressed visitor for my husband. I note the way he was dressed because I was in sweats. I embarrassedly opened the door, called for my husband and said to him, “I didn’t know someone was coming over. I’m in sweats and the house is a mess!” My husband jocularly responded, within earshot of the visitor, “To be fair, you’re always in sweats and the house is always a mess”. I was embarrassed, like “hide in the kitchen the rest of the visit while quietly fuming to keep from crying” embarrassed. This stranger now thought of me as some slacker who sucks at cleaning house and spends all day braless and in sweats. I was upset with my husband (who quickly apologized later when he knew it had hurt my feelings) and was upset that my pristine image of domestic perfection I exude to the world was besmirched. It would surely be all over town by sunset. Could my reputation survive such scandal?
At this moment of channeling Scarlett O’Hara a little voice crept into my head. “To be honest, you are in sweats a good portion of the day.” I quickly silenced it. What does that matter? No one needs to know that and as long as I’m prepared in advance, those outside my family never will. The voice made her appearance again, “You have two kids who track in dirt and when you have time to work, you’d rather it be on your art than on cleaning the house. You know this. The house is a mess quite often and you’ve decided that’s okay.” Quieting the voice again I rebutted with a description of societal norms and expectations for a stay at home mom. It is of the utmost importance that I adhere to these guidelines. “To whom?”
Well, to my kids, of course…no, not them. They only care that I have ample time for them and are fed. Well then to my husband…sometimes, I guess, but he doesn’t care if I trade skinny jeans for sweatpants at 2pm and he’s always helping to tame the chaos and fully understanding of how impossible that really is. Well then it’s of the utmost importance to me…again, sometimes, but as long as I’m being productive, the appearance of myself and house isn’t my foremost concern.The voice again chimed in. “So you’re having this personal crisis because a stranger might see the honest way in which you and your house appear most of the time”…ummm…yes…but when you put it that way, it seems rather silly.
As I continued to painstakingly dissect this encounter, as I’m prone to do, I considered what I would have done had I known company was coming. I would have haphazardly picked up the house in a way that had no staying power and thrown on clothes and makeup, holding the pose until our guest left. At that point, I would have quickly redonned my sweats and the house would re enter its natural state of cozy chaos. Boiled down, I would be spending time I had otherwise set aside for important things to façade myself and home for a stranger (and yeah, I used façade as a verb).
Now I’m not trying to advocate for never cleaning or showering as I still hold those tasks as important, but they fall further down my list of priorities than my family, my sanity and my art (which are my top 3, the order of which may vary from moment to moment). All this means is that sometimes they don’t get done because I’m busy doing other, more important things. Normally I know this, but when another person was brought into the circle, it made me feel like my choices were shameful.
I see this same trend in my photography. For the most part, I work hard, spending my time enhancing, perfecting, failing, retrying…all good and active things that will further my art. At the same time, though, I want to be impressive, consistent, wonderful, admired…the list goes on and on. The truth is, however, I’M A MESS! Sometimes I impress, but that is not the norm. Sometimes I try to impress, and that is probably a much more regular occurrence than my true episodes of impressiveness. When I desperately try to impress, which often includes turning away from my honest and hard working attempts at art and instead doing what I think will bring more recognition my way, I sometimes succeed…I convince someone this is me and I’m awesome. The trouble is, that isn’t me and in the end I’ve spent precious time away from developing my real and honest artistic voice.
An example: For a while, I put a premium on recognizable style, but this quickly started to stagnate. I realized it was because I was focusing so much on the importance of others recognizing my work that I was in fact limiting that voice and the growth that needed to occur. I was not being honest with who I was at that moment, because who I was at the moment was not a stagnant being. I was not and am still not at a point where I can clearly define myself. I journal, have personal projects that become more clear as they continue, spend countless hours photographing, reading, learning, trying new things, taking workshops…everything I can do to become better, but I am not “THERE”. Why on earth do I need to worry about how others perceive me in the midst of this chaos? This chaos is productive and in trying to tame it for mass approval I only limit myself, my voice and my potential.
In past posts I have spoken of the importance of your select few trusted voices…these are NOT the people I am talking about in this post. The voices I am speaking of are the strangers, the Facebook page curators, the group of fellow photographers, speaking only of loves and perfections in every image posted. These voices are not bad in themselves. Sometimes these voices of encouragement can be exactly what you need to get out and photograph that day and a weekly favorite feature can feel great. The problem with these voices, however, is that they, in general, are not the voices that will help you get to the next level. They are often speaking words to you that they are hoping to receive in return. Speaking of Facebook in particular, when we place a great deal of weight on a system designed to tap into the rewards center of our brain, we begin to see value where none lies and limit our creativity because of the stifling desire for more likes, more reward. Another note on these voices is that they are most likely people in the same exact place as you and me: people who are a total mess in their journey as they strive with their whole souls to create art. We are all in this, we are all experiencing feelings of frustration and defeat, so why do we care what others think of us on any given day, for any given moment, within any give 1/125 of a second we have presented to the world? Moreover, why would we give someone in the same place as us, with the same struggles and insecurities, power to make us feel a certain way about our art? Encouragement and contests are great, but I believe it is essential to our growth that they rank much lower on our list of priorities than getting to work and creating our art. Let Facebook be your clean house and makeup. If you have time and energy, sure, but don’t let it take priority over those activities that are truly meaningful and will actually further you in your artistic journey.
Of course we will always care what others think(I'm guessing I will be checking my Facebook likes on this after it is posted), but I challenge you to be more comfortable with your honest self and in so doing, care a bit less about those outside voices. Let who you are right now in your life and in your art be OK. This is not your endgame. Don’t expect it to be clean and made up. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that if it is clean and made up, you’ve probably stagnated and you need to pull yourself out of your beautiful rut you’ve created.
For the sake of furthering my commitment to honesty, this is a picture of me today (taken by my 4 year old). I am in yoga pants, without makeup on, clearly having forgotten to look in a mirror before I left the house. These images are also all from today. This is where my art is today. It may be better or worse than yesterday. I don’t really know. The one thing I do know is that it is honest and whether it is good or bad, it is part of my journey forward.
So I implore all of you to join me in an honest declaration. Your declaration will be different than mine, but our honesty will ring throughout those differences. I close with mine. “My name is Amanda, I wear sweats much of the time, I didn’t make my bed today, I am all over the place in my artistic vision and voice, and I am a complete mess…But I’m a mess who is going places.”
Amanda Voelker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer, focusing on capturing the fleeting moments of childhood. She is currently located in the Seattle, Washington area. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday and is constantly amazed by all the wonder in her life. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of herself. Amanda is also the co-founder of 30 Minutes in the Life. Aside from photography and family, Amanda is passionate about the ocean, seeing the world, diet coke, reading, and chocolate. You can find more of her work on her website and facebook