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.
My family and I are currently in an awkward place. In January of this year, my husband resigned his commission in the Navy so we could start a new dream job that has been in the works for over two years. While there were no guarantees for start time with the new job, it looked like March would be the time…but then invitations to start the job in March came and went, without my husband getting one. So we waited. When I would talk to people about our life I would always gloss over this stage and skip to the next. The stage with the glamorous, world traveling career, not the one where we’re living in our old house without decoration while we drain our savings as we wait and wait for this new career to start. Instead of checking in with myself and how I’m handling things, I fantasize of where we’ll be sent first. Thailand? Chile? Norway? I have our first vacation planned for when we get to DC for the training. I have got our future COVERED.
Right now, however, is a different story. I have decidedly not got “the now” covered because I try to dwell on our current situation as little as possible. Invitations for May and June also came and went without an offer so my husband is in Italy for 2-4 months to work while we continue to wait. I find myself pacing the house, feeling uninspired to do anything. We sit, we wait, we hope, but we still live. It’s the last bit that is key and it’s the last bit that I forget. We live. The right now is not exciting, but it is our life and the longer we are in this situation, the more I realize what a disservice I am doing myself and my family by looking only to the future.
This realization has come very slowly. I slowly began to realize that the image and emotions I was projecting to friends, my kids, my husband and myself were not genuine. I came home from church one day completely drained. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The kids were good, the lessons were great, what was it? At that point it hit me. I had just spent 3 hours pretending. I was having less than genuine conversations with people who were earnest in their interest and concern. I was puffing our future up so I didn’t have to admit the failings of our present. That afternoon I did some serious soul searching and I began to see that there was very little of my genuine self in my interactions. I uncovered the reason behind this and it was pretty harsh. It all boiled down to the fact that while I was excited about our future, I was embarrassed by our present. In an effort to protect myself from feeling like a failure, I just skipped the now and jumped to the next step.
Upon this realization, I decided to breathe and just let myself be in our current situation. I’ve learned the importance of this already, as you can read here, but have to relearn it often. I let myself be open to what I was feeling and took away that which was not representative of where I truly was. Taking down this wall was a challenge as it demanded humility and acceptance, neither of which I’m a shining example. In this process, however, something amazing happened. As I began to let the veneer break down, I found myself. I found that letting myself just feel the many emotions I was bottling up, made them a lot less powerful. As I held them back, I was holding back my ability to be honest with myself and others. In the end, that guise of peace became an actual feeling of peace. Letting myself be right there in the muck, without a constant and unsettled eye to the future was calming and pretty wonderful. The future is still there and it will still be great, but so is my right now, even if it isn’t ideal.
Rather than this life experience as an analogy for photography, I want to talk about how this directly affected my work. At the same time I was being caught up in our family’s future I was also caught up in the future of my photography. I was living in the excitement of future goals, things happening in several months and opportunities that I know will come for me after the move. My bright future was in my sights and I just kept on looking to it.
I’m pretty good at working every day on my art. I am a firm believer that if you wait for inspiration, you’ll never find it. I bring myself and my efforts, no matter how I’m feeling. That being said, days when I’m just not feeling it are hard. I find myself taking a million frames of garbage, with no direction and little success. On those days, very little moves me and there is very little that excites me about my work. During this period of exhaustive future gazing I had one of those off days with my art almost every day. I still turned out some decent work here and there, but it was burdensome and kind of miserable.
As I started to change the way I was thinking about my personal life, I also turned that lens to my artistic process. I realized that in looking to my future I was unintentionally discounting my present work: assuming nothing I did right now was important and almost throwing away this time and opportunity for growth. While I wasn’t stopping, I was, in a sense, doing the same thing because I had removed honesty from my work and with that removal had blocked my path forward. As I started to just sit with our reality and be honest with myself and those around me, I noticed those miserable art days diminishing in frequency. I was frustrated, nervous and sad, but rather than having a frustrated process, I was able to channel those feelings into my art. By being honest with my life, my art also became more honest and inspired.
I know that my future is bright. I know that your future is bright. There are big things ahead for all of us because we all have our own beautiful voice and we won’t stop until that voice is heard. A big part of getting it, however, is wading through challenging times both in art and life. Looking to the future can absolutely be exciting and encouraging, but don’t let it overshadow your present because it is in the present that the real magic needs to happen. It is in this crucible of crap (I had this phrase highlighted to change, but couldn’t figure out a more appropriate way to say it that still kept the integrity of the idea, so I apologize) that you must find yourself, your voice and your art so that you can pull your whole self to your incredible future. In doing so, no matter how difficult the road may be, you will not only have an awesome future, but also an amazing present.
So with no offence intended to Timbuk 3, I would like to respectfully disagree with their iconic lyrics. The future is indeed so bright, but don’t put those shades on just yet.
A note on the images used. My plan was to shoot something beautiful and significant. Something that would convey honesty and this journey we are all on. Then we went to the beach and this kid showed up with these ridiculous shades and I took it as a sign to lighten up.
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