A friend and I, looking for our mojo on Prince Edward Island yesterday. Sometimes we find it, sometimes we don’t, but the search is our job.
Last week I spent some time on Facebook answering questions. It was a lot of fun, and something I’d like to do more often. One question that came up a couple times in different ways was this: I’ve lost my drive, my mojo to pick up the camera. I have so much I want to say with my camera but somehow, I’m blocked!
In my experience when people talk about losing their mojo, they mean their inspiration. We’ve all been there in some way and the longer you do this (your art) the more certainly you’ll have found yourself in a funk. But I like the way we express it: as something lost. And my friend, very few things, once lost, come looking for us. That’s our job. It is we who must go looking for them, and we do that with cameras in hand. We look. We seek. And no, we don’t always find it on the first try. But it is no magic thing. It won’t show up just because you pick up the camera. It must be sought. The only way I know to do that, because it’s not some material thing you’ve just lost under the cushions of the couch, is to do your work.
Go back to where you last had it, when you last felt the inspiration. And get back at it. Shoot a thousand crappy photographs until something ignites your curiosity and you follow that through another thousand frames and find it, there – your mojo, your muse – waiting for you.
My friend, very few things, once lost, come looking for us. That’s our job. It is we who must go looking for them, and we do that with cameras in hand. We look. We seek. And no, we don’t always find it on the first try.
If that doesn’t work, then mix it up. In fact if you lost sight of your muse after photographing one thing, in one way, for too long, it’s a good chance you didn’t lose your muse at all. She got up and left, bored, and will be found when you change things up. Chances are good that you have changed but the way you have done things has not. You yourself have outpaced the artist you once were, and you never noticed your interest, passion, or curiosity waning. Well it’s gone, baby, and you need to put new wine into the new wineskins, to borrow an ancient metaphor. For me that mixing up can mean anything from doing something other than photography for a while, exposing myself to new mediums, or new artists, or even setting old tools down in favour of something new – like an iPhone or film camera. Only you know what that is, and if you’re floundering, just pick something – anything – and see where it leads. But the only way we find something is to look, and the thing with looking is it’s frustrating. We keep looking until we find, and until that moment, after which it seems so obvious, it feels hopeless.
I know this because every trip and assignment I’ve done has felt this way. Each time I begin at zero, each time I have to find the muse, and every time she’s in a new place, and looks a little unfamiliar at first glance, because every work any of us begin, for which we need the muse at all, is a new work. Every day we have to stoke the fire again.
Of course there’s the very real possibility that you haven’t lost your mojo at all, that your muse is there for you, with a million great ideas and the passion and joy – and hard work – that goes with those, but that you’re just paralyzed with fear. I’ve been there, too. The mojo is there alright, you just know your next step will take risk, and that first step in that direction is a step into uncertainty. That, I’m sorry to say, is where my help (if it is help at all) ends. In my experience the muse and all her mojo don’t ask you to go somewhere you can’t handle. But only you can take that breath and move forward. All I can say is, you’ve got this.
Each time I begin at zero, each time I have to find the muse, and every time she’s in a new place, and looks a little unfamiliar at first glance, because every work any of us begin, for which we need the muse at all, is a new work.
I wish I could give you more, but that’s all I’ve got, and it’s all I’ve been able to dredge out of the wisdom of all the artists who’ve gone before us and cared enough to write it down. There are no guarantees – only that if you do not look, if you do not hunt down this recalcitrant muse, and follow your curiosity into corners you’ve never explored, she will remain out of sight. But don’t take all this so seriously that you don’t enjoy the journey. Sometimes – usually, even – the detours are the more scenic routes, and are the point of the journey. More often than not, if we’re willing to take the detours and see them through, we find the muse there, pockets full of mojo.
Burn out is a reason to lose my desire. Splitting my time equally between creating photographs and usability design (often with the artwork of others) has been a great way for me to bounce back and forth. I don’t think I have the ability to stay focused on only one without becoming tired.
If my brain stops thinking, I need to consume more. The hardest part is starting.
Thank you, David.
In my experience, great images, like love, come when you’re not looking for them – we destroy whatever it is that opens our creative sluices by trying too hard to express ourselves or make a meaningful image or whatever – we just need to forget everything and experience what we see – the rest is for later. Nice pic, by the way – could have done with a crescent moon over to the left, but I realise even you can’t control that ; )
As usual David you nailed it. Personally, I find that if my camera mojo is taking a little time out (as in I haven’t booked any work) I go and do something else creative. I write, find new yoga poses, sketch, anything that keeps that creative door open and challenges me. Sometimes it is good to take a break and go out and discover all those other parts of your creative self that make up the whole. Life is cyclic, work is cyclic and so is our creative vitality. The key is to keep challenging yourself. Keep digging deep and changing it up. You talk about what makes you lean in…well sometimes I think we need to lean in to ourselves. When things are tough and we have to look inward and dig deep sometimes what we find is really rather lovely.
There is a difference between an artist and a person who enjoys the creative process. The artist has ideas/visions, often to many, and too little time in his life to realize them all.
The block/frustration here is more about how that what.
The person who enjoys the creative process often struggles finding his muse.
i hadn’t picked up my ‘big’ camera for such a long time that i had to think hard about where i’d put it when i went to get it out again! and, because i was feeling a little lost without photo buddies to hang out with now i’ve moved back to nz, and not knowing in which direction to look, i started by simplifying: one camera and one lens for one month.
i am almost at the end of the month and it’s been a really interesting process. one – because my days very often might look quite the same to someone observing them from any distance and two – because it’s made me remember that i LOVE photography… it’s been a great exercise in focusing on the project rather than the gear too.
it has me noticing things i’d forgotten (or neglected) to notice + it’s making me re-realise that there is magic in the ordinary if i just take time to really look.
I don’t want to sound smug, or like a “know it all,” or anything like that… however, for me, no matter the personal problems in my life or mind, I never feel “blocked,” or more precisely, if I do, the cure for me is always to just simply get to work, weather its going out and shooting, or opening up some images from a past shoot to view with new insight and skills picked up since then.
Bang! Block gone. Inspiration starts flowing again. I must admit, this was not always the case when I was much younger man, but now, after working as an artist for decades, work is the cure for
Many artists that I know that have reached a certain, uh…. “maturity” say it’s the same for them. 😉