On my (First) Creative Midlife Crisis

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
Carl Gustav Jung

I think every artist goes through this defining moment in their creative lives, and spoiler alert: It’s rough.

Let’s look back to the beginning. When we start out everything is dandy: you just discovered your new passion, be it photography, drawing, painting, writing, or filmmaking. You’re learning and experimenting, sometimes even creating pieces that you actually like. You take a lot of inspiration from other artists, which is fine, because you’re still a beginner and figuring out what makes you tick.

Fast forward a couple of years. You have a portfolio of random art that you’re pretty happy with, but you know there’s nothing truly special there. Nothing that you can put into a book or exhibit proudly in a gallery.

I hit a moment like that a few years ago. I was still picking up the camera and taking photos, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling that excitement anymore. I gradually took less and less photos, and work took over as a priority. I worked more and more professionally, but less and less personally.

This feeling lasted for years, but I’m now in a great and exciting place once more and definitely taking better photos. So what happened? How do I level up my art and create a portfolio that I’m proud of? How am I to be excited by photography now that the thrill of experimenting is over?

There is a moment in the past years that unlocked something for me. It happened two, maybe three years ago. Work was hectic and constantly took up all my headspace. I suddenly had two weeks to myself, and for the first time ever I sat myself down and asked myself where I was taking my photography. Why was I shooting, and what kind of photos did I want to take? Looking forward two years, what story would my portfolio tell? It seems like a straight forward thing to ask oneself, and hopefully you ask yourself this question regularly, but it wasn’t to me at the time. To me it felt like a revelation, and truly opened the doors of possibilities to me.

This is the leap from experimentation to intent. It took me a while to get there and I felt incapable of taking a photo before understanding this. The work ahead of me is even harder. Instead of accidently taking good photos, I need to be able to constantly produce a good image that fits in the story I’m telling. In essence, this is about finding your voice as a photographer.

Let’s look at some pros. William Eggleston famously said that he was at war with the obvious, with the mundane. He captured everyday life in America during the 60s-70s, concentrating on seemingly normal moments that captured the essence of life at that time incredibly well. None of his photos are flashy or jump out at us. He sees the world in a certain way, and his photos reflect that.

Nan Goldin on the other hand, photographed herself and her tribe throughout her life, often at their most vulnerable moments. This was a way for her to cherish her relationships, saying that a photograph is a way of caressing someone, of helping them in accessing their soul. The result is a vast portfolio of extremely intimate portraits, especially of the LGBTQ community and the heroin-addicted subculture.

So what am I really trying to do here? Where am I going? What does it mean to search for my photographic voice? How do I stay true to myself? Will being myself magically create consistent and good art?

The internet is full of articles on the matter, which comes to show that I’m not alone in this search. What do those articles suggest? Take a lot of photos, especially of things you love, and try to fit them into series or projects to stay consistent. It doesn’t seem like amazing advice, but what these articles are trying to say is that you won’t find the answer on the internet. You have to go out into the world and create stuff if you want to figure out where you’re going.

The parallel between art and life seems obvious here. Signs of a midlife crisis include having little energy for things that used to please you, feeling unmotivated, or feeling unsatisfied with things that used to satisfy you. The cliché of the forty-year-old man who leaves his family in a sports car with a new young girlfriend is known by all. Of course, a midlife crisis doesn’t have to be so destructive. It should be a moment to take stock of our life so far, check up on our goals and plan for the next half of our lives.

What I really want to say is that in art as in life, we should strive to live with intent, understand ourselves and our actions, and create goals that lead to the most happiness, or else we may let life pass us by and regret where we are in the years to come.

This is of course hard, ridiculously so. We live in a world that keeps us very busy and it takes time to stop, look around, and realign ourselves. We shouldn’t be afraid of these crises. They’re simply signs that we are not aligned with ourselves and need to create change.

What’s even more difficult when it comes to art is that you need to understand yourself and your world view, and then translate that into meaningful art. This is not only a personal journey but a public one. We are showing the world who we are, and plenty of people won’t like what they see and won’t hesitate to share that sentiment with you.

I’m young enough to realise that the creative block I had a few years ago was simply the first of many to come. I wanted to start my blog with this topic, because I’m sure I’ll revisit this theme sometime soon. My compass is my happiness, and all I can do is strive north. There will be trying times ahead, and others where I will need to realign with myself and my goals. There are no shortcuts in life, and we shouldn’t try to rush things. The first steps of experimentation were vital to where I am now. We must remember to enjoy the journey.

So here I am, taking photos every day and trying to understand what these photos mean about me as much as their meaning to the people viewing them. Perhaps my “voice” will appear with time. At least for now I can say that I’m truly happy and enjoying myself. And you know what, maybe that’s the only goal I’ll ever need…

Until next time.

“Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”

Carl Gustav Jung

I am a freelance photographer who recently started showcasing more artistic work. This is the story of my journey.