The world really does seem to be pivoting right now doesn’t it? I don’t think I can recall a time when people seem to have been so divided, quick to admonish, belittle and run down anyone and everyone in such a spiteful way and on seemingly every level of society. Our ‘leaders’ don’t seem to help as I can’t remember a time either when it was so seemingly transparent to see that politics really is nothing more than ‘he/she who shouts loudest’ without a care for anyone else other than their own heavily agenda’d argument.
There is simply such a lack of decency going around that I’m actually starting to close my own personal shell and back away from society, something that I’ve never done, and so I’m writing this as a way of working out something for my own sanity. But here’s the thing. I’m not particularly good at this. Talking isn’t really something I do so maybe shouting into the void will be easier as I can’t see your face while you metaphorically listen.
I guess it comes with the expectancy of pressure that you put yourself under. Mine is slightly different to some in this game. You see, this was never my game. My background is rooted in greed, gluttony and money. But first, some background.
Escaping with a pencil
My love from an early age was drawing. The simplicity of sitting at a blank piece of paper, surrounded by crayons and pencils and then just getting something out of your minds eye and onto the page. Lots of squiggling later, and at the age of nine years old, I had progressed to sitting at the dining table with my dad copying cars and planes out of big photographic books and recreating them on the page. I got lost in it. For hours. The world outside of that table top could’ve just exploded and I wouldn’t have known.
But then I became an early developing teenager. My head was turned by the arrival of video games in arcades and then having them in our homes with the arrival of friends having computers. Colourful dimensions were entered into by simply plugging the cable into the TV, loading up a cassette and then off fighting for high scores and one-upmanship over whoever came round to play.
Occasionally, my dad would ask if I wanted to draw with him, but I always had an excuse. An excuse. Something that I’ve become well paid for over the years in my sales and marketing roles. But the sadness I now have is because I never realised how much my dad enjoyed that simple time of bringing his scientific pens and pencils back from his engineering day job for me to use.
But it wasn’t cool. Playing games was cool. Instant gratification was cool. And I was a good early gamer. But something that had been bubbling away while I sat drawing was also evident while I practiced computer games. If I wasn’t winning, I wasn’t happy. Moreover, I was angry. Getting beaten would lead to outbursts of hurling joysticks across a room, punching a door or a wall but always stopping short of actually physically hurting anyone else. It was always about just screaming at myself how crap I was.
And so, the good grades at school began to wane. Girls and being cool were where I wanted to be. Needed to be. The friends I had in the top sets at school were replaced by me being able to be the smart, witty one in the middling sets. I’ve never been one to plan for the future, just kill it in the now. Tomorrow is always a new day so worry about that later, even though it never comes.
Technically, my emotional clamshell closed down when I had my first heartbreak aged sixteen. Getting cheated on is never good. But then getting lied to about being cheated on, finding out you had been and then getting beaten up by the guy, well, that sucked. So, what to do?
Well, I figured if you had money, you could have everything. All the toys. Cool with the boys and off with the girls. I became, quite simply, an animal. I cared for no-one. I felt nothing. Family got old. Some died. I lost touch with most of them and I didn’t care. I tried making money however and whenever I could. I sold fake designer goods around the pubs. I sold fake watches and sweet talked my way around a beating when they didn’t work properly which meant I was now equipped with ‘objection handling’ capabilities. If I could use someone to get what I wanted, to get to where I wanted to be, well, that was the game I was playing.
Eventually, after selling everything from alarm systems door-to-door, horse meat as best mince beef through to supplying complete IT ‘solutions’, I had seemingly achieved everything. I had cars, houses, holidays, a successful business, friends, laughter, money. I had many happy moments over the years, but I hadn’t realised just exactly how simple the pleasures were that made that happiness real.
Glad that’s over
I left the corporate world in 2014 and I genuinely believed that was that. I was done. I had taken on all the corporate bullshit and not only survived but I’d left at the top too. But I was still a long way short of happy. Not the quick, short, sharp happiness that I’d always chased but that hairs on the back of your neck happiness when you feel warmth coursing through your veins and flooding your soul.
I picked up the pencils again that year and realised that while I could still sketch quite well, I now only had the drawing skills I’d left behind 30 years previous. My issue was still there though; I wanted perfection. You see, the issue that I’ve always had is getting it right. When I used to sketch, it would be pencil roughs, practiced the inking in and then sketch, outline over in ink and colour. But even by the time I attended my school art exam, I was looking for shortcuts. I achieved a ‘B’ in my art exam (the only ‘O’ level equivalent I ever got) and what I actually did was create a final piece of artwork based on an Activision computer game poster that I’d sellotaped to my leg so I could just copy it. With 15 minutes to go, I then had a completed piece of artwork and then I backfilled some sketches to show my working out, submitted it and left.
The penalty I’m paying now that I’m trying to be creative today is that there are no shortcuts. I am constantly learning. I’m constantly on a school day, I’m on a creative catch up. I look at people in the market who have done this for the last 30 years while I was just creating money and the portfolio of work and experience they have means that I am at the bottom of Everest trying to climb it in flip flops.
I now feel anxiety. I care about what people think of my work. I care about what I create and need validation of when it is good and constructive critique when it needs to improve.
But what I actually get is, when it is good, I hear nothing. But when it isn’t right, fuck me, you never hear the end of it.
Hang on a minute
Coming from a commercial background, I get that people want and need a deal in terms of budget, but I don’t think I’ve experienced such fervent shittiness as that of commercial photography today. I guess the romantic idea that has been ever thus is one thing, but the reality is that trying to create a sustainable working environment that has buoyant mental health within it isn’t here. Behind some of the most wonderful and critically acclaimed work, I’ve met people on the verge of suicide, steeped in poverty and yet revered for their talent.
I’ve also met vacuous trust fund wankers, devoid of any discernible talent who are lauded on social media yet professionally only get anywhere because ‘daddy’ will keep buying the brand that they are influencing. I’ve overheard people who own commissioning budgets choose to use certain people because they ‘will be a sure thing’ (it’s 2019 and I’m listening to people openly suggesting they will hire someone as they believe they’ll have sex with them).
Yet talent is all around.
So, in a bid to try and keep some sort of sanity, I’m calling on the best of my old skills while I constantly update my new. And it’s tough.
It’s OK to be many things
I’m a photographer and I love being able to see something in my mind and create it how I see it. I don’t care if it isn’t ‘pure’ or all done in camera. If that is all you ever want to do, fine, but to me the camera, lights, software, techniques you can get these days are simply tools. I don’t see many people living in a house they built out of mud and foraged branches because they don’t like bricks and plywood so get a ladder, climb down off your horse and be quiet.
I’m a creative because I see nothing wrong with thinking up ideas. Make believe is a wonderful thing and if all you ever want to do is see a real struggle and never lose yourself in a world of film, theatre or comedy that is solely entertainment, then count me out. I know how shit the real world is, that’s why I’m writing this because as stressful and anxious as I can be about it today, the work I do allows me to escape it. Albeit for too short a time. But know this. Projects that I’m working on, if I am not talented enough to create, I’ll fight for the budget being made available for the right person out there to do it and make a referral. That’s why I’ve been spending my time understanding who is capable of what and where that talent lives.
No safety net
I’m a freelancer. This is because after sitting in meetings playing wank word bingo and using all the acronyms, wearing the suits, sitting in a cubicle dreaming of an office, working my way up the pay scale, looking at a pension plan and actually creating nothing to be left behind when I leave means I can’t be employed. This is due mainly because I use direct language that is legislated against or frowned upon. You won’t like me to sitting in your boardroom and telling you and your management team something is shit because you expect me to say ‘that’s an interesting point but what if we look in another direction’ for fear of upsetting your sensibilities.
It’s tough here though. I need the work, the money and it is sometimes difficult to look at that steady pay check and walk back to a ton of excuses as to why someone still owes me money from something that wrapped 6 months ago.
But above all of these things, I’m human. It hurts when I don’t do a good job, a great job. It kills me if you’re not happy or satisfied. When you think that I’m ‘one of the lads’ and you tell me who you’re going to employ so you can fuck them, trust me, I’ll let that person know exactly what you’re like so that should you hire them and if they work for you, they’ll walk in with their eyes wide open and their legs slammed shut because they’re also human and you don’t deserve to get to treat anyone that way. We don’t need your money if that’s how you think you get to spend it. Especially when you purport to the outside world to be such a happily married person with a young family. You see, if you were never going to hire me in the first place, I’ve got nothing to lose as I’m already on the outside looking in. Don’t worry though, we all know who you are and talk about you too. Fairs fair mate.
For the good guys
But finally, to all the lovely, smiling, happy and not so happy creative people out there who I’ve been fortunate so far to meet, work with, assist, help, learn from and gain valuable experience with; thank you. I may be fairly new to the trade and I’ll get things right and wrong as we carry on doing what we do. Sometimes we’ll compete, sometimes I’ll be pissed at how great a job you’ve done and sometimes I’ll be pinching myself that I won the gig. Either way, just know that as much as I’ve been on the other side of the fence, I’m on your side. I was all along.
It’s just taken me 30 years longer to come and play with you.