Struggling with the creative process is good for the process as well as for the end result. It may sound contradictory, but what it really means is that you are not running on auto-pilot. Instead you are forced to use your skills to the utmost to accomplish what you are trying to do. Struggling simply goes along with being creative – sometimes more, sometimes less, but often the more you initially struggle to get where you want to creatively speaking, the better the final result will end up being. I think there is no way around the struggle, and I don’t think we want to either, no matter how painful it feels in the moment. So instead of finding the easy way around the problem, go head and address it with determination as well as a willingness and openness for alternative solutions. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. And you may find that you are surprisingly – in one way or another – rewarded in the end.
For me it can be compared to getting up to photograph at dawn. I am not a natural early bird and I really have to struggle to get up to catch the sunrise. Every photographer loves that beautiful morning light. So I will go through the struggle to get up in time – once in a while at least. And after the initial struggle the reward is worth any hardships getting there. Not only for the beautiful light, but I also love that early transition-time between night and day, the quietness, the cool and often empty space that goes with daybreak, the muted sounds, all while experiencing the awaking of life.
Quite often when I have to shoot corporate portraits I really struggle to find a meaningful and interesting way to do it. It goes with the territory; often the shoot takes place in a boring office environment. After the initial struggle – and I know I am not getting any good pictures when I notice that I constantly seek various angles or try hard to search for alternative solutions, I step back, think a moment about what I want to say with the picture; what the story is; what the subject is, and then let go and start to flow with my unconscious mind. Momentum starts to build up, I enter a more dynamic shooting process and I might end up with something quite different, but way more interesting than what I started out from in the first place.
The same goes with street photography. I love being on the streets shooting daily life whenever I travel. And I think I get some good pictures once in a while. But it’s such a hard struggle, always has been and always will. It’s the whole process, encountering strange people, take something from them and trying to give some of myself back; it all wears me down. And I still love it. But some days I just can’t get myself out of the hotel – literally. I go hiding in the room and struggle with my depletion and self-esteem and my motivation. And then next day I am out again, doing better than before I went into hiding.
A few times I don’t manage to get out at all, though. I remember many years ago; I had been travelling in South-East Asia for about half a year. I was on my way back to Europe and had a 36 hours lay-over in Karachi, Pakistan. My initial plan had been to take advantage of the time there and go out and shoot, but I was completely done after six months of street photography. I spent those 36 hours in my hotel room with curtains closed, and I am still somewhat embarrassed when I think about it.
But when the struggle doesn’t wear you down, I think it’s only good for the creative process. It sharpens you and makes you get more out of the process. So struggle is good. Embrace it with pleasure!