When I interned at the P-I, one of the first things my mentor had me do was write down a list of 3-5 words that described who I was as a photographer. For the most part, the task didn't seem too hard, I mean, all you have to do was write down a few adjectives and call it a day. However, the more I thought about it the more daunting it was. For most blossoming creatives, it's really hard to describe your work because you're still learning and trying lots of techniques and styles to really get a sense of what you like. So when I was asked to describe my body of work in three little words it started becoming the most difficult task in the world. I started seeing all my work as a random hodge-podge of photos that I just happened to like, with no consistency what-so-ever. "Did I just get lucky over and over?" I thought to myself. Being at a complete loss of words to describe who you are and what you do is, by far, the worst feeling in the world. I was hitting rock bottom and thinking that maybe I wasn't an artist at all. Maybe I wasn't creating a craft as much as just randomly being at the right place at the right time.
But then I went about it differently. Instead of describing my own body of work I started thinking of adjectives that described the body of work of photographers that I really admired and aspired to live up to. Immediately I thought of Christopher Doyle, the Australian surfer who made it big in Chinese cinema. At the time (and probably right now as well), there was no one who I aspired to be more than Christopher Doyle. If I could make it big in Chinese cinema and direct photography for Wong Kar Wai and Zhang Yimou, that would be living the dream for me. So I thought, "Ok, I can't describe my own work but I can describe work that I like. That should be good enough." So I wrote down three little words:
If you look at my body of work now you can see those three little words resonate throughout everything I do and that's because, from that moment on, I dedicated my life to living up to those three little words. In retrospect, that moment changed who I am as a photographer completely. I was no longer the person just looking for a good photo or a unique angle. I was now the person who had a specific vision and a clear goal at the end of the day. I was the person that needed to live up to those three words. Even though I didn't know who I was at the time, I at least knew who I wanted to be and that dramatically changed how I approached my work. With every photo I pick I think of those three words and even with many photos I take those words echo in my head.
The great thing about being an artist is choosing your own identity. Sure it's daunting and it's hard but if you can pick three words to live up to then everything else will just fall into place. If you're ever lost, let those three words guide your way and eventually your work will end up where it needs to be.