Get off My Back

That’s a somewhat comedic line from a film titled Screamers that was adapted from a Philip K. Dick sci-fi story. A minor character in the film keeps having his personal space, in this case, his fears rather than his physical space, messed with by another character who enjoys torturing the poor guy’s war-battered psyche.

When it comes to personal work, I think too many people fear that same issue of Being Messed With. Laying your work and your ego on the line can feel dangerous and intimidating and who wants to be scrutinized at that level? Yet hanging out in that dangerous space enables you to genuinely create. It’s a space where inner demons, angels, or perhaps the misfit hangs out and it’s essential to success. There can be growth without going there, but it’s self-limiting. You’ll never avoid the critics and doomsayers, but your reaction to The Gloom is totally within your control.

Creating personal work is essential but I’m not sure labeling it as personal work is. Personal work shouldn’t be a separate category on a website. But it should strongly influence your identity as a photographer. Sure, we all land gigs that we don’t enjoy, it pays a bill or two and that’s fine. But if that’s the only work that you show, all you’re going to get is more of the same. If you remember the passion that led you to this profession – the same kind that pushes you to create work that excites – I believe letting that passion take over is a path to success.

So shoot what’s important to you. Get that work in front of people and be a professional. It shouldn’t be your resolution for a new year, it should be a permanent part of your business model, one that creates contagious energy from which we all benefit.

Previously published on ASMP’s Strictly Business Blog.

John Welsh is the outgoing President of the Philadelphia chapter of the ASMP (congrats and good luck to the new board!) and is juggling daily work that pays the bills, a documentary film about industrial preservation and in now 2015 introducing new life to a personal project shot in Iceland by dragging it into the world of new media.

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