The Company You Keep | Breaking the Block: Part II

By |2018-06-29T09:03:16+00:00Jun 28th, 2018|

Thank you!

Before I kick off the second installment of my new series, Breaking the Block, I want to extend a sincere “Thank you!” to everyone who has read Part I, left comments, and emailed me directly. Admittedly, I felt a few moments of panic shortly after pressing the Publish button for Part I. It’s never fun to lay out the very real problems you’re experiencing for the world to read. However, I’ve always prided myself on being candid with my readers and I felt that, by sharing the creative hindrances that I’m experiencing, I could let others who may be suffering similar issues know that they’re not alone. If me sharing some of my most personal creative problems helps even one person feel less alone with theirs, then the effort is totally worth it. You’re not alone. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below, on any other entry in this series, or email me directly at brian@matiash.com. Let’s grow together.

A simple thank you message

You’re all awesome! Thank you for being here!

The Trap of Sugar-coated Content

The advent and exponential growth of social media networks have had an impact on modern civilization in more profound ways than just about anything else in our history. It’s right up there with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Today, we can share virtually anything that pops up in our minds or that we see with our eyes with the entire world. In some cases, this freedom has brought about seismic changes in global societies. People can share breaking events literally as they unfold. This technology has given megaphones to those who used to be voiceless.

In other cases, social media has accelerated a sense of crushing isolation and self-loathing. I find the latter to be especially true with image-centric social networks, most notably Instagram. Just scrolling through my feed brings about a tightness in my chest as I see post after post of delicately manicured and curated moments that portray people living seemingly amazing, adventure-rich lives every second of every day. I then click on some of these people’s profiles and see follower counts in the hundreds of thousands or millions. I see them partnering with powerful companies and getting paid to share sponsored posts (even though almost every one of them fails to disclose the #sponsored #ad nature of the post).

As someone who has spent years on the business-side of the photography industry, I understand the necessity of sharing only painfully beautiful and perfect photos. The goal is that those manicured moments will translate into hundreds, or thousands, of people jamming the Like/Heart button or leave comments. Savvy business-minded photographers can leverage those stats into revenue-generating projects with companies. Or they can use it to promote workshops, branded merchandise, or some other products. Or, in many cases, they simply use this virtual attention stimulation to jock their egos and validate their worth as artists. Your photos must not be that good if you only received a handful of likes on them, right?

The trap that I have fallen into is comparing myself to these photographers. What’s worse is that this is a bottomless trap because, with each new photo that is shared, with its corresponding thousands of engagement datapoints, the well further deepens. Eventually, my mind conflates the success of their posts with real-life success, which almost always lacks a 1:1 correlation. What I’ve found most disappointing, especially when it comes to those “influencer” photographers who I know personally, is just how much of a facade is put in place between the self-righteous persona they pretend to be and who they are in person. That realization, more than any other, has emboldened me to make hard decisions over whom I allow to get close, which leads me to the next part of this post.

Fewer friends. More confidants.

The older I get, the more I realize the importance of having the right people in my life. There are no rigid factors as to what constitutes the right people. There is no minimum or maximum age. Gender is irrelevant, as are profession or vocation. In fact, one of the easiest ways to determine who the right people are is to take stock of who interacts with you and how they do so when you’re at a particularly low point in your life. Those that reach out and express genuine care are the ones you typically want to align with. Those who are doing great things and go to lengths to help you achieve those great things within yourself are the ones you typically want to align with. It’s easy to be a good friend to someone when they’re doing well and everything is peachy. It’s an entirely different role to take on when that person is in anguish. That is the line that separates a friend from a confidant.

Recently, comedian Kevin Hart shared a wonderful cluster of Stories on his Instagram profile. Because of the ephemeral nature of Instagram Stories, and the inability to externally link to them, I recorded these stories and want to share them. His message in these stories resonates perfectly with this particular section.

I wholeheartedly appreciate and agree with what Kevin is saying. Life is too short to allow in anyone who doesn’t have your absolute best interest at heart. Why allow yourself to associate with people who don’t want to help you achieve what’s best for you? Of course, it goes without saying that this is a two-way road. It’s as incumbent on you to be that same strong and positive influence on your tight cadre of confidants. It only works when the efforts are exerted in both directions.

With all of this being said, I don’t want to misconstrue the importance of focusing on keeping the right people close to you with actively eschewing every other friend altogether. That’s not the case at all. What I’m saying is that there is importance about discerning which people you should invest the bulk of your energy in. For me, drawing that line involves identifying certain characteristics of my friendships or of the friend him/herself.

For instance, you may have a friend who you get along with perfectly fine but they don’t really take much more than a superficial interest in how you’re doing. They’re the ones who usually only reach out when they’re driving from one place or another. These chats usually last as long as the drive takes and never really includes substantial conversation. Or you may have a friend who asks you, “How are things?,” or “How is business is going?” just so they can have the opportunity to answer and show off how much they’re doing. Of all the friends in my life, the ones that I’ve actively worked to keep at a distance are those with wildly inflated egos or that present themselves one way in person and a totally different way online. I have no time in my life to spend on people with inflated ego or hubris.

Maintaining Perspective

It needs to be about what’s best for you.

No one knows you better than you. When I write these posts, I’m mostly writing for myself with the hope that you can use the text as a guideline of sorts. You may very well have a healthy group of friends who provide you with your particular flavor of satisfaction. Or, you may be more of a solitary individual who thrives on your own. If your life situation is healthy and you’re in a good place, then I couldn’t be happier… and I genuinely mean that. This series is partly a self-development mechanism to help me get back to a healthy place and a component to that is taking a closer look at how I approach social media and who I allow closely in my life.

I’d love to hear your approach to these topics and how you’ve found success here. I am sure that I can learn a ton from your experiences, too! So, please leave a comment below or email me at brian@matiash.com. I hope you’ve enjoyed Part II of my Breaking the Block series. Stay tuned for Part III soon!

11 Comments

  1. Louise June 29, 2018 at 6:22 am - Reply

    Thank you sharing ,
    You are an artist and we live in a world of production that requires of one to be like an assembly line of production. The two cannot share common ground.
    Of course we need to put bread on the table,pay the bills etc. But at what cost to our physical and mental health?
    You seam to be in a good place now and taking the right steps toward a healthy mind set for creativity.
    You are an inspiration to all photographers!
    Art with meaning!

  2. Chris Coughlan June 29, 2018 at 7:47 am - Reply

    Hi Brian

    Firstly thank for your bravery in sharing thoughts so close to your heart.

    I worked as a photographer, mainly on fashion, and as a creative director for about twenty years before ending up a cripple both physically and financially while making a film for the government.

    I was always a bit of a loner. I remember a couple of times I thought I’d ‘lost it’. One was early on and I was just using film until I got it back and later when I walked out and didn’t come back for six months. I’d lost what was so dear to all of us – the love of the image. Why the first one happened I don’t know but the second one was the whole circus of the fashion and advertising industries with all those people who actually believe their own PR. It became production rather than creation and one day I woke up and thought sod it, I’m off, this is going to destroy me so I took off with my dog and car and lived in it just driving and taking pictures of the thing I really loved which was landscape. I used to vanish for weekends before to take landscapes, much to the annoyance of clients who would ring and ask my assistant “Where is he?” to receive the reply ” I don’t know” “Then when will he be back?” “I’m not sure”. I suppose I was never any good at playing the corporate game. I just wanted to make pictures and when they worked I would phone clients full of enthusiasm to be all to often greeted by a dull monotone which eventually wears you out I guess.

    However, late in life (I’m 70 next year), I discovered clouds. I went through many years of deep depression because of pain in my spine and the attendant feeling of uselessness before starting to look up. My belovèd wife Carol was an angel to put up with my appalling behaviour as I kept trying to do things I couldn’t and ending up in bed for days pumped full of Morphine. I then found the one thing I could do was point a camera up through the sunroof in the comfort of my belovèd old 1994 Saab 9000 Turbo. Fortunately I had a tiny pension I didn’t even know I had which paid for a second hand 5D Mark 1 with an EF 28-135 zoom which is still what I use for my pictures. I have an ancient EF100-300 but it falls off terrible under f11 so only gets used in the summer. Clouds have been a real Godsend for me. Ever changing – if you blink you can miss a composition so, as long as I can sit in my car or be propped up around it with my camera, I’m a happy soul. I’ve left my little website’s address. If you visit you’ll probably be the fourth this year but it doesn’t matter. For the first time in my life no one is badgering me or tying me to times and that is a wonderful freedom. It’s a bit of a mess because I can’t get my head round all the clever stuff but then I thought I don’t want to. It is what it is – A Wander in the Clouds.

    Thanks you once again for sharing what you have been going through. I’m sure it will be an inspiration to many. It has been to me.

    Take care and God bless,

    Chris

  3. Anastasios Konstantinidis July 3, 2018 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Brian,
    let me start by congratulating you on your Blog. Especially your series about Breaking the Block is amazing. They are so supportive and encouraging. Although i am not a professional photographer, i have made the experience of trying to be as somebody else wants you to be. As in your case i questioned myself if i want to lose contact with my self, just in order to be or to do what everybody else / or the business think is good for you. Many people questioned my decision one year ago when i left my leading position but i did not find any meaning of doing a piece of work which is not me. My decision of being me and not a fake” me revealed to me which people are most important to me. These people are the ones who i keep close to me. In my photographs i try to catch a glimpse of the world as i see it ignoring instagram or popular demand. of course critique is welcome but sometimes you have to ask who are ethe people that are giving it to you.
    Keep up your good work, i would love to see a sequel on your book
    all the best from Vienna, Austria

  4. Maureen Ravnik July 5, 2018 at 10:56 am - Reply

    WOW! This is a very poignant and self-revealing post here. I can’t tell you how much I agree with every single word of it. It makes me happy for you that you have recognized all these points and are working hard to do your own thing. There is a sense of loneliness to it, but, the self-pride and peace of mind you derive from it are totally worth it. I would pick you as my next person to hang out with. The only time I have for social media is on my own FB page (no others) where my work is shared with some friends and a lot of family. Most of the time I’m just working to be better at my craft and sharing it with galleries etc. that really appreciate my work. So, carry on brother. You have much to be proud of and I’m proud of you!

  5. Dawn Hester July 5, 2018 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Thanks Brian. I’ve been in photography forever (35+ years) but I do so because I love it. Being retired as full time photographer I’m still enjoying and share my work. I do me- meaning I shoot what I want and happy with it. Social media is social media & I tell myself not to get into all the likes etc. But your right about friends: they’re only a few and I call them good folks. Those good folks are the ones I can talk with and they’re honest because we all need honesty and it’s crom their hearts. I. Glad I’m on your email group and enjoying what you and Nicole are doing. Best of luck going back out West and maybe one day our paths will cross.

  6. Mike Weimer July 5, 2018 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Just wanted to say that I took your plan from your 1st installment to heart – start slowly to build up your healthy self. Hope I can stick to it and then move one to building up my creative self. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Peter July 5, 2018 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    It’s not the number of friends you have, it’s the quality of friends. Invest in a few good friends and leave the rest behind.
    Good luck with your move back to Portland. I hope Nicole and you will find you happiness there again.

  8. Scott McGonagle July 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Happy you and Nicole are making plans and moving forward with your journey. I grew up in Western Kansas and now have lived in Miami, Tulsa, and Houston. Home is where your heart is and know that you can visit anywhere! I get goose bumps every time I visit my hometown in Western Kansas. I make images all over the United States but am happy at home.

    Be happy and l am looking forward to seeing your next post.

    Thanks

    Scott

    Ibishawkimages.com

  9. Marcia G July 5, 2018 at 11:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you for writing this series, there is probably no one who has not been blocked at some time or another. Reading it has been like a refresher of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I think it may be time to revisit that book too. My issues are the 3 Ps, which you covered in this post: Perfection, Procrastination, Paralysis. I expect perfection from every thing I create, and therefore do not create based on fear. I fear that the next project may not be perfect, so I procrastinate. If I procrastinate long enough, that unrealized project becomes the plug that paralyzes me from doing anything else, either. I have gotten better, and my procrastination only lasts days at most, not months. I can now look at other people’s art, and if I think it is good, I feel inspired, not overwhelmed and depressed about how much better others’ work is than mine. Which, incidentally, is a fictional construct in my own mind.

    I no longer beat myself up during those periods of procrastinating either, a negativity which is just ’empty calories’ like you said in part l. I have discovered that if I leave my mind alone, instead of stopping it with toxic thoughts, my brain keeps working on projects subconsciously even when I am not, and very often uncovers a hidden problem, or even comes up with a better, more creative idea for the project. What a gift!

  10. Clive Collins July 7, 2018 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Hi there Brian. I have been aware of your work from the days you did your “inspiration” series for On1. I learnt most of my knowledge of how to use their software from you. This article is very interesting indeed. I am 74 years young and I’m a very keen hobby photographer living in Christchurch New Zealand. The world of Instagram/Facebook/500PX/etc etc etc horrifies me. The need people have to share and share and share their work intrigues me. I just don’t see why you would want to add your own wonderful images, which you have worked so hard to capture and which you love to keep and gaze at, into the huge boiling pot of imagery to be lost and to become meaningless in the world of photography. That’s a big sentence but I hope my point is clear. I have a small group of dear friends who I share my best images with and I know each one of them appreciate the results I achieve. To post an image in say Facebook so that thousands of faceless people can “like” it (whatever that really means) is for me a tasteless activity. I have seen the split second these people spend looking at and liking an image, and it’s quite pathetic to think it has any meaning to them. Anyway I could go on forever about this new phenomenon. My message is very simple the world has become a very strange place and one which I don’t recognise anymore. Meanwhile I truck along with my Nikon D500 and D750 having a glorious time in the field photographing wildlife and the landscapes they frequent without the “burden” of needing to share my world with anyone except those few who really care and understand. Thanks for this opportunity to add my few thoughts. Good luck Brian with your “recovery” I’ll be watching. Kind Regards, Clive Collins.

  11. Dave Gardner July 9, 2018 at 10:25 am - Reply

    Brian, I have followed your journey for years, On1, google, On1 etc. What you are sharing is both true and often takes individuals years to realize, At 71 years young, I value family and true friends the most. Someone told me once if you could name 5 people who would come to your aid at 2 in the morning you are truely blessed. Dave G

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