Living A Photographic Life: High-School Never Ends

Clutching At Straws


It was the 80's in a grey, Northern English town. I was the smallest guy and youngest person in my high-school year at an average sized secondary school. I wasn't very good at sports, I was the son of a minister, I wore chain store brand jeans and sneakers, I was academic; I desperately wanted to be cool and popular but I was none of those things. Life was not fun.

I learnt how to blend into the background and tried not be noticed but it wasn't enough to avoid the classroom bullies. I've been kicked around a classroom floor while the rest of the class cheered and laughed. I was punched, hit or kicked most days. I learnt not to cry, not to fight back and to laugh it off like I was in on the joke despite the humiliation and discomfort. From very early in my high-school 'career' until I left for college I knew high-school was just something I had to survive until I could get out of there. I have never gone back to the town my high-school is in and I have not kept in touch with anyone from there beyond a few superficial Facebook 'friends'.

I got through it by knowing it would end and from believing that it was just kids being kids and that children are cruel. It turns out high-school never ends and it will even follow you into your artistic life despite your best efforts. We tell each other that art is not a competitive sport and that we belong to a huge supportive community but don't you believe it. Flickr, especially is just like high-school and I'm sure most other online communities that have any analytics for measuring your 'popularity' are similar.

It turns out I'm still not one of the cool kids. It turns out that, even though I put a brave face on, that still hurts. It turns out there are cliques and groups that I don't have enough heat to be included in. It turns out that being able to fade into the background is not a great way to get your work noticed. It turns out that the cliche that if you consistently and persistently do good and thoughtful work you will be discovered is a lie ... either that, or my work is not as good as I believe and that is a truth I'm not yet ready to face. It turns out these thoughts and attitudes are not conducive to creative work.

How do you get past this?

I am not a spiritual person who believes in fate or karma. Good people and good work gets overlooked everyday while popular, beautiful people can rise to the top by the power of personality and charisma alone. There is no consolation in this. I can only live my life and make my work within my belief system. I will, however, be even more vigilant about how I treat others. I have to build the world I want to live in so I will try not to roll my eyes at yet another fuzzy sunset shot at camera club. Instead I will keep trying to put myself behind the photographer's eyes; to see the beauty they saw and the felling they are trying to express. I will not be dismissive and I will try to keep the snobbishness I know I can be prone to, in check.

Children can be cruel but adults can be equally so and they should know better. Photographers and other artistic types are not immune from this petty gamesmanship but it is not conducive to living an artistic life and so I am going to try not to get sucked in. I am going to try to treat everyone with respect and not get hurt that I am still not cool enough to play with the popular kids.

Posted on Monday, 4 April 2011 | Canon EOS 5D II, Editorial, ,