Copyright Skylar Liberty Rose
This wasn’t planned. I picked up a camera to help fill a void I had after graduate school. I had been accustomed to full-time work and part-time school for a number of years but after I graduated I was simply heading home after a dead-end day job. My goal with photography was to have a fulfilling hobby that would yield a good enough shot to frame and put on my wall.
Photography literally swallowed me whole. Rather unknowingly, I went through what has become a traditional route for an artist who didn't attend art school. Over time I fully immersed myself in the medium by reading countless magazines and journals, attending photography talks and exhibitions, watching online videos, shooting everything I saw, meeting up with other aspiring photographers and spending so much time on Flickr at my day job that my firm blocked it from their servers.
I quit that job. And since then I have been shooting to survive.
Like most artists, I have questioned my very existence on many a dark day. And still do. But the love is what drives me. I learned quickly that as a full-time creative most of the time the love is all you will have. No support, no rewards and no money.
A couple of years ago I realised that this is not something I do - rather something I am. And hearing some of the same sentiment echoed by other photographers this past summer allowed me to realise that I have reached a pivotal point in my journey.
I went to Photoville 2015 in Brooklyn and attended documentary talks, viewed some exemplary work and met some truly special artists and activists. Being around my peers was a fulfilling experience that allowed me to pause and reflect - I have truly come of age as an artist. Having entered this game at a later stage than most (it was at the age of 28 that I first learned what Aperture is) there was a lot to get used to - a lot of patterns to break, a lot of security to lose and a lot of self-esteem to find. After all, it was only about a year ago I actually referred to myself as an artist for the first time.
But while reflecting I kind of hit a wall - a moment when I feared that this may be the end game. Like this was what I had worked years to achieve and here it was right in front of me in the most anti-climactic realisation possible. Was this my 'arrival' as an artist? Now what the fuck do I do?
This feeling was not unlike when I completed graduate school and realized getting (yet another) job was the end game. And that a job would be what I would do for the rest of my life - why I had been going to school for the bulk of my time on this planet. Perhaps photography entered my life at that time to help deal with that particular existence. However because that reality didn't sit right with me I made a change. I moved to London and eventually away from office work. But here I was years later all over again - wondering what comes next.
Since this moment of quiet doom last Summer there has been a change - a further evolution required for this journey. As it turns out I have not arrived at an end game with photography, rather quite the opposite.
I have gained a truer self-awareness coupled with an understanding of the existence of an artist. The adjustment of moving from full-time employment in the business world to running your own business in the creative field is enough to push one to the brink - or worse for me, back to the office world. Fortunately I was able to avoid both of those circumstances.
I experienced a critical change by truly acknowledging that I am one of countless artists all over the world who experience the highs and lows, self doubts, self assurances, sobering moments and days filled with darkness that cannot be described. There are literally hordes of us. Accepting myself as an artist and my embracing that existence has allowed me to reduce the amount of dark days and focus on doing the work. Not thinking about the end product but being more process oriented. Also I feel quite fortunate that I am able to scratch together an existence utilising my camera. Do I fear they I will wake up one day much older and question my decision today? Who doesn't. As an artist you generally accept the trade-off of lessened financial security. So in 20+ years when my friends who have chosen secure career paths are purchasing whatever they wish, going wherever they want and living a financially happy life, where will I be? I suppose my body of work and any lives I managed to affect in a positive way will stand as my legacy and provide assurances that I did what was right for me.
There is no end game in art. I have a power in my hands every single day. The instrument I use to capture visual imagery is an extension of me. It is an awesome power that I do not hold lightly and it is up me for the remaining years on this planet how I want to use this power. Every experience in ones life prepares you for the future. Society's realities are crystal clear to me. And it is unfair of me not to use my gifts to hopefully improve the world even in the smallest way.
To quote the great Nina Simone, "I choose to reflect the times and the situations in which I find myself - that to me is my duty"