Survival Vs Creative Mode

Let me ask you this, what’s the world’s most enduring toy? Despite all the shiny new things that come along every year in an attempt to be the next big thing for kids, the one toy that remains ever popular is Lego. Simple building bricks that can become an entire world of possibilities. The digital equivalent of Lego might be Minecraft. My kids love Minecraft and again it’s just simple building blocks except this time on a screen. There are no real instructions when they first land in there but kids just seem to get it and they soon get creating in there. 

Minecraft has two distinct modes that you can play in – Either Survival Mode or Creative Mode. This makes me think of how it feels to be in our industry recently. For most of us, it has felt like a version of Survival Mode. Instead of Zombies, Creepers or Spiders attacking us, it was challenge after challenge, initially ignited by the Pandemic. I’m decades into my photography career and it was far and away the biggest threat to my business. So maybe when it eased off, we could enjoy working again but then there was a whole heap of additional challenges – the transport issues, from train strikes to protestors on the motorways, next was the extreme weather, from heatwaves to hurricanes, add in all the financial stresses and this has been a video game that not many have leveled up in.

It used to be that shooting weddings was enough of a challenge. Recently, I’ve seen so many photographers tipped over the edge by what might normally be an isolated stress factor, like a slightly dissatisfied client. Shooting weddings has never just been about confetti and cake and I think working behind the scenes on them takes an amount of resilience. Always attending someone else’s Big Day can take its toll on your physical and mental health. Then this last couple of years, we’ve all been in fight or flight mode. Some photographers have managed to really embrace the challenges head on and these are the shining lights in the industry that the rest of us are drawn to. Others have found it too much of a struggle, they’ve opted for flight and left the industry – I’ve never seen so much used pro kit for sale.

The start of a new year is always a great time to wipe the slate clean so this can be our chance to decide which mode we are going to go forward in. I’m sure I speak for many when I say that I’m utterly done with Survival Mode now and I’m ready to start playing the next level. This time, I’ll take Creative Mode please. Instead of fighting for survival, I want to remember why I ever started in the first place. It was to create and this draws me back to when I began exploring a career in photography. Of course, shooting then was on film so that’s where I’ve been finding some creative play again.

I’ve dusted off my Hasselblad 503cx medium format and taken it to work with me. I’m also mixing in some 35mm with a pocket-sized eco point-and-shoot, the Snap from LensFayre. Waiting for the scans to come back feels magical after years of the instant gratification of digital. I’ve also made time for shoots that are just for my own portfolio, with no client involved. It feels like a necessary reset. Like I’ve had too many tabs open and need to reboot.

It’s fascinating to be mentoring other photographers in these turbulent times. My current group is a mixture of people who’ve been wedding photographers for 10+ years and others who are brand new. The ones with longevity want help navigating having to do much more marketing than ever. The new ones want to know the fast track to establish themselves. I have a huge admiration for anyone coming into the industry in these times. It takes a lot of tenacity and the irony is not lost on me that many new photographers are also picking up film cameras. It seems that as we accelerate forward with technology, humans want to take the past with them. Nostalgia is reassuring in frightening times. It’s the same as my daughter who is at college studying music production. What she is learning is all digital but she comes home and puts a vinyl on her record player.

For anyone, prolonged periods of stress often lead to burnout, Survival is a mode that we can only tolerate for a finite amount of time. If that’s you as we end another year, assess how you could activate your own Creative Mode. Is it personal projects, analogue, booking some travel, heading to exhibitions, picking up some photography books or all of the above? Like both Lego or Minecraft, take it one block at a time and you’ll soon have rebuilt your kingdom.