Over a year ago I spoke of a message from the blue. I have learned to pay attention to little signals around me since. Tiny reminders impossible to ignore, like meeting yourself in a mirror unexpectedly. This wet night in Edinburgh I found a sign directed entirely at me. Shrouded in the dark of night, a small message loaded equally with foreboding and encouragement, lit the way for the end of a very long year.
To speak from the heart, this has been an incredible year. The ground beneath my feet has shifted landscapes in every direction over the last 12 months. I could not have dreamt up the changes that have fallen in around me. I have never known a year like it, and to speak the truth, I hope I never do again.
So finishes my second year as a Freelance Photographer. Like any second album, the follow-up is always grueling. Expectations are high and forgiveness is low. The stops need pulled out. And so they were, last July when I went full-time. Now and for what seems like forever I know myself only as a photographer, but I am still well within the trials of initiation. No longer is everything powered by happy coincidence, it has been a year of forced introductions and grey determination. It has been a year survived rather than a year passed and with it the grit and adrenaline that all freelancers can identify with. Despite my world-jaded grumblings however, this is in every way a celebration. I have kept one foot in front of the other and earned one consoling year’s distance from wondering where the next work will be. No longer do I fear that if I stop picking up the phone I will vanish into obscurity. I have created the chaotic beginnings of a new nest on a bedrock of confidence and experience that can now take my weight.
But this aspect of the occupation is in permanent masquerade. Everyone is happy and everyone is busy. From the outside the lights are always on, the party in full swing. My work must seem a riot to those with a 9-5, an absolute circus! Not lost on me, I find myself bursting an ear-to ear-grin from sheer fortune some days. But my work is also an extra limb, that doesn’t go into storage after 5.30. It is ubiquitous. It comes to bed, it comes to the table, it comes on holiday. It has me out of bed before sunrise and, more often than not, it sees in the dawn, some unfinished project nearing completion. But I am a creative, and if I cannot embrace a late night then none can.
One surprising addition this year is that I have been approached by other photographers asking me for advice. Some starting out, others who look to my work as a signpost of the right direction. I was alarmed at how difficult it was for me to explain a recipe to what I do, especially seeing my own terrain so full of potholes. From where I stand I can only put two pieces of advice forward that have lit my way through the last twelve months.
Make the most of those around you and allow them do the same to you. There is nothing quite as unexpected as how lonely early freelancing is. Previously I talked of blocking out other photography to help purify my own creative voice. A lame disguise, I understand now, from the panic of feeling part of a race to thread water as a professional. The beauty I have realised is that no one is exempt the gauntlet of starting from nowhere. Instead as the year has worn on I have begun to relish my fortune in being surrounded by such inspiring contemporaries, self-employed or other.Your network is your greatest strength and it is a thrill to be taking those rich, early footsteps, charged with the satisfaction of progress, in unison with others.
There is no use getting hung up on the sudden and fortuitous success of others. No paths run the same course and this is a blessing. For those who stick at it, we all enjoy incredible, unique moments of recognition. For me this year, in the middle of rural Brittany at a wedding, I had to explain to a stranger in disbelief (and in my half-French) that I was, bien-sur, the same eoin carey he and his friends had been following online for the last 2 years. For the right person, freelance work is the most humbling experience they can have.
Secondly, there is no reason why you should not take inspiration in your own work. If you are following your rules and trying hard than you can only end up with something you love, allow it to push you forward. It is a long, long one-way street. Just follow the signs.