Should I give up photography? Is it time to get a ‘real’ job? There has been a recent spate of discussions online about that very question. And every photographer, or artist of any genre, has at one point or another in times of difficulty pondered the idea of giving up, sometimes on numerous occasions. The answer from mentors and the supportive will usually be to ‘Never Give Up’, to follow your heart and passion, and to pursue your dreams. But how honest or realistic is it to listen to that advice and persevere in the hopes that luck and fortune will change one day?
We, photographers and artists are by default and DNA, highly emotional individuals. Our life choices are made not on logic, but emotions. I’ve always subscribed to the mantra – Love what you do and do what you love, things will fall into place. I’m that first friend who will tell you to ‘Not Give Up’, ‘Go For It’, ‘Just Do It’, ‘Impossible Is Nothing’, and (insert additional slogans here). But the truth is I gave up once.
Every visual artist is a closet filmmaker because films are the ultimate platform in visual story-telling and expression, at least in my opinion. And a few years ago, I tried to realise one of my dreams of becoming a feature length filmmaker. I had zero experience and credentials, but that did not stop me. I was young, had a head full of ideas, and a heart overflowing with ambition.
Armed only with a film idea with a working title and logline, I headed out to Busan Film Festival in Korea, the premiere breeding ground for filmmakers and projects in Asia. The interest I got was more than I had ever expected. Everyone I met at Busan showed interest in the project and wanted to see the script. I came back and wrote one, my first ever, in 2 months and sent it to all the producers who had expressed interest in the project. In a matter of months, I secured development funds from the Film Commission in Singapore, and convinced a highly respected and award-winning Thai filmmaker to be the film’s attached director. I wrote 2 more drafts of the script with him. Thereafter, the project momentum grew further, but not without hurdles along the way. After a trip to Cannes Film Festival, a hot indie film outfit helmed by a Hong Kong A-lister came onboard as co-producers. My new co-producers had only recently finished producing a series of acclaimed independent films of which one was a big breakaway success in China. You can imagine the euphoria I felt. I was pursuing my dream, and it was finally going to be realised with real players in the industry.
A few months passed, and then more. I wrote another draft of the script, had more meetings, and then more. Another few months passed yet and it was now coming to a few years since I first conceived my project. Nothing had moved since aside from numbers, numbers and more numbers. My development funds had run out. I found myself drowning in debt whilst swimming in the most uncreative, most frustrating sea of film business red tape and bureaucracy without even a single frame of film or penny to show for it. The time had come for me to ponder that all important question – Was it time to give up? I consulted a few people – friends, family and peers. Some offered the ‘Don’t Give Up’ words of encouragement, others offered only questions. I took the advice I got and pondered my decision to make. I evaluated my chances moving forward, the merits of the project and what it had morphed into, my resources, the risks and the implications of another few more years of potential project stalemate. After much thought, I decided to shelf the project, and in turn, my dream indefinitely. Trust me when I say, letting go was an extremely difficult decision to make, and one that I don’t find much comfort in talking about.
Not giving up is a difficult choice to make. Giving up is even more difficult. But each and every photographer and artist faced with the question has a responsibility to be his/her own Simon Cowell, brutally honest Idol judge. You need to ask yourself in all sincere honesty, not only how good and masterful you think you are at your craft, but how realistic your chances are of success should you not give up, and what implications does it have for you as a person, or others that rely on you for support. For every one photographer that gives up, there are probably nine others that are giving in to replace him or her. Competition is very tough these days. Masterful photographers are plentiful. Photography commissions are declining rapidly. Are you really good at what you do? Are you better than good? Do respectable peers think the same? Have you tried your very best? Do you have the will power, vision, resources and support network to convert your good into a feasible career and living?
An alternative to giving up entirely is to reconsider the path to your passion, to define your area of interest and circumnavigate a blunt obvious route to your dreams. There are invariably other options and paths to doing what you love, and to loving what you do.
The views expressed here are personal, but hopefully offers a perspective to those who seek it.
I wish you all the best in the pursuit of your passion and dreams.
Text: Kevin WY Lee