For many years I never had an answer to that question and surprisingly speaking to a lot of my peers neither did they. If creativity stems from the way we see and translate the world should we not have a deeper understanding of the work we produce?
Many people mistake purpose as a final destination, rather, purpose is the underlining passion that is unique to every individual. Purpose fuels determination, navigates direction, offers endurance, and acts as the current behind meaningful work. I have spent the last six years in Europe fighting hard to succeed in my art- sometimes having a vague idea of my destination and at other times losing sight of it completely. A few years ago, I had a very interesting encounter with an industry professional who spent their career helping creatives excavate meaning behind their work and putting language around it. I sat down with her hoping to have my body of work reviewed and yet she took a glance and spent the rest of the time asking me questions I couldn't answer. Some of the dialogue went like this:
Person: ‘Why do you take photos?’
Me: ‘Ah, I think, um, I want to capture the beauty in fleeting moments’
Person: ‘That's the whole point of photography, why are you interested in taking photographs?’
Me: ‘Um, I’m not sure how to answer that’
Person: ‘If you could describe your work in three words what would they be?’
Me: ‘Ahh, I’ve never thought about it, I’m not too sure’
Person: ‘Why did you choose these images for me to look at?’
Me: ‘Um, I like them.’
This conversation and my inability to answer her questions catalysed a need to understand my purpose; to seek and wrestle with it on a deeper level, to truly understand what I was creating and why was I creating it. After a long year of wrestling with myself, I discovered that my purpose was deeply ingrained with the desire of excavating the value of what makes something or someone unique. In my travel photography, I’m captivated about capturing the spirit of a place and it’s people; discovering what makes it beautiful through its differences rather than its commonality. On commercial shoots, I use encouragement and positivity as a tool to draw out the creativity of others, allowing each person’s imagination to contribute to a creative process. The importance of positivity and encouragement to draw out creativity stems from multiple experiences as a photographer’s assistant where the photographer would work by creating a culture of fear where their dictatorship would inevitably break people down, causing anxiety and sucking out all the creativity in the room. No one wanted to try something new in fear that they would be reprimanded for it. I believe that the best creative results are produced from a space of freedom, curiosity and play - not by fear, tyranny and manipulation.
"Often we imagine that we will work hard...arrive at some distant goal, and then we will be happy. This is a delusion. Happiness is the result of a life lived with purpose. Happiness is not an objective. It is the movement of life itself, a process, an activity.” -Ethan Hawke
Without purpose one becomes aimless. Purpose requires introspection and self-reflection whilst aimlessness focuses on hype and comparison. Before understanding my purpose I approached my work with a lot of uncertainty. I spent a lot of my time comparing my work to others, trying to emulate other styles and reproducing work that was similar to what was in-style and receiving the most affirmation. I spent many years feeling around in the dark being unhappy and dissatisfied with what I was creating. I also allowed others to walk all over me (like the photographer mentioned previously) as I had no anchor to ground myself too. I had no understanding of what to fight for and when to stand up for myself. I was more a weed with no roots than a tree anchored deep in the understanding of what drives me.
Our humanity has this innate curiosity to scratch beneath the surface of things and to understand and comprehend meaning on a deeper level to connect with it. To create work that resonates with others then it’s important to spend time digging deep to find out what drives us.
“Live the Life of Your Dreams: Be brave enough to live the life of your dreams according to your vision and purpose instead of the expectations and opinions of others.” ― Roy T.
How to excavate your purpose. I’ve added a few steps that act as catalysts to understand the things that drive you and define you and your work:
1. Spend every day for 6 weeks doing unconscious writing for 5min- this is writing at a speed that does not allow for self-editing, to only write about what you are thinking and let that be a starting point. This is about putting unfiltered thoughts on paper; your thoughts, your stories, your struggles, your imagination. After the six weeks re-read through what you have written and underline all the reoccurring themes that pop up in your writing.
2. Look at your life experiences (does not need to be work-related). What are the 5 key defining moments in your life that changed you? These can be positive or negative experiences. See what themes pop up in these stories.
3. Have a look at your portfolio of work, pull out 8 of your favourite images. Ask yourself why these are your favourites, what was it about them that you connect with - the moment, the environment you were in, the colour, the story? Place those images side by side, do they begin to show a pattern when brought together.
4. If you were to describe your work in three words what would they be?
5. Send your 8 images to friends and ask them to describe what emotions they feel when they look at your images. Do they connect with how you describe your work?
6. If you were to name 4 of your favourite art works that were not related to your medium what would they be?
These activities offer space to self reflect and allow common themes to rise to the surface helping build a better understanding of yourself and your work.