The Importance of Personal Work

The Zebra

Now that the semester is over and I’m home for the summer, I’ve had a lot of free time to get back to photographing for myself. It’s funny really, you would think that if I’m going to school for photography I would be photographing all the time. While this is true in some respects, photographing for a college course is always going to be different from when I photograph outside of class.

For a class, I am given an assignment to complete within a given time frame. The work I pass in to my professor will be critiqued, graded, and handed back. This is very similar to how a normal classroom setting works except that since I’m going to college for the subject of my choice there is some underlying pressure for me, the student, to do well and succeed. During some weeks when I had to complete an assignment there were times when I had to shoot to “get just enough pictures” for the assignment. Photographing like this always feels a bit forced because it is not my assignment, it’s my professor’s assignment.

My point here is that if someone else tells me to shoot something then I won’t have the interest and passion towards whatever the subject is as opposed to when I come up with something to shoot by myself. This is the same concept as the mother telling her child to do homework. The mother sees value behind completing the homework. The child can get better grades, go to college, and have a better chance at leading a life that is more successful than hers. However, from the child’s perspective, the homework has no purpose other than the typical, “I have to do this because I have to or else I’ll be punished”. As long as I can see that what I’m doing has some sort of value to me then I am much more interested and passionate about it. I want to do well in school so that I can have a better chance at succeeding in what I am passionate about. I’ll stick it out when I’m hired to photograph things I would not otherwise want to photograph so that I can get my name out there and get some more money to purchase more gear to make future jobs easier.

This is where the personal work comes in. I have had the pleasure of doing several commissioned photo and video shoots in the past year, it has been a great learning experience and I have managed to totally upgrade every facet of my workflow as well. While that’s all well and good, it’s still just taking pictures for other people, they have a purpose for and value associated behind the photos I create for them, but I sometimes feel like the kid stuck inside doing homework before going outside to play ball.

When I started photographing I would shoot whatever caught my eye and upload it to Flickr. This way there was a visible stream of photographs to track my progress with photography. Other online users could watch what I was doing and give me feedback. When I went to college this past September my Flickr stream came to a complete halt and I did not upload much of anything. I began photographing for assignments and doing commissioned work for others but nothing for myself. Ultimately, I felt as though the assignments really detracted from my interests in photography because it felt kind of forced despite my ending grade in the course and a second semester in a row on Dean’s list. I have always been on my own path with photography and I felt like I was interrupted by college. I’m not saying that it was not a good experience for me this past year but at least for my own agenda it was distracting. My personal work in photography was the reason why I wanted to pursue photography as a career and it seemed wrong that college was taking away from my interest.

This summer it’s been nice to finally get back on my own track and start creating more photographs for myself and no one else. I am dusting off my good old Flickr account and picking up where I left off. But I know now that if I’m ever going to make a living with photography, I’m always going to have to have a new idea, goal or project that I’m doing for myself on the side. There’s something very calming about taking photographs for yourself because there’s no pressure to succeed, you are free to experiment and create something truly great. Without my own personal photographs I don’t think I would be able to continue doing commissioned work that I see no value in doing apart from maybe the financial end of things.

If I can’t make photographs for myself then there’s no way I could ever photograph for someone else. I’m glad to be back with just me, myself, and a camera. No one telling what to photograph or edit. No one telling me I have to only shoot film or digital.

I’m just one guy being creative.

-Alex Hochstrasser

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