How You Define Yourself: Do You Limit Your Creativity? Your Life?

by heidistraubephotographer

Taos Mountain, snowstorm break

I’ve recently been musing about the changes I’ve gone through in my photography practice over the last few years.

From seeing myself primarily as a “black and white, natural light, fine art portrait photographer,” I’ve transformed into the woman who photographs fog at the beach…to one who’s addicted to capturing the subtleties of the ocean at its stillness and turbulence…to one who drops everything to run out and take pictures of the blizzard coming from over the mountain.

It surprises me a bit. Years back I had little interest in “landscape photography.” After all, with a psychotherapist background, it was natural for me to be interested in people. And the fascination of translating a person’s spirit into a visual image was compelling.

I’m still well along in my addiction to black and white photography and portrait taking. I continue to do it, both professionally and personally…and I’m still fascinated.

But I don’t define myself by it anymore.

I don’t limit my creative focus to only people and black and white photography, which at one point photographically was my one and only love.

And I’m happy with what has happened since.

By stretching and shooting what’s been in front of me, and being open to resonance with all kinds of subjects and circumstances, I’ve had unique experiences and captured images I never dreamt of. I look back at the body of work I’ve created so far, and I’m grateful and a bit awed by the magic and the beauty it represents.

But not defining oneself in the usual way can have its challenges.

I have to admit that when someone asks, “What kind of photographer are you?” it throws me off a bit. I don’t have the neat, tidy answer that I used to have: a phrase that was simple for me to say, and was easily understood and imagined by others.

And on a bad day, that question can also trigger my own insecurity.

“Good question,” I might immediately think. “What in the world kind of photographer am I?” For a moment I buy into the whole assumption that I should be able to define myself and my work in clear, simple language that anyone can grasp in a 5 second sound bite.

And my mind goes blank…for how can anyone really express their whole inner and outer work in one simple phrase?

The challenge of how we define ourselves is not unique to photographers, of course.
It happens to all of us in our daily lives.

People ask “What do you do?”

To answer truthfully, the person who has any interests or lifestyle other than going to one job with a definable title and then coming home and doing nothing else is in trouble. They have to scan all the things that they “do” and then, on the spot, make a choice of which interest they want to be defined by.

OK, practically speaking, I know that when someone asks, “What kind of photographer are you?” (or any other work or life defining question), they’re usually just trying to find a starting place for connection, have to check a box on an application, or have a host of other practical reasons for boggling your mind.

But I believe that many of us unconsciously take the question literally…and anxiously scramble for a “good” (reflecting that we are smart, together, worthy of having our work on your walls) answer.

Because deep down inside we believe that we should be able to label ourselves and our work.

Wow. Danger here. We’ve now stepped into the realm of shutting ourselves into boxes without even realizing it. I can hear the lids snapping shut now.

When we hold too rigid of a definition of ourselves, or try to fit, without reflection, into a specific category of photography, work or life, already labeled and described, we run the risk of shutting out creative possibilities. We leave no room for the unknown, which is where much of our inspiration springs from.

By focusing and working only in the usual, known framework, we may miss the opportunity to discover other, unexplored aspects of our being, and the amazing experiences (and images) that come along with those discoveries.

What if I had insisted on doing only portrait photography?

I wouldn’t have experienced the magic of trying to capture the beauty and stillness of fog. I would have missed the peace and satisfaction I feel when I look at those mystical images.

What if I had accepted the traditional way of being a psychotherapist, and not allowed myself to combine both interests of photography and counseling?

I wouldn’t have the inner knowing that comes from working more deeply in the “Honoring Inner, Creating Outer” aspects that I’m so drawn to. I wouldn’t have experienced the creative satisfaction and challenge of designing my Inner Path of Photography services, nor felt the joy of seeing my students’ eyes light up as they, too,  discover new ways to explore and express their innermost vision.

Some of my clients, when faced with a new way of shooting photographs, an unusual feeling, or different idea of living, exclaim, “I don’t do that. I’m not that kind of person!”

And my response to them is, “Are you going to define yourself the same way for the rest of your life? Is there no room for change?”

What different way of seeing yourself or your work have you been resisting that, if invited in, could possibly change the course of your photography? (Or at least re-inspire and make it more interesting!)

What new definition of who you are and who you can be, could enliven and enhance your life?

When we relax our self-definition and expand the way we see ourselves, we honor the complexity and mystery of life.

We celebrate the unseen and unknown wonders that wait for us around every corner.

In your photographic practice, dropping the label, tapping into the resonance you feel, and going with it creatively leads to experiences and images you cannot plan for.

In your life practice, being more open to change and letting go of out-dated self-definitions brings you the gift of an unforeseen richer reality.

Don’t limit your creative spirit. Don’t keep your life in a box.

Yes, the challenges are there. The fear of the unknown is real.
But what else do you have to do with your art?
How else do you want to live your life?