It was about this time last year when I got probably one of the worst messages of my life. As I wrote in my previous blog post about it, I got a message early in the morning telling me that my best friend had just lost his battle with cancer. My whole world fell apart.
Pats on the back or likes on facebook didn’t help against the darkness that crept in late at night. I was defenseless against the multitude of negative emotions that confronted me. Anger, frustration, hopelessness, ripped me apart and left me broken. I lost the motivation to deal with or do anything. It was hard to find the beauty in a world that made me so angry and full of pain.
For a personal such as myself, these feeling are dangerous. I slipped up and stumbled throughout 2016. When you have as much on the go as I do, you soon realize that you can stop or you will pay the price. I am not just a photographer. I run another website, I am a teacher, I am a photography instructor and during 2016 I also completed my masters in education. Couple that with the pain of trying several times and failing to have a baby, losing the family dog and working a job that I absolutely hated, found me breaking down in my car before classes and snapping on idiotic drivers on the way home.
I felt trapped. Lost in the darkness. Not to mention, dealing with the reality that you only get so long to grieve before people start rolling their eyes when yours start to water. You learn to keep the pain in and live with it like an unwanted house guest. Nobody really cares how much you are in pain after while and if you continually drop the ball people don’t want to hear the same reason over and over again. I missed deadlines, damaged work relationships and got kicked out of classes due to backups and screwups resulting from procrastination. There was simply no drive left in me.
So as I dug myself further into this dark hole, but I was fortunate enough to have been given a gift by my late friend. I was given the gift of photography. This allowed me to see the beauty in a world full of dark desolation. It wasn’t easy to find the beauty at first, but it was there. I just had to force myself to find it.
The first thing that I tried was to use photography to express my loss. This resulted in one of my favourite cinemagraphs. It reflects my feeling of hopeless and lack of direction. The black and white image shows how the colour of world was lost one my friend past on. The overall tone reflected how cold I felt in his absence.
I was also a part of a documentary that took most of the year to film, also gave me new direction and taught me new skills. It showed me what was important to me and how to express it to others. The producers gave me little projects to complete throughout the filming and also showed me where my strengths are. I am happy to say that they were impressed with my work and plan on doing more projects with me.
It is was direction of these projects and the deadlines that forced me to get out and do something. It forced me out into the world to face it head on. I had no other choice. People were expecting results. At times, I failed to deliver but I still made the effort. I still got out and just did it.
I am grateful that I know a number of people in the publishing world that like my work enough to hire me. Both my other community site and this blog remained largely untouched as I found it difficult to put anything down into words. Feared opening up old wounds and dealing with that pain again, even though it was probably for the best.
However, each month I had a place to go and an article to write for different magazines around the country. `These articles gave me focus and direction up until their completion. Heading out to Pohang or eating at a nice restaurant was great and it got myself and my wife out of the house. For some articles my wife and I worked as a team and this was a huge bonding experience as I was really pushing people away. She helped in so many ways that we actually got even closer because of it. She also understood the lengths that I go to get a story. After following me around on a travel piece in Seoul, she realized that I was not just “having fun” but was actually working hard to get the right shots.
Photowalks and Meetups
As I said before, I was pushing a lot of people away. In some cases I just needed space and time to think. However, that was also becoming the issue. I was thinking too much about the loss and the depression. Heading out with other photographers allowed me to just focus on the photography and not all the other stuff. Throughout the year I participated in a number of events from leading the Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk to heading up to Seoul to participate in an event put on by National Geographic. All of these events allowed me to distance myself from the pain and the negative thoughts that filled my head. It allowed me to have fun and meet new people. It was a needed break because the stress from day to day life was starting to bubble in unpleasant ways.
The final part of the puzzle was learning new bits about photography. Again, this allowed me to shift my focus onto the something that I am passionate about. Learning new techniques or experimenting with different styles of photography took my mind off of the outside world for a moment. I could obtain some sort of satisfaction from acquiring a new skill or getting the shot that I wanted. When you feel like your whole world is crumbling down around you, these small wins are what’s needed. When depression hits you tend to only look at the negative side of things. In a world of celebrity photographers who are gifted with brand new expensive equipment and have tons of money (or so it seems) to travel the world, it is easy to get down when you don’t get the responses, likes, attention or the high-paying contracts that others seem to get.
It’s Never Over
While I feel that I am through the worst of it having suffered probably 2 of the worst years of my life (yes, 2015 was not a good year either), I can say that as I look towards 2017 I feel optimistic. I feel the energy flowing back into me again. I pretty much left this blog and others for lack of energy and time but I promise in 2017 I will be taking them in a new direction. Hopefully I will be able to most more with different content.
However, if you are reading this and looking for the answers, seek the right help. In all honesty I should have sought professional help but living in South Korea, finding that is hard to comeby. This is still a country with one of the world’s highest suicide rates and professional help is tough to find for Koreans, it is even tougher to find for foreigners. At any rate, if you are needing more of this style of help (therapeutic photography) then then check out The One Project.
It is a great site that offers a ton of help. There is a free package that is perfect or other plans that help the project stay funded. I just signed up to get myself better for 2017. My goals are to make myself the best that I can be so that I can help ease the stress of the transition back home to Canada.
Lastly, I just like to thank Griffin and Valerie Stewart and my awesome wife Jinny who really helped me throughout 2016. Were it not for you guys, I probably would have not even made it this far in my career or photography. Thank you so much for your help and support.