Once we reach that point in our lives when we realize that with enough hard work and determination we can, eventually, reach that desired job position or adequately learn any skills, simply because we have successfully done it a few times in the past, the only question is: “What do we want to do?
From 17 to 19 years old I was a freelancer working as a digital artist in my hometown in Italy on 3D architectural visualizations and fully computer-generated TV advertisements for local clients. It was fine but I already knew that what I wanted to do next was work as a 3D animator on animated movies. In fact, alongside my freelance work, I was also studying to achieve that goal.
So, at that time, I didn't really have to ponder the question: “What do I want to do?” Because I already knew that and was already working towards that goal.
But at age 27, now fully employed in England, I reached a point where I had enough of working as a 3D animator on animated movies. Coincidentally, I discovered my love for crafting personal images through photography and decided to end my decade-long career in animation to transition to that. At that, I had to ponder that question: “What do I want to do?”
Although I had already lived in 4 different countries and done a fair amount of traveling, I still felt like wanting to travel more. I also knew that I had an interest in depicting the landscape, so I directed all my efforts toward travel and landscape photography.
After another decade in this new career, I found myself going through another change, which may seem like a small shift within the same craft, but in reality, to me, it has been as big of a change as the one I did a decade earlier, if not bigger!
I felt I reached the end of my personal expression and exploration within the genre of travel photography and had the sentiment of repeating over and over formulaic solutions to the same encounters or visual problems. Nothing appeared too difficult or too challenging anymore. Albeit the places to photograph were new and varied, I still noted a common execution, a sort of common theme, that after years of photographing "on the road" made it look all the same. In order to make a sellable travel photo, it has to have certain criteria such as being about iconic recognizable places and under sunlight, even better if at sunrise or sunset. After a decade I started to perceive this as a big restriction. I also realized I had a desire to further explore certain locations, but this would require much more time, something that a busy schedule doesn't allow.
Having also seen my photographs being published in innumerable publications, far more than what I could wish for, I lost that incentive, too. I got to learn that no matter where I go, with the necessary hard work, I would see my photos from that place in numerous publications. I earned that validation, time and time again, and so I got used to it to the point where it lost its significance.
I found asking myself again the question: What do I want to do?
In the past couple of years, I felt a growing desire to explore the forest of Fontainebleau, which is near my home, and I did whenever I could in the short periods of time I was at home. But never felt I had enough time to really get to know it well enough to start a personal project in it. Mostly because of the huge amount of photo editing I had to do to finalize and deliver the photos from my travels. At the same time, I felt a constant need to get back to reading books as I used to, and I wanted to have more and more time to self-cultivate myself. the difference now was that I had a much higher degree of interest in books about the history of art, landscape painters, and expressive art than in photography books.
Through self-studies, I learned that the masters of the past followed what was truly meaningful to them and devoted their whole life to it. Despite most of them experiencing financial hardship, they lived most of their lives with the minimum necessary to allow themselves to get by, without compromising their beliefs to gain monetary growth. Their sole interest was doing what they truly loved: exploring their sensibilities, expressing them through art, and advancing their own understanding as well as the universal understanding of their craft.
So, the question has changed, and I now asked myself:
“What is meaningful to me?”
and then: “What long-term project would I like to undertake to express this meaning through it?”
Suddenly the future was not as it used to be. My entire perception of my photography and my following photographic work changed. Although I kept pondering these two questions for a while and had long discussions with people close to me about it, I knew these answers very well and I also knew that I couldn't escape from them. Meaning that they need to pursue my newly found truth was the deepest and strongest urge I had ever felt.
This moment arrived at a time where, thanks to the incessant hard work of the past decade in photography, I could realistically split my time in two: Some months of the year would be about working on professional assignments and the rest would be solely dedicated to my personal project.
By keep working with high-profile clients I knew I could keep myself and my family afloat while having the freedom to pursue individual projects, without having any need to make money out of them.
At first, I planned many different trips to various landscapes spread across the world. But as I kept studying books and started visiting the forest of Fontainebleau frequently, I realized that I didn't need to travel to other locations to develop my sensibility and express it through photography. All I needed was already near my home: the forest of Fontainebleau. As Camille Pissarro said to Paul Cézanne:
“Don't bother trying to look for something new;
you will not find novelty in the subject matter, but in the way you express it”
To me, the main point of all this writing is that without all the previous experiences, both personally and professionally, I find it impossible that I would have known myself well enough to be able to make important choices with such a level of certainty.
Self-experimentation is then indeed key to better know yourself. You can not know things about yourself if you don't experiment in the first person and if you don't follow your inclinations. You may never know where they'll take you and, more important, how they'll help you evolve. The more you do, the more you'll get to know yourself. This also includes learning differences between your own self, which, in turn, will help you understand and accept your own differences as well as the differences in others. While, at the same time, as you get to know yourself better, you become more aware of what you don't consider important from what you deem meaningful and worthy of devotion.
January 25th, 2022