Love and Passion and the Work

I’ve been thinking a lot about love and passion lately. Keeping with the recent theme of marketing being like dating, this does apply to your business. Yet I have been kind of reluctant to talk about it and I wasn’t sure why. Then I realized that it is because this is where the analogy gets personal. We go beyond the flirtation here to the real connection that must be made. This is intimacy.

Part of the trouble is that I think the terms have been sort of co-opted by the touchy-feely folks out there. Not just photo consultants, but all sorts of business consultants chant that you have to be passionate and do the work youlove. They aren’t wrong, exactly, but they sort of cheapen the deeper meaning of the words and, I think, give people a cheat. The words, to paraphrase The Princess Bride, do not mean what they think they mean. They become throw-aways, flattened, not carrying the depth they need to. And, thus, we are misusing them–claiming a profundity that isn’t really there.

The other day, I was talking to a photographer friend/client about his work and I indeed said the now common words–that he needed to show work he loves. This person is someone I know beyond the usual client relationship so I knew that he could be very blunt. I have a couple of friends who are like this: very straight-forward so when they say something confusing, it stands out. Knowing this about him, his reply struck me: he said he didn’t love any of his work, but he also said he loved a lot. I didn’t get what he meant so my mental warning bells went off. Then he said that he defined love differently, and something clicked in my head: Love isn’t the right word to use. We have to stop using it.

We love all sorts of things–our family members, our romantic partners, pets, chocolate, great shoes, the way that woman looks in that dress, mountain biking, Family Guy, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, the Parrot Sketch, a great massage, your kid’s piano playing, and pizza, just to name a few. Love is sort of different for each thing. So, going back to my friend/client, for this man, he can love some of his images but not not love them at the same time, because it all depends on what love we are talking about.

This really made me think. Why do we use this word that becomes almost a throw-away? How can I ask clients to show work they love when they love mac-n-cheese?

So, I realized that it is definitely the wrong word to use and that’s part of what makes me so uncomfortable to discuss it. First because it means I’ve been teaching the right thing wrongly for some time and, second, because the word we need to use is even more intimate. We need to stop tip-toeing around and come out with it. We need to talk about passion.

What I’m talking about when I say (said) you need to show the work you love is that it has to be the work you are passionate about. Now, that word has its own pile of possibilities and can also be misued, but I think we can all agree that if you are passionate about something, it evokes a very strong (often physical) reaction. Often, you cannot describe why you feel what you feel, you just know you feel it, something, something big, deep, profound, animal, wordless.

Look at the derivation of the word (from dictionary.com):

 1125–75; Middle English (< Old French ) < Medieval Latin passiōn- (stem of passiō ) Christ’s sufferings on the cross, any of the Biblical accounts of these (> late Old English passiōn ), special use of Late Latin passiō suffering, submission, derivative of Latin passus, past participle of patī to suffer, submit; see -ion

Suffering. Submission. These are big, profound words. Think about it in its most basic form: sexual passion. What pops into your mind? It could be any number of things but the one thing it is not is “thoughtful.” Passion isn’t about thought–it is about the purest form of emotion/feeling. Raw. Unprocessed. Exposed.

Funny how the words of your art are also evocative of the emotion you need to reach.

Passion is scary. Going back to the dating analogy, we’re conditioned by society to keep passion in check. It’s too revealing–too close to our real self and too dangerous to show (so we are told). Too much emotion, too much rawness and reality and you might scare off the other person! Let yourself go, reveal your passion (your deepest self), and not only do you run the risk of the other person checking out, you might get laughed at in the process.

Also, as soon as you start talking about suffering and submission in the context of dating, society implies a marginalization: BDSM, fetish… the so-called “darker side” of human relationships and sexuality.

The same thing happens with your work. If you choose to show only the work you are passionate about, you are revealing your innermost self–your raw, open, very real creative self. This is the work you want to make more than any other, the work you submit yourself to. It is your master, by your own choice to submit to it. You are, in “society’s” mind, self-marginalizing.

But in our industry, in the arts, that is a good thing. Art isn’t art when anyone can do it. You have to be different, have something that is you and only you in your work to be successful today. Anyone can take a photo and many of them are good, but they aren’t art without that something more, and they won’t get you good projects from clients. Today, you have to go beyond the every day, the safe, the normal–you need to differentiate, to self-marginalize, to reveal your passion.

Passion scares the hell out of us, especially us Americans, because it touches our deepest inner nature. We are a shallow culture in many ways and we still have a puritan streak a mile wide. But passion is also something we desire, covertly sometimes. Passion is why the works of artists (including authors and musicians as well as the visual), touch us each in our own way–each individually connecting with the other who most speaks to us. It is an intimacy.

And so it is with your art. You have to reach out to your targets and show your passion. You will connect with the right targets to whom that passion speaks. It is a deeper, more fundamental, and very real connection. It is intimate. And it cannot be faked.

But, your highly evolved brain is telling you, it’s too risky! It’s too real! How devastating is it going to be if the viewer rejects it or, worse, laughs or criticizes?

Here’s the trick: it will be only as devastating as you let it be. You have control over that–how you react–so the reality is that you risk nothing by putting yourself out there. Moreover, the rejection isn’t likely about you, it is about the other person. Because passion is so deep, many of us are afraid to react to it honestly and, instead, try to diffuse the tension it creates. People laugh or criticize to take away from their own discomfort at being confronted by something so real, so intimate. So, if someone laughs at or even dismisses your work, s/he is probably just uncomfortable at the honesty. S/he isn’t connected to her/his own passion and denies it in others so as not to face it in her/himself. Kind of like being asked something intimate and making a joke to avoid answering. It isn’t about you at all, it is about the other person!

But when you do reveal yourself, when you are passionate and there is no laughter, the connection is amazing. Like in dating, not everyone will be your match. Not everyone will want the real you, your real work, but when they do connect with you, through your passion, you will have a deeper intimacy. You will then truly partner with your client and be fulfilled in your work, your career, your business, and in ways beyond just pecuniary.

9 Responses to “Love and Passion and the Work”

  1. John Fowler Says:

    Wow! This is thought-provoking indeed. Thanks you. Gonna take some time to come back down.

  2. Jan Says:

    Fantastic post!

    The apparent demand to fit social norms, and to fit certain categories with your work is hugely constraining and leads to many happy meals and few memorable dinners.

    And while I have spent most of my working life in the American society, these shallow and uptight attitudes are a constant barrier I struggle with. It’s amazing that the country that is the most open minded about opportunity, is also the one that is constraining about real opportunity in those subtle currents. And it’s a very superficial shield, because when you look behind the curtain, there is a lot of penned up passion that has no stage to be on, and ends up coming out in many perverted ways.

  3. David Peacock Says:

    Yet another superb post. I’m digging this theme Leslie.

  4. Martin Trailer Says:

    Excellent analysis and insight!

    Martin

  5. Kyle Pearce Says:

    Thanks for giving us something to think about Leslie. I have been searching for this passion for a long time and still struggle with defining my look. I find it difficult to limiting myself to one genre. That means that some of my work that I am most passionate about doesn’t fit in a category on my web site. But if there were no struggle I would probably get bored with it.

  6. Doug Walker Says:

    Thanks for penning this thought provoking piece. Kudos!

  7. info Says:

    Kyle: I would re-think the categories then, or simply add one called “personal work.” Buyers LOVE to see personal work! -Leslie

  8. Why Simply Being “Better” Won’t Get You Assignments | LIGHTING ESSENTIALS For Photographers Says:

    […] Leslie Burns, in an article titled: “Love and Passion and the Work” says this: “And so it is with your art. You have to reach out to your targets and show your passion. You will connect with the right targets to whom that passion speaks. It is a deeper, more fundamental, and very real connection. It is intimate. And it cannot be faked.” […]

  9. Required Reading 10.28.2011 | Luke Copping Photography - Blog Says:

    […] An intensely thought-provoking piece from consultant Leslie Burns about the difference between love and passion for one’s work, and the illusion of self-risk that stops us from sharing our true passions we trick ourselves into […]