Struggling with Depression, Anxiety, and Low Self-Esteem as a Photographer / by Michael Jin

© 2018 Michael Jin — Ilford HP5+ 35mm Developed in Rodinal 1+50

A while back, my wife asked me why I never submit any of my images to gallery exhibits at my school. I certainly believe that while my work may not "wow" anyone, it doesn't really fall short when compared to the peers that I've had in my photo classes so far. My response was to put on a bit of an arrogant act and say that I felt that it would be a waste of my time (I do actually believe this, but for different reasons.) because I don't care what anyone in school thinks of my work anyway. In truth, however, the bigger reason is that I seriously struggle with low self-esteem and I tend to be my own harshest critic. Couple this with fear of failure or fear of rejection, and the thought of displaying my work for others to see fills me with complete dread. This dread and anxiety is one of the reasons that it took me this long to even create this website for myself and if I'm honest, I feel that it helps to know that nobody is really visiting it.

A while back, I wrote an entry about Impostor Syndrome and it's something that I do suffer from a lot. The fact that I suffer from clinical depression probably doesn't help the cause either because I have a tendency to get stuck in some deep ruts that either hinder or outright derail my efforts at consistently producing work. These are the times I tend to spend on the web endlessly reading articles or tutorials about this or that—all the while lying to myself that I'm just looking for new techniques or inspiration.

© 2018 Michael Jin

For those that suffer from these issues, the grind to be productive is very real. Once I get into the swing of things, it tends to be fine, but building that initial momentum up is incredibly difficult. One thing that I think helps this somewhat is picking up my Nikon FM2n.

I know tons of people talk about how shooting film forces them to slow down or some shit like that. For me, shooting film is not about slowing down so much as it's about being able to shoot and avoid the instant feedback loop. I can shoot a roll of film and develop it a month later. I'm not constantly looking at the back of my LCD screen and scolding myself for producing shit photos while I'm out there. It lets me just enjoy the process without worrying too much about the results. Yeah, the vast majority of them do suck, but I can deal with that when I'm in a better state of mind. For me, it's just building up the routine of going out and pushing frames.

 

© 2018 Michael Jin   |   Adox CHS 100 II Developed in XTOL 1+0

It could just be shooting random scenes on my commute or walking around my block or something. Regardless of what ends up on the negative, I can definitely say that it helps. Of course while I'm shooting I try to take it seriously, whether it's people standing around waiting for a subway or a random flower in someone's garden. I'm not saying that a person should just go out and waste film just for the sake of wasting it, but just loosen up a little and allow yourself to enjoy the craft without the burden of results. If you can do it with digital, then great. For me, the temptation to look at the back of that LCD is just too great so I turn to film. Besides, the development process really is it's own therapy for me as well.

This was a bit of a ramble on my part, but if there is anyone out there who suffers from depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, I do encourage you to find a way to change the mentality with which you go out to shoot. It's not like you have to show anyone the results anyway.

For me, I think the next hurdle really will be to create some prints and put them out for people to see—not just people that I know, but complete strangers. I enrolled for Advanced Photography this coming semester and it seems like at least some of the students' work ends up on the bulletin boards in the hallways so it's entirely possible that I might just not have a choice in the matter. Regardless, it would be a nice step to be able to do something like this of my own volition. Maybe I'll enter a photo or two when I see the flyers asking for submissions... How bad can it be, right?

© 2018 Michael Jin   |   Adox CHS 100 II Developed in XTOL 1+0