THE ONLY ONE IN THE ROOM
The impulse of making something for yourself first, and everyone else in the world later if ever, it kind of comes naturally to me because I’m a photographer. I make my living in a very subjective and self-directed pursuit. It’s my day job, that I see as a public entity being an opportunity to make meaningful and weird on and off screen experiences for many different people at many different scales. There is no guarantee that people who follow my work want to see any of it, but I make it anyway because as an independent creator I am motivated by the impulse to see my ideas to their realisation. It’s like making music which is a process of trying to replicate an imagined sound, in the hopes that one day you can make something that you would be game to listen to. I make short films and photographs because first and foremost I just want to own it, and I find all the artists I admire most - my favourite creators of software, hardware, text, design, film operate in much the same way. They’re not necessarily looking to fill a void in the marketplace or searching to satiate consumer needs. They’re beginning their process by putting a tremendous amount of effort into something that has no clear audience other than themselves.
Ignoring the outside world and working with a state of goal of making something as good as you can make it, that’s not easy. It takes a lot of focus and attention to detail because you can’t slip anything by yourself, you can’t phone anything in because you are literally holding the phone, you’re on both ends of the line. If you want to be, you’re a really tough boss and a tough crowd. You and only you truly know what you’re capable of, so you know when your output falls short. Of course, this is part of the law which historically surrounds creative production right? Artists are often tortured even at the heights of their success by their inability to match up to their own aspirations. They’re chasing their own ideals and often becoming frustrated because their ideals are changing faster than their capacity to execute them. They are beset by the melancholic disconnect between the pure geometry of inspiration on the one hand and the shabby reality of human limitation on the other.
As a photographer I know that feeling. By the time I manage to export the last .PSD, .JPG, .CR2 - it’s usually too late, it’s no longer what I had in my head from the start. I’m like a snake eating my own tail, forever consumed of the impossible task of trying to gratify and indulge my own shifting taste. But rather than feeling tortured by the unreachability of my own aspirations or worse betrayed by my inability to execute my own ideas before they expire, I try to reframe the problem as a working method. This is going to sound super simple and it’s a very subtle modification but I begin rather than end with myself as the intended demographic. I start a project, and do it with the intention of making something that totally delights me and me alone. I violently disregard until the last possible minute, the idea that someone else might ever see it let alone form an opinion of it.
This might seem a little naive sure, but working to please yourself is a lot easier and more practical than trying to please the rest of the world. As any working artist will tell you, once what you do is published, no matter how special it is to you, it immediately enters an undifferentiated stream of content. We are long past the point were our planets capacity to store data has eclipsed our capacity to create it, although that is not for lack of trying. If you set out to make something in this world with that in mind, with the goal of differentiating yourself from the vast expanse of hungry consumers that have been weened on such information, you might as well not even bother. Even if you get those peoples attention, you’re only going to have it for a few moments before something else comes along to bait their clicks and taps.
So don’t think about that audience, don’t think about ANY audience. Think about yourself, because your attention is the only attention you can count on, being myopically focused on making something for the smallest possible audience, yourself and perhaps a close collaborator. I should have trusted this instinct from the get-go, because when you create with the stated intention of being something that you want to use, read, view or listen to, all of your original idiosyncratic intentions become bound to that thing all the way to the final form. The end product has voice and personality, which in this world is rare and precious.
You cannot engineer the need to share or articulate, it has to come from the out said, it has to come from you. Thinking of yourself as your own target demographic, it’s not about narcissism (although yeah that’s a slippery slope so you should check yourself), it’s about taking yourself seriously as the first person in the audience and genuinely trying to consider what would keep your attention from wandering. Do this, and sometimes you will discover as you progress that more people are trickling into the room around you. From there you simply keep going, because at that point it is no longer about you thankfully. If you’re pushing something interesting, something which resonates, people will care until you can no longer tell the difference between yourself and the rest of the crowd, who might not even know when or how or with whom it all started.