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When someone asks about my year, an overwhelming feeling of anxiety falls over me. I immediately think of all the failures and mistakes that transpired. I sulk about the jobs that I lost or perhaps the connections with whom I never followed up. But, just as soon as I start dwelling on the missteps, a blast of positive reflection and extreme anticipation hits me like 10-ton a freight truck. I started my photography career in 2011 and, every year since, the milestones have become bigger, brighter, and bolder.
Although I hit a few holes, they prepared me for the mountain that I was to climb. I not only grew as a photographer, filmmaker, writer and educator—but as a person. Cliché as that may sound, my life went through an absolute change and I finally accomplished a life goal that I’ve been working toward for close to 13 years.
Turmoil, emotion, adventure, elation, sweat, change, breakthrough... these are all words that describe the past 12 months. Rounding the corner to 2014, I was modest, working a full-time marketing position at a camera store to make rent, in the meantime attempting to drive harder and faster with my photography business. The balancing act was something I got used to. When I was offered a position at Fstoppers in January, I didn’t realize that my comfortable living was about to shift sideways. Of course, I took the Fstoppers opportunity seriously and everything was sent into overdrive.
I traveled out of the country for the first time. My imagery was nominated for a North American Hairstyling Award. I enlisted with the agency Wonderful Machine. I hosted my first live webinar with hundreds of photographers all over the world. I became an official brand ambassador for SmugMug, Tether Tools, X-Rite, and Savage Universal. I shot medium format film for the first time. I spoke to a live audience at the PhotoPlus International Expo in New York City. I shot for clients such as USA Today, Livestrong, Modern Salon, ProSales Magazine and First for Women Magazine. And, those were just some of the milestones.
As photographers, we are constantly looking for the best new gadget, the best knowledge and better social engagement. We get caught up in the physical elements of a successful photograph, rather than the essence of what it embodies. When I received my first roll of developed film from my Mamiya RZ67-120 Back, the photographs were out of focus, underexposed, and reeked of poor preparation. It was a message I deserved and a lesson I needed. The failure challenged me to step back, slow down, and shoot for the subject, not the social adoration. I haven’t looked back.
Like a roller coaster, this past year has had its drops, hills, turns, and corkscrews. Halfway through, the ride took a swift turn and I came out the other side as a full-time photographer. I left my job at the camera store and became the career man I’ve always wanted to be. Taking the jump required every bit of bravery and strength I had, as well as a pure obsession with photography that couldn’t be stopped. I could brood on the failures and mistakes that made me a better photographer, but that blast of hope is what keeps the fire inside burning hot.
So, when I’m asked about my 2015, it’s hard to say. I want to continue to educate and instill a passion in others, as well as continue to grow my clientele on a national scale. I’m significantly blinded by anticipation and eager to become even more obsessed with my love for creating, inspiring, and paying it forward.
Turning the corner and flipping the page, I urge you to slow down and shoot for the subject. Instead of fixating on the beautiful bokeh or painterly lighting, focus on the emotion and character of the photograph you’re striving to create. In today’s fast-paced world, photography is everywhere and it is all around us—never before has it been more accessible and widespread. So, as photographers and artists, it’s up to us to prepare the trail and lead the way. Produce work that matters and we will all better because of it.
Clay Cook began his creative career in the music industry and has built a reputable name as an award-winning, internationally published photographer and filmmaker, specializing in fashion editorial and advertising photography. Cook’s work is featured frequently on world-wide photography blogs including Fstoppers, PetaPixel, ISO 1200 and SLRLounge and has been seen in publications such as USA Today, Modern Salon, American Salon, Dark Beauty Magazine, and ProSales Magazine, among many others.