Burnout is real. Whether you have so much work to do, that you can’t even think of lifting the camera to take some photos for yourself, or you don’t have any work which leaves you uninspired and feeling useless, in the end, there is rarely any balance in photographer’s life.
Starting from times when the Pandemic became our daily-used word, it has been tough on creatives. Yes, some of us found new ways of expressing ourselves, but most of us were just sitting and wondering if the world would ever return to being normal and if we would ever get to do what we love again.
To fight the feeling of being useless, so I tried to apply for many jobs during that time. As many jobs as I applied, as many applications were left unanswered. Too many people were looking desperately for a job, I was just another name on the list that nobody cared to give a chance to show what I was good at.
But I don’t like to be pessimistic, and I still got an occasional shoot for products or some art installations, enough money to pay for my phone bills and to the water delivery guy. It’s actually not the money I was missing most, it was the feeling of excitement for people gathering together, sharing knowledge or celebrating an event and me, documenting those things with my camera’s eyes. It felt almost surreal when in October 2020 I was asked to photograph Government HR awards, with people talking live from the stage, music playing and even indoor fireworks. It felt so good to be back there, even though people were very cautious still and the awards were passed around in gloves by people with masks on their faces.
There were more events, there was IDEX and NAVDEX in February 2021, there were some portraits, there was some art, but there wasn’t a lot to do, and I wanted to do photography… so after reading just another ad on Linkedin, which stated that I should only apply if I know how to have fun, I thought, okay why not, even though the last thing I want to do in this life is be to end up working in the media agency. I got an email from a person with a French name asking me when I would like to come for an interview. I picked the date and time, came to a fancy looking office with an urbanistic view of Dubai, didn’t find the French-named lady but otherwise, it went okay, and I agreed to do a part-time job for part-time money where I would mostly be shooting food to the nature of the business connections of the Media Agency Founder. Now, I have met some people who are truly masters of shooting food, and I think all food deserves to be shot that way by those people. But if someone wants to pay me to shoot this food in a normal way, or rather to be shot the way it is presented, all right, I can do that too.
There are restaurants that would offer you coffee and/or water when you come in to shoot, there are restaurants that offer you nothing and that’s okay I guess since I am not there to experience the luxury of their dining enterprises. There are people who tell you exactly what they want, and the people who don’t tell you anything, but later on tell you that what you have sent them is not what they wanted. There are people who ask you to shoot someone like an innocent Angelina Jolie, whatever that means, and people who ask you to shoot a room of 8 square meters as if it is Versailles. And you do what you’re told, because it’s a challenge and because you need money to feel independent and to be able to send gifts for your relatives birthdays. But then you come home and you have absolutely no wish to take any photos of sunsets, go hunt people in the streets, chase seagulls, or anything of that matter. You just want to breathe and wake up not feeling tired.
A lot of people feel this way every day. One of my friends told me she was crying every day on her drive to the office to Abu Dhabi, dreading to spend another day in an office without windows. Most often it feels like a privilege to complain about things like these, oh I have too much work, they didn’t offer me coffee in this restaurant, I couldn’t find parking so I was late and they were pissed off, huh, nobody died, right? Nobody but you dying slowly every day having to battle with the circumstances of the life you don’t enjoy, working with people who don’t like you, don’t find you funny and don’t let you shine. So if you can walk out of this situation, do it. Sometimes we have to fail at something to save a piece of our mental health. Nobody is really okay, believe me, everyone is battling with their own demons, and combined with pandemics, everyone has plenty enough on their plates.
So I went back to being on my own in September 2021. I had time and energy to go to the gym, I had time to go and check out different pavilions at EXPO 2020 if I wanted to. I had the leisure to say yes or no to projects I want to do, and the opportunity to work with clients I really care about. Would I rather shoot the Saudis talking about leadership and innovation than wanna-be influencers stuffing their faces with oysters? Any day of the week! Do I still wake up tired? Yes, but at least I am doing what I like to do. And maybe someday soon, I will be back out there chasing sunsets, when the time feels right.
But for now, take care and don’t let the burnout leave only ashes. Keep the fire going.
Stay strong and live with passion.