Frustrations of a Visionary (PT. 2)

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Why is it so hard to be great? A question I often ask myself. I know it sounds ridiculous, obviously it's not easy to be great, but at times I feel like I'm right there and then the next day I feel like I'm so far away. In a recent interview with the Breakfast Club Wale stated that he feels as if he's at the top of the middle. One step away from being discussed with some of the top artist in hip-hop. I guess I can relate to that. I feel like I'm drowning in a pool of mediocrity. 

For the past year I've been blogging about my struggles within photography. Early on things were so easy, because, well, I struggled more, but as I became better I felt as if my content has become worse. Sure I can still bring in the same amount of viewers with my First Impression series, but I want the website to be so much more than that.

I want people to take an interest in my thoughts, both about photography and life. I want engagement, I want more than impressions. It's been a constant battle of me wanting more and more.


I guess the question to ask myself is why. Why do I want more? Is it because I want fame, accolades and respect from my peers? Hmmm... maybe. Perhaps it's a level I feel as though I need to achieve in order to make sense of me documenting my life. After all if no one is reading then why am I writing?

The truth is, I'm not 100% sure what the answer to these questions may be, but I do have some thoughts about the individual theories above. I know for a fact I'm not doing this for money, obviously I'd like to make a living off of this, but nothing beyond my means. I want to support my family and pay my bills, all while doing something I enjoy. Fame, well that would be nice, at least I think, but that's not my end goal, I can careless about how many people know me, I just want to be meaningful to the ones who do. Legacy, this kind of involves fame, again, I don't need the world to know me. When you mention street photography or photography in general I almost know for a fact that KeenanRIVALS will not be the definitive name that pops into your head. I don't want to be Jordan, but I wouldn't mind being Pippen.

The blog started off because I wanted a proper platform to talk to myself, initially my medium of venting was the shower or during long walks to work, while those were stimulating they weren't forever. Often times I would solve problems mentally and forget the solution an hour later... I no longer wanted to forget anything. 

Picasso once said,

Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.
— Pablo Picasso

In a way I want to replicate that same sentiment, only replacing painting with photography and this blog as my canvas.

Finding My Happy Place

Many of you may wonder what's holding me back. Well, I'm creatively frustrated. It's not that I don't have ideas, it's that I'm not 100% sure how to execute them. I find myself sitting at my computer just staring, some days I have all the thoughts in the world, while other days I just can't seem to recite them properly. 

Detroit, 2015

A big burden on my back right now is my family. Within the last 3 months, shit has gone south. Me and my girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend) are no longer together, meaning I no longer have my daughter with me full time. As many of you can imagine, that can be hard at times. I admit, at times she was a distraction, she is super active, but her presence allowed me to sit at my computer and write. Often time she'd be watching tv, so I couldn't and my focus would just be my blog (and her). Not to mention just seeing her face would remind me why this is all worth it. When I was younger, my mom would tell me I could be anything I wanted in the world, I want to pass that same message down to my daughter, but I also want to be living proof of it.

On top of that, a friend of mine recently needed a place to stay for a few weeks and I opened my doors. That few weeks, has turned into 3 months, and it's looking like there will be an even further extension on that.

I'm in no way writing this to describe him as a burden, but his presence has really taken me out of my element. It's no one's fault but my own. I'm used to a creative process, and I'm no longer able to employ that. When I wake up I had a routine, and that routine has changed. If I go for coffee the cups might be dirty, I'm lazy... some days that resulted in no coffee. If I needed to vent in the past, I would do so here, but now that I have someone to listen to my rants I discuss them openly, that causes for less content. A prime example is this blog post here, typically this is something I would be able to discuss over lunch or dinner with him...

He didn't just come with a physical presence, toys were also brought into my home. I now have a beautiful 50" tv in my living room, something I didn't previously have the pleasure of having, blog smog, I watch TV every day. I'm caught up on all the shows, I even watch shows that I don't like... I'm not focused, and I need to go back to that happy place I created for myself in the past.

When I was homeless in 2014 I often stayed at a friends house. Like any unexpected guess, my designated location for rest was the living room, this is where the couch is in most homes... I slept on the couch. The first few nights were peaceful, they fed me, they had cable and the couch was extremely comfortable. I remember his dad saying "My place is your place". I really took that statement seriously. I treated it as if it was my own home, I'd eat, not clean up, talk on the phone super late, go to sleep with both the lights and tv on and rave the fridge whenever I felt the slightest hungry.

One particular morning at 5AM his dad woke me up and said: "I have to get back to my happy place". I had no idea what this statement meant, but seconds later he dropped down to his knees and started meditating. I admit it was a bit weird, but after 4 days in a row of this, I realized this was something he did every morning. For 3 days he had stopped his process in order for me to sleep in, but eventually, he said no more.

That's what I have to do. No more. No more TV, no more compromising, I know I may sound like a dick friend, but I can't conform my lifestyle to accommodate the likes of others. I'm not saying he can't use a mug or entertain himself, but it can't be at the sacrifice of my own personal work.

Develop Your Negatives

One thing that Marius Vieth often talks about is how he Developed His Negatives. His article taught me that at times life may suck, you can either sit there and allow it or take that same situation and make the best out of it.

Related: How To Turn Bad Moments Into Great Photos

A little while back I was having a shitty day at home. I'm not sure what caused my mood to shift, but I was super negative. I didn't feel good enough, and I didn't feel like I was progressing fast enough. I was ready to call it quits, photography wasn't my calling, that's what I told myself over and over. Typically I blog about these things, but because I was being so extremely pessimistic that day I said fuck it, no one reads my blog anyway.

I sulked around the house for about an hour, crying to whoever would listen and constantly beating myself up. It took me a minute to get myself together, but I finally did. I remembered I had these photos to edit for a session, to ensure I completed them I packed my camera back and headed to the nearest Starbucks.

When I arrived I grabbed my favorite coffee, sat down and began to edit. At this point, I wasn't fully recovered, but I was in a much better state. Shortly after my arrival a group of kids came in and handed each person a card. It was weird, typically Downtown Detroit is dead on the weekends, at least in the afternoon... What did these kids want? I brushed my card off to the side and gave them no attention, I assumed they wanted money and I just wasn't in the position to make that happen. About 5 minutes or so later I disconnected my headphones and heard everyone around me talking. A few couples whispered to each other, "What did you get?".

I opened my card and within it lied a simple message;

I guess my point of this story is that you can't always beat yourself up. Push yourself, persevere and good things can happen to you. If you're having a bad moment, make the best out of it. I took this day, this card and turned it into a story, I posted it on Reddit, my own personal blog and it went mini viral. The news picked it up, people responded and then a brief search was employed to help figure out who in fact gave these cards out.

Related: Open Me...

Being sad and depressed made for good content, people related to it, they responded and the new story gave me some unexpected exposure. Next time you're feeling overweight, don't beat yourself up and eat ice cream, make a project out of it. Show the world how you were 50lbs overweight, show them how you lost it, use the power of storytelling to motivate you.

Selling My Process

I use the term "selling" just to provide additional perspective for you, the viewer. I'm not actually selling anything, everything on this blog is free, I just wanted to point that out...

I've been blogging now for 16 months... I kind of made that figure up, but it sounds accurate. After a long journey of documenting my learnings in street photography I realized that I ran out of things to say. Of course there are some interesting topics that I haven't touched base on, but I've definitely lost steam when you compare the amount of content I'm putting out now vs then. 

At times I struggle to write. I try to figure out what exactly was I doing differently than, that I'm not doing now. The short answer is I was selling my process. I documented my struggles within photography, people found what I wrote interesting, authentic and were able to relate to it. Early on I had no problem being vulnerable, I sucked, and I knew it and that was okay. There aren't too many outlets like that.

As time progressed so did I, I gained a certain level of confidence and it was hard for me to get on here and tell the story of a photographer with no skillset. I had skills, was I the best? No, but I certainly knew my way around a camera. This led to many days of no content, I had no ambition to write because I had no problems to solve.

For months I thought about new ideas. What could I write about? What's new about me? Until today it never really hit me. My new struggle was this blog, my new struggle was getting attention on social media, my new struggle was getting to the next level. I'm not there yet, so why not document that process? Why not write about the struggles of a blogger, or the difficulty to gain attention in a crowded social market. People want to see the process, not just the final product. Right now i'm at 1700 followers, by this time next year if I'm at 10,000 (very optimistic) then people would want to know how!

Think about reality tv, we've taken deep interest into people we don't really care about. They aren't celebrities, they don't necessarily possess a talent, but they've been given a platform which allows us to be involved in their day to day activities. We know have that same platform, and while most of us use it to showcase our products only a small percentage of us use it to showcase our process. It's the reason why applications like Snapchat, Periscope and Meerkat are taking over. If you need an example of this then follow the accounts of Emily Soto, Gary Vaynerchuk... and myself :).

You Are My Oxygen

I've spent a lot of time writing content, mainly for myself, but for others to adhere to as well. I've solved solutions to many of my problems, and it's been quite rewarding, however, I want to expound on that. They're problems that I'm sure I've categorized as miniscule, one's that may be causing you to stress or throw in the towel. I know early on I battled with the decision to shoot single shot or burst mode, to shoot manual or auto, I never wrote about those things, but they were real challenges.

In order to keep this blog fresh, I need your input as well. What challenges are you facing? What questions do you have? Don't wait for me to post the right article for you, ask for it. Remember this blog is built off of curiosity, I'm curious to know how I can help you.


Support Me On

Patreon is a platform allowing you to support creators and artists by pledging a small amount of money every month. This will make it possible for me to continue to make content and explore my creative ideas.

Patreon is a platform allowing you to support creators and artists by pledging a small amount of money every month.

This will make it possible for me to continue to make content and explore my creative ideas.