Being in the Game

The very first play in The Photographer’s Playbook asks the reader to figure out what game they’re playing. So, I say to myself, “I’m creating because I have a creative drive.” But this needs to go deeper. What are my goals, how do I intend to achieve them, and what is the best way to go about this? All things I have very vague answers to in my head.

And then I remembered a quote from Netflix’s The Incredible Jessica James, spoken by real world playwright Sarah Jones.

“And you’re doing it. That’s why we’re here right? This is it! There’s kinda not more to it than that.”

And maybe, if there’s a way to be content in that answer, that’s really all there is to it. I am creating art, so I am an artist. Forget the fine art world, selling, amassing a huge following – I am exactly what I set out to be. That’s great and all, but in no way does it feel that simple.

This concept becomes more difficult at the heels of a long photo purgatory I’ve been floating in.

Until last night, it had been a month since I’d picked up my DSLR, and 2 – 3 weeks since I’d taken any other toy related photo. This, coming from photographing at least once or twice a week, if not more, for quite some time. I wouldn’t consider this a loss, had I been flexing some other creative muscle. But I wasn’t. I was simply exhausted, and while I had 10, maybe 12 ideas for images and series, with the supplies at the ready for at least half of them, I just wasn’t making them.

So if creating, is being in the art game, and thus living the dream – then how often do I have to create, to fit in that category?

Normally in a photo funk I’d simply proceed with life and let the pieces fall into place as they may, but that seemed to be such a far away chance encounter. Even in following my own advice, entertainment, pop culture, getting out of my head, gathering inspiration from others, none of it was remotely helpful. I did however, dive into a couple art books. I can’t say they led to immediate inspiration, but they did make me feel as if I was doing something – that I was on the right path.

And then last night happened. I came home a bit earlier than expected, tripod in hand (I’ve been using it at work while we wait for additional equipment to arrive), tired but determined. I piddled around my art table, looking for this and that, making sure I had everything necessary, and then I shot 4 photos. Precisely 4, with some metal figures I got from the flea market just over a month ago. The photos didn’t turn out exactly as I was hoping. But they’re on the correct experimental path, and I do like them as they are.

When I was done shooting, I wanted to shoot more, but I’m a planner, and a whole other series without proper planning didn’t feel right. So, I tidied my space, and went and sorted through/edited my new photos, and with it experienced a bit of relief.

I’d been putting my personal photos on the back burner for so long, they were building up into an enormous pressure. The moral of the story – sometimes it’s best to just create, if you’re mind and body allow you. The results of the shoot don’t have to be perfect, they just have to exist.

And in this eternal struggle to create, maybe that’s precisely what being ‘in it’ is.

“So I make myself the measure of photographic ‘knowledge.’ What does my body know of photography?”

-Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes

What is your ultimate goal with your toy photography? Do you have a plan to get there, or are you already living it?

~ Jennifer Nichole Wells


  1. “when your mind and body allows you to” is a critical key for me.

    The often given advice for folks who are in a creative valley is to “keep on creating. Create every day regardless of how you feel. Just create.” Not bad advice, however for my personal experiences, I am learning to tell the difference between “I don’t feel like it”, and “I just…. can’t”. The don’t feel like it days are when the couch is just a little too comfortable. The can’t days are when I’ve had a lot of stress during the day, and I really need to stop and shut myself off from the world.

    It is not uncommon for me to have a lot of ideas in my head, but I don’t quite get the motivation to shoot them – often because I can’t envision the shot being better than my last. It is frustrating as heck. However I’m learning to tell the difference between the “don’t want to” days, and the “can’t” days, and cutting myself some slack on the “can’ts”. It helps reduce that frustration.

    Tho, as Jay Maisel once said, “you will always be frustrated, you will just be frustrated on a different level”… it is the curse of the creative.

  2. Wonderful story Jennifer! I’m glad you finally got the chance to sit down and take some photos. I know work stress can be a huge drain on creativity and inspiration. I really like one of your last statements about “the results of the shoot don’t have to be perfect, they just have to exist”. Whenever I remove that pressure from myself, I usually enjoy taking photos much more than when I’m trying to create the perfect shot.

    I’ve never thought much about an ultimate goal. I think my goal is to do something fun and create something that I’m happy with. If I start over analyzing it, then I’ll take the fun right out of it.

    I love the images you created – they are beautiful!


    • Thank you so much. And you make a good point, we put more pressure on ourselves than anyone else. And I for one am good at pressuring myself into a corner. I need to remember that no matter the goal, there is a joy in creating – that’s why I do it in the first place.

  3. I do look at it as being in a game. A fun game. I sure enjoy taking photos, even when they don’t turn out exactly how I envisioned.

    The other day I arrived at work a bit early and the office was locked (no key for me yet;). There was a ditch with flowing water towards the dumpster and a bunch of sunflowers – it just looked like the perfect lego minifigure swamp! I had about 30 minutes to kill – so rather than play a game on my phone or nap, I took out my camera gear and some lego. I randomly had a Tie Fighter from set 75101. So Dagobah slowly came to mind with the tie fighter sinking.

    For me toy photography is about small moments. It really only takes a moment to take a shot. Sometimes we have this eloborate picture and are comparing our results with other photographers; but really my goal is to have fun and hopefully get a chuckle from others who get a chance to view it.

    • Having fun is a great goal, and it shows a lot of dedication as well that you were ready and prepared to shoot in your short time before work. I often get so caught up in my ideas, it’s hard to just shoot, but I need to sometimes, to remind myself how freeing it can be.

  4. Jennifer this is a really powerful post. Since I know you’ve been chaining jobs this past month I can only think that you’re being too hard on yourself. To be an artist you don’t have to be creating X number of times a week. There is no set definition that defines you. You are whatever you say and want to be. I think its important to take breaks and realize that even when you’re not photographing you’re probably still working out your projects in your sub conscious.

    I was very driven in my 20’s and 30’s and all I got for my efforts was a near breakdown and I walked away from all art for over five years. Think of this as a marathon and not a sprint. Gather toys, write down ideas, read a book, watch a movie and trust that when you have time, and the energy, what you want to say will flow through your camera.

    I hope I’m not reading too much into this.

    Oh and to answer your question: I have no plan. I have these ideas about where I want to go, but Im willing to explore very open door and window along the way. I may get where I think I should be, but I have a feeling I will get where I belong. Cheers!

    • Thank you Shelly. I am wonderful at being hard on myself, especially when it comes to photography. But you are oh so right, and thanks for the reminder, that this is a journey, and the photos will come in time. When I’m not shooting, I am thinking and reading, etc. etc. but I don’t always believe myself that those things count too. Like you at the moment, I have no plan, or at least nothing concrete, just discovering things as I go along, and I think there’s something to be said about that path.

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