Montréal has always had a special place in my heart. The first time I went to visit was in 2013 with a bunch of friends from highschool. I had saved up money to go to Osheaga. I was still in university for electrical engineering at the time while working two part time jobs: one at an engineering firm and the other as a technology sales associate at Staples. I was putting myself through school and working hard. I had previously heard about Osheaga and decided to go on vacation.
I instantly fell in love with the city of Montréal. Prior to this I hadn’t really had the chance to leave my hometown. The city felt cozy. Everything from the markets and neighbourhood bbq’s on cobblestone streets to the well designed subway stations and diverse architecture. I always found the place inspiring and I made a promise to myself that I’d return to recharge and get inspired again the following years.
I did my best to keep that promise. I ended up returning for two more consecutive years after that. Each time with more memories than the last. Then one year I stopped. Something had changed. In 2016 I graduated and moved to Toronto and started working as an engineer in training. I also began to take my photography more seriously and started doing back to back shoots after work and on the weekends. It was a grind. I had put aside personal time in pursuit of making a mark. And for the time being it worked.
By mid-late 2017 I was setting up shoots with models from Toronto agencies. Earlier that year I had met a solid group of friends in the city and had gained a second wind in my sails. I pushed myself and my photography, all while still maintaining my job as an engineer. That fall I went to New York for the first time and although it was meant to be a vacation, I ended up setting up 16 shoots in one weekend.
A month later I decided to return to Montréal with my friends with the intention of working with the agencies there. I was thrilled to be back and this time to be shooting in a place that inspired me. That weekend was packed, and I was happy to have worked with some amazing and talented people. But, something was starting to not feel right. Something was off but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. And so I had brushed it off and pushed onward.
Burnout is something that creeps up on you. Everyone warns you that you’ll burn yourself out. But often your own momentum and sheer arrogance blinds you to the fact that you are already burned out. The months that followed involved all-nighters and numerous edit sessions. I was backlogged beyond belief. I began to take on client work which involved graphic design (and video) on top of photography. What I didn’t want to admit to myself was that I was tired.
By fall 2018, I was frustrated. Overloaded with work and more work, I was barely setting up shoots. The thing that I loved to do the most was now out of sight and I was constantly fighting with myself, trying to inch forward. Fortunately I was still able to work with some very talented people. But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t 100%. I loved the shots I was taking (see my 2018 Wrap Up Reel for some of my fav moments). I’ve worked with some amazing clients and creative teams and reached heights I’d never imagined possible. But just like my my trip in 2017, something was missing. And I couldn’t shrug it off this time. I was stuck in a creative rut and my actions were driven by need and validation rather than genuine inspiration. I felt stagnant. I was constantly pitting myself against other creatives, living vicariously through what they were creating while I got lost in my own work. It became a vicious cycle of feeling depressed about my lack of time and ability to set up shoots and feeling irrelevant.
It got to a point where I had a long chat with my friend Daniel walking from one end of the city to the other. He pointed out that I was doing way too much and trying to do everything all at once. I needed to focus, and not be discouraged because I was not able to work creatively. I realized I needed to work at my own pace and slow down, take things one at a time. Another friend of mine, Drew, had told me to face my creative rut by starting to create and capture things as I went. Just casual everyday stuff.
With the year’s end approaching I decided to do one last shoot and then shift my focus to something new that I was toying with. After taking an Ilford disposable to a work Christmas party, I decided to start reloading disposables with new film and shooting more stuff on the go. Nothing fancy, no staggering specs or expensive lenses. Just disposables and my own creativity. After testing a roll to make sure it still worked, I decided to take 2 disposables on an impromptu trip to Montréal with my friends Drew and Andrew (respectively below), this time completely prohibiting booking models for creative shoots and taking the time to breathe, rest and explore.
Using disposables allowed me to focus more on what was there than trying to capture it perfectly. It also took away my ability to see my shots immediately and made me develop a connection to the shots I created after patiently waiting for them to develop. Upon visiting Montréal (for the second time in 2018, the first being to actually take a vacation and go to Osheaga again) I was able to recharge, draw new inspiration and see things in a new light. It’s amazing what can happen when you take a bit of time for yourself to breathe, hang out with close friends and try to center your gravity again. It was the perfect end to a roller coaster of a year.
Going into 2019, I decided to continue using disposables, taking photos while hanging out with friends or walking around and capturing moments that invoke an emotional response rather than a photo for the sake of a photo and I’m hoping to bring this mindset into my creative work. Needless to say I’m excited for this new part of my growth as a photographer. Hopefully I’ll be back to visit and do what I love.
À la prochaine Montréal!