Have you ever taken one of those personality tests, looked at the results and thought, “Yep, that’s me. I guess that’s how I am and how it’s going to be.”? My ‘I’ was so overwhelmingly towards one side that the ‘E’ may as well have not existed. I've always been like this, I get it from my mother; introversion is in my blood.
In school, I was almost mute. Now, as an adult, I constantly get asked to speak up. I often wonder if I were at a concert and everyone in the crowd were an audience of me’s, would we collectively make any sound? I’m the kind of person to quietly pat my hand to my chest instead of clapping. Would it sound like a low rumble of thunder?
Earlier this year, we moved to New York. For any creative, relocating here seems to be a no-brainer. My Dad still questions why I’d want to do such a thing and for someone in their 30s, and more often than not, I tend to wonder the same thing. Like any major life change - it’s been difficult. As an introvert in what seems to be an extroverted city, I feel I’ve had to become louder than I actually am. Louder to get my foot in the door. Louder to mask my visible lack of enthusiasm (it’s on the inside, all right?). Louder to show that my hand is up and that I, too, am here and accepting of the challenge.
For a while, I put it down to being from New Zealand and Kiwis’ predisposition to being inherently quiet and/or humble (a common sentiment amongst other ex-pats), but that isn’t the feeling I’m engaging with. Mine comes back to the ‘I’. I’m sure most Introverts feel the same way I do when you have to put yourself out there – when you have to meet someone new for the first time:
SO nice to meet you! I’m so happy we could connect!
Me, with a limp extended hand,
Hi, I’m …James?
Do you ever say those words, and it just comes off just as robotic as it is in your head? I swear I’m genuine on the inside, but the inside me and outside me have some severe disconnect where the mask just doesn’t quite fit. Do you find your vocal cords have never been under this much strain before - like puberty struck twice, and your voice is about to crack again? Just below the surface, there’s a deep fear knowing others can see through your facade, and it’s one word away from shattering.
If the facade does hold up long enough, it becomes a game of creative diversions. Hiding behind my work, hoping it’s strong enough to be the Extrovert for me. I had a meeting with an agency the other day - they described the nature of my work as ‘soft’. Come to think of it - almost every person I’ve met has categorised my work in this way. I know the word ‘soft’ isn’t negative by any means, but I can’t help but look at it as though it’s missing its other half, and I think that’s quite interesting as a Creative - to reflect on your own work and find what works, what doesn’t and what’s missing. Sometimes you need that push back. Sometimes you need to fake that loud voice in order for your quiet voice to speak.
So lately, I’ve been trying to work out where my work sits within the creative community. It’s hard to not feel overwhelmed when those you look up to live/teach/work a few train stops away. Their voices are strong, they’re original, and they’re steeped in culture and history. I come to question my own voice; how do I categorise it? What is it that I'm trying to say? Is my story one worth contributing? My friend Dave would say it’s “not that deep”, but so much of my work spawns from the question, “What is my contribution to photography?” When I die, what will my legacy be? Will there be a legacy? I’m trying to categorise what my own voice is, so when I pick up the camera, I’m speaking in my own tongue. It really feels like finding a needle in a haystack, but there are no right or wrong answers... just time. It’s a challenge that I don’t mind answering.
It’s only been four months since we arrived. I was going to write about the man who tried to flash us, the girls who saw, yet continued to sit in human faeces on the subway, about being yelled at for being Asian tourists (I mean fair, we’d just arrived) by another Asian male dressed like a sushi chef (it was a very big *spiderman pointing meme* moment for us), but the quiet-voice-in-me thought the quiet-voice-in-you might relate to this more. We’ve spent a few months sleeping on the floor, working off our cardboard box desks, and shouting louder than our vocal cords are capable of handling. It’s frustrating as hell navigating a new city and life without a compass, but every once in a while, there’s a good day - the kind of day that makes it all worth it. While I’m out to prove myself in a new city, I hope one day I won’t need to yell. Until then, I’ll keep faking a loud voice ‘til others can hear my quiet one.
Shot on location at Bloomcourt Farm in Upstate New York