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The courage to be disliked
If you really want to be creative, allow yourself to not be liked
After I finished writing this essay, I realized that this could actually be a follow-up to “Create better work by not giving a shit” but with two more ways to go about that. Enjoy.
There’s this great video on YouTube by one of my favorite photographer-philosophers, Sean Tucker, where he talks a little bit about the book The Courage to Be Disliked. In his take, he describes how making art that you want to create rather than what everyone else wants you to create is what gives you power and makes you happy.
While the idea is based on a decades-old philosophy by Alfred Adler, it was refreshing to listen to him discuss that in the context of social media where the opposite message is pushed so hard: know your audience and feed the algorithm. Make your art for them.
It’s no wonder everyone on Instagram is so unhappy and feeling powerless– they’ve been listening to the wrong message all this time.
But how could we not? Instagram treats everyone on the platform as creators, the folks who are looking to monetize their content, and so even a hobbyist is nudged to adopt a marketing strategy if they want a chance for their work to be seen by even their own followers.
I really resonated with this idea of having the courage to be disliked because I felt seen. In my case, I wouldn’t call it courage though. I think courage is something one needs to muster and I simply don’t give a shit about what internet strangers might want me to do for their ephemeral entertainment.
For example, I know a lot of people who follow me on social media are there largely for my custom medieval fantasy characters. I love making them and bringing them to life in a photo, so it’s a good chunk of my portfolio. Nonetheless, I’ll shoot cyberpunk, space, modern urban, or any other theme whenever I want to because I take photos for my own enjoyment and not for anyone else’s.
I don’t worry that people who like my medieval stuff will unfollow me or that the post might “flop” on Instagram just because I’ve created something they’re not expecting or might not like. Even if people do unfollow me, it’s no big deal because they’re just rightfully adjusting where they direct their attention. Good on them.
Social media metrics don’t mean much to me at all, especially since I know that people like posts for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with my photography, so I don’t use them to guide my work.
In short, I have no qualms about not being liked on social media. And I’m happier for it because I own my creative process, whether or not people respond to my work.
So how do you muster the courage to be disliked?
Make photos that won’t do well
A couple of LEGO photographers recently admitted to me that they felt pressured to take bright and colorful photos because that’s what they thought LEGO fans wanted to see, but that’s not how they actually like to shoot. They prefer more shadows and darker themes in their photos, a look that runs counter to the toy brand’s image.
I’m a huge fan of going “off-brand” stylistically and I’ll definitely lean into shadows for my style of LEGO photography. I think it’s more interesting to subvert expectations and I highly recommend doing that at least a few times in your photography.
Intentionally going off-brand puts the focus back on creating for yourself and trains you not to care about how your photos are received by people on Instagram. You’ve already accepted the reduction of likes in exchange for taking a creative risk from the get-go. I think it’s a trade-up.
Going off-brand is just one example but the point is to create a photo knowing that it might not be liked rather than trying to create a crowd-pleaser.
Unfollow people who make your feed worse
I recently read this compelling article called “The Cargo Cult of the Ennui Engine” which explains why social media is so low-effort and boring. The author offers as a remedy to “reserve your likes and upvotes for offerings that truly deserve them” rather than simply deleting an app.
I agree but I’ll take it a step further and suggest you limit your follows as well. We are what we pay attention to so we should be more discerning about what shows up on our Instagram feeds.
“You become what you give your attention to. If you yourself don’t choose what thoughts and images you expose yourself to, someone else will.”
I know that what I see influences my work and my mood so I curate my feed regularly by purging my following list or muting people who make my experience on Instagram bad in some way. Whether it’s low-effort work, “greatest hits” photos, or creator drama, I just mute or unfollow people to keep my feed frustration-free.
I don’t think it’s impolite to unfollow someone who is souring your mood or cluttering your thoughts with their noise. Apart from the suggestions Instagram makes (which is a lot these days), you’re in charge of who shows up on your feed so it’s your responsibility to keep it relevant. If you opted in, feel free to opt-out at any time for any reason.
By the same token, I don’t feel slighted if someone unfollows me. I want everyone to curate their feeds as much as I do and get a better experience than they currently are.
I’m also careful to not crowd my following list with thousands of accounts. I mindfully keep it under 300. I earnestly want to see the work of people I choose to follow, so I won’t make their photos compete against each other on my feed.
Muting, unfollowing, and restricting my follows might make me disliked by people, but protecting my mental health equals nurturing my creativity so I’ll use the tools available to moderate what I see.
Have the courage to be happy
“The courage to be happy also includes the courage to be disliked,” goes the quote from the book. That means creating what you love without concern about whether or not people are going to like it or give you recognition. Basically, you have to dispense with half of what Instagram is about lol.
Your happiness as a viewer is also important, so curate your feed well and fill it with stuff that you enjoy. It may hurt a few people’s feelings if you stop following them but that isn’t a good enough reason to sacrifice your own joy.
Don’t put an internet stranger’s enjoyment over your own. Don’t make someone else’s shallow happiness your heavy burden. Have the courage to be disliked and you’ll find more joy.
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Summer has turned out to be a time for some cleaning up, reorganizing, and sorting out my priorities.
One of those priorities is getting my website up-to-date and adding different kinds of content there like my photo gallery and gear reviews. I don’t want to rely on social media to be the main home for my work anymore but I don’t think Substack is a place for reviews either.
I think my website is a better place to put the toy photography tips too rather than include them in a TBTP essay. The email length constraints stress me out, so maybe I’ll just include an excerpt here and a link to the full article on my website where I can go into more detail and add as many photos as I want.
Here’s the first such tip: using a phone flashlight. Sometimes, that tiny LED works great when you need a hard light. (I’m going to start digging through drawers and bins to find more old phones I can use.)
Another thing that shot to the top of my list is my YouTube channel. I’ve put off making videos for so long and it’s mostly due to not having a good video production workflow set up.
But since I’ve been busy shooting a gear review video these past few days, I took the opportunity to reconfigure my studio nook so I could create future videos faster as well. I’m eager to get that rolling!
Toy Photography Features
Toy photography features are back after my vacation! And because I skipped last month’s features, I’ll double up on this one.
LEGO is such a great toy to photograph because you can do anything with it like building out a custom scene with bricks to make for a unique and more visually interesting image. Here are 8 LEGO photographers who build MOCs for their photos.