Hello guys and welcome back to another episode of the Make Your Break podcast. All my guests are very special of course, but today I have an extra special guest on the show. His name is Oli Sansom, he’s a wedding photographer but also a bit of a director, filmmaker, designer, web developer; anything and everything creative! I’m going to talk to him about the friction between bad feedback, good feedback and how we can grow creatively. I’m lucky to call Oli a good friend and I can’t wait to chat with him on the podcast.
Oli photographs humans in all different sorts of contexts. He shoots weddings, documentaries and has a passion for design and illustration. I think with Oli’s creativity, he hasn’t restricted himself to any labels, which is awesome. He’s always pushing himself. He describes himself as having a maniacal desire to bring out the best in all his projects. He’s a little bit of a perfectionist. He likes taking a craft approach to everything he does.
I’m the opposite of Oli when it comes to perfectionism; I just blast stuff out without checking it over too thoroughly, because I want to make the most impact I can all the time. Oli agrees that when you’re working towards impact, you can’t be too focused on perfectionism because it holds you back. He has only recently got back to a project he put off and has learned to loosen the reins a little when it comes to perfectionism. It can be a brick wall. Being able to define whether you’re being obsessive or careful is very useful. Oli thinks I jump into stuff quickly, but because I’ve been doing it for so long I’ve built up the background capital. That’s hugely important and people often don’t see it.
At the end of the day, it is a slow process, whether you’re being a perfectionist or not. You still have to put in the hours. If you’re a musician for example, it’s better to practise for ten minutes a day rather than an hour a week.
I think we all react differently to criticism, whether we experience it online or from someone close to us. I was interested in Oli’s take on this. He thinks that there’s an ongoing tension between needing that validation from our inner circle and needing the total opposite in our craft.
Oli studied multimedia design at Uni, where the teachers called things like they saw them. This helped the students not to attach their identity to their work, but it is quite different today when we’re used to constant validation from our social channels. You have to have a desire to show the world you can do what you set out to do. You need a fire. Oli thinks that these days, we have a culture of toxic positivity, which can be detrimental to the work we produce. You don’t want people constantly trashing your work, but at the same time you do need those kind of figures in your life, for the benefit of your craft. You need that underdog spirit, but you need to find it gracefully.
Studies have shown that the opposite is also true; there is a place for criticism, but if someone is creating something and you give them positive reinforcement, they will get better. Social media gives so much positive feedback, that I wonder if it has anything to do with the recent rapid development of some photographers online. Oli wonders what the metric is for artistic development these days and I think we may be moving further away from the artistic slant and more towards business.
Art vs. commerce will always be a tension, and in some ways you have to define which community you want to be a part of. You also want to decide whether you want to be loud or quiet. Oli’s recent work that’s interested him could be described as boring; the work he wants to do is not work that’s probably interesting to a lot of people. He wonders where that’s going to lead in the near future.
I once received an email from someone who systematically criticised my work. While the person who sent it didn’t mean to be encouraging, it really fired up my underdog spirit; I was able to look at what he said objectively and learn from it. In-depth feedback is valuable, whatever it says. Oli agrees that validation works both ways; our industry is a luxury industry and it’s also very new. You can’t get too caught up in people’s opinions at the end of the day.
I was wondering if Oli has a support network, and what kind of advice and feedback he gets from them. Oli says it starts with his business partner, which is a completely transparent friendship. They say what’s on their mind all the time. He doesn’t take anything that comes through Instagram too seriously; he has about ten people around him whose input and opinions he values.
In terms of haters and trolls, Oli has seen his fair share. Being online in and of itself means you’re open to haters. If you get them, at least you know something you’re putting up is having an impact one way or another. In terms of my own career, I think the last six months have been the most instructive and valuable. I feel like I hold myself back sometimes because I listen to the haters. No matter how strong you are, it can be hard sometimes to tune them out. But I’m actually enjoying my haters these days.
I find it’s hard for me to grow when things are going well. It gets comfortable and there’s nothing new to learn. I was excited to come up with new solutions when COVID hit, because the whole landscape changed completely. Oli agrees; the only way to look at this scenario from a business point of view is as an opportunity. It’s the mental fight you have to engage with on a daily basis. You have to wake up and get on with it, despite how you may feel.
Oli views it like a marriage; it’s not a one time deal, you have to work on it every day. I think that’s a great way to look at it. You can look at it as a fun thing or a bad thing. Either way, there will be rough times in business. It’s how you deal with them that counts.
Thanks for joining us as always guys! See you next time!
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