Life After College – Ellie Berry
Words and photos by Ellie Berry.
Before I started college (and, if I was willing to admit it, most of the time I was in college) I had a rather large, gaping misconception of what life would be like after I graduated. I assumed that once I had a degree, I would get an interesting job/project, and the rest would kind of fall into place. Having a degree would make it so.
Unsurprisingly, I have not found the interesting job, financial security, or mind blowing photography project I was planning on. While I certainly didn’t feel this way to begin with, I don’t think I have done anything “wrong” by not achieving this - or that I should have at all. What I have come to understand is that my B.A. in Photography was designed to help me realise all that I don’t know. It has left me with more questions than when I started - by several orders of magnitude. Not knowing of my mental exhaustion and confusion, family and friends start asking when I’m going to start looking for a real job, or tell me about people who recently got engaged and probably need someone to “take a few snaps”.
(However, to ensure this piece doesn’t fall down a rabbit hole of comparing “the arts” to other professions, and my writing become sad and too wandering, I shall move swiftly on.)
I’ve decided that in this post-college state there reaches a tipping point, where you’ve disengaged yourself enough from actively creating for college, had a mental reset, and then you don’t really have a choice as your mind drags you back into the creative process. Ideas start making noises and demanding to be thought about, sometimes seeming trivial, or exciting, or over-ambitious, or too simple - or all of the above within the space of an afternoon of thinking.
This is where I notice a change in post-college image making. I didn’t realise the importance of having people to talk to about your work - or listen to them talk about their work, or why they love/hate another artist’s work. When studying there was no option but to be surrounded by these situations. Without them, you have no idea how people are going to react to work you are creating, and the idea hasn’t had the benefit of evolving from seeing other’s work and having other’s opinions.
This isn’t the only thing that is affected because of this change in environment and audience: there’s also the tone of whatever I’m working on. When making work in college, those looking at it have read (at least the preface) of whatever critical theory is referenced in the floor-to-ceiling-long text that’s giving the work context, and can happily chew through all the art jargon. I appreciate and love this style of contemporary photography, but not even my family, never mind strangers, are going to try to undertake that kind of mental jaw workout for an hour when looking at my photos hanging in the cheapest, vaguely hygienic exhibition space I can find.
And this brings us to the “scariest” part of creating work post-college: setting plans into motion. Situations can always be better, and being a “graduate” does not mean that the work I am producing needs to be of a finer caliber than what I produced last year. I think that it is this fear of making something bad that stops people creating when they graduate. But how is the “perfection fear” avoided? Dublin is lacking in open art spaces that, while I was in college, should have been instigated as important places that I could spend all my time creating or absorbing art. Within myself and other recent graduate friends the perfection fear results in an avoidance of most of the spaces that do exist because they hold an air of elitism, and heighten that fear of making a fool of yourself.
With all that said, there are still forces out there encouraging us to pick up the camera/pen/tool again and create - I still smile when I think of the advice I was given from my college technician; “the work I created after finishing my BA was absolute trash.” It gives me hope that I can wade through some projects I might despise in a few years, but still be creating. Because there’s a special feeling about creating something “all by yourself”, that isn’t tinted by brief restrictions or grades. I can create my worst work - but I don’t have to repeat the year because of it. When I find inspiration or have a breakthrough there is a new level of excitement because it’s all me, and it feels more raw and pure.
So here’s to creating things, and hopefully still liking them in the years to come.