Ornge Live: How one night almost rid me of my depression - Yasin F Muhammad Photography

Ornge Live: How one night almost rid me of my depression & The importance of feeling fulfilled in your career

February 4th, 2017 

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I don’t pretend to be easily comprehensible. Of all the people who really know me, not a single person has come to know each and every one of my demons. That’s purposeful to some extent. I don’t think it’s for any one person to bear the entirety of another person’s soul, no matter what your friends (or your mom) say. And so it’s come to be that over the course of my life, different people have been designated as the vanguards of the various components that make up the machination of my being, and I visit these specific guardians of my conscience whensoever those bits become broken, and avoid others when everything is beyond repair. In some ways it means no one person knows me completely, and no one person even knows the truth about me at any given moment. It’s why I disappear sometimes, why some people hear from me every day while others don’t and why it takes a group of well-organized people to discern my whereabouts, I’m not hiding, I’m just micro managing myself…if I haven’t lost you yet this has EVERYTHING to do with photography, I PROMISE that I’m getting there…but I digress.


Events of recent however had me shut all of my doors, pushing everyone away and pushing my ambassadors out of the courts much in the same way Trump plans to get rid of Mexicans.

I haven’t really been myself since November. And no not because of the election, unfortunate coincidence.


I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but the thing that actually caused this tumult into solitude was regrettably a complaint from a client, and a very big one at that. A job that I handled, wound up being much to the dislike of a client of mine and it instantly caused major problems. Over the course of about a month, I was berated, disparaged, and pinned as a photographer of unprofessional quality (by my client, who also took it upon themselves to try to ruin me within my network) whilst my name was dragged through the mud in my own neighborhood. It would later turn out that my contract was really the main point of contention…something I wouldn’t learn until much later, but the effect was immediate. I felt, utterly and terribly useless.


Working for yourself, particularly in the arts, is (I find) one of the jobs that requires the thickest amount of skin and the highest amount of discipline. Art is a completely subjective field of work and study, and when you’re a creative director (a hat the independent photographer often wars,) all of your work is subject to the critique of one person or another. Your success is largely dependent on your appealing to the senses of a particular mass of people. Your clients tend to be people who are a part of that same mass, and you sort of arrive at a point where you are confident in the work that you provide clients. Additionally as a freelancer, you give up a guaranteed life, to do what you think you’ve already gained some level of mastery over. You ARE your own boss, and your continued existence is based on the knowledge you have, and your confidence about always knowing how to appeal to your clients. Fulfillment in your job is literally based on these factors, and having committed your life to this pursuit, fulfillment in your job kind of becomes your life.

Being called out in the way I was by this particular client; it broke me, it caused the safety of that constructed life to meet an swift demise…and in an instant, I wanted nothing more to do with anyone.


I didn’t react well either.


I took a two month hiatus from photography. I made an announcement on Facebook, and I stopped picking up the phone.


It’s the only way I know how to deal with depression. My friends still can’t stand when I do that.


It was towards the end of this two month hiatus that I got a message from someone who is secretly one from amongst my favorite people, (and yes I have a secret list of secret favorite people) the music artist Rakoon. Rakoon is a one of my favorite musicians, which is something you can definitively say when you listen to someone’s music through your car stereo. We met at Deans List Tour NYIT where I shot some pretty awesome shots of the guy, not because my photos were great but because his energy was uncontainable. His personality is electric, his hair is MAGNANIMOUS but more importantly he’s a genuine, honest, kind and hilarious person, who I’ve always enjoyed being around. So when Rakoon offered me a ticket to his album release party/performance, it was already a no brainer that I was gonna go. But then he sent me this:

To which I couldn’t help but wonder this:

And I was right.

So we settled on a price, and I cleared my schedule for the date, because like I said, there was no way I wasn’t going to go. Still I was seriously in a funk, so I think after responding to that message, I went to sleep without doing any work on the 4 massive projects I still had to get done.

I don’t even remember what happened in the week that led up to the show. Damn.

What did happen that night though became an indelible set of memories…and I’d be doing myself and all of the wonderful people present at the event a disservice if I didn’t capture that moment in writing.

It’s worth noting before I begin the tale of how a single night almost alleviated me of my depressive mood, that Rakoon is in many ways, sorta similar to myself. He is by his own admittance not entirely open with people. In fact he stated during his performance, that the reason his new album Ornge was so named, was because he wanted his favorite color, a thing that we often use as a factor for our barometer of how well we know a person, to be common knowledge to everyone, so he could more easily start making the connection between himself and others (btw…that’s profound as hell.) He’s picky about who he trusts and who he labels as talented, deserving etc. and he even went my route, and took some time away from the world in order to create the album Ornge. So it’s no surprise, that his show was a well curated amalgamation of things and people that suited his fancy. His favorite performers were all there to support him, friends and family were all in attendance, and somehow little old me had made it as well.

Selectivity can make an already awesome event feel like an honor to attend, and that was very much how it felt that night. Rakoon was, kinda like Prince in that moment, because if you knew Prince, you knew that he had his favorites and he always kept them close.

I was upon my entrance however, harshly unaware of this exclusivity, so I set up my equipment, loaded up an empty memory card, and proceeded to get right to work on my assignment. I took test candids and then I got right to speaking with my clients, Rakoon and his mother who was in attendance that night.


It was this introduction that would change my life…and I’m not being dramatic. The moment is definitive to my entire life.

“Hello, my name is Yasin,” I said introducing myself to Mama Rakoon


“Hello!” She replied enthusiastically “I’m so glad you’re here. You are my son’s favorite photographer and my son doesn’t like ANYBODY.”


And I paused.


That’s a VERY hard sentence to hear at any moment in your life. It was a particularly hard sentence to hear at that moment, and it was compounded by the fact that the words “favorite” and “photographer” had never been used in a context that was relevant to me.

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Say what now?

Not unless someone was asking me who was MY favorite photographer or the more disrespectful instance where they would tell me about THEIR favorite photographer in the middle of a shoot we were doing together.


I’m sure I said something else, to her. I don’t remember what it was. I was embarrassed, I’m still embarrassed, to reveal that over a 3 year long career, no one had ever said those words, but there’s no merit to being dishonest here, that was really the first time.


It’s also funny how unaware a person can be about how significantly an utterance of theirs just impacted your life. It was instant and severe.


I had nearly quit photography because of what a client had told me: that I was the worst, that I lacked skill or professional photo quality, someone who had reduced my craft to nothing. And a clarity arrived, that I’d failed to acknowledge that they hadn’t done much more than share their subjective opinion. Being called someone’s favorite photographer was of course, the polar opposite of that criticism, and it created within me, honestly, not immense joy, but just some practical understanding. The spectrum itself is subjective.


You’re a good artist or a bad artist. The best musician, or the worst musician. The illest designer or the trashiest. There are only a few people who have the study required to give you the objective reasoning for why any one piece of art has its merits.

Trading subjectivity for objectivity however will always be a recipe for disaster, even it is the prevailing ideology of the current administration (all hail the post facts era!)


Those few words did a lot to reverse the damage that had been done in November and I began to feel a joy I’d be unaccustomed to for some time. But the real healing process wasn’t the ego boost, it was the fact that the ego boost allowed me to enjoy being around all the friends and family that had gathered in that building to help celebrate Rakoon’s hard work!


That night I actually walked past Kola Rai, who I’ve not only been shooting for a long as I’ve been a photographer, but who is also on my secret list of secretly favorite people (have a feeling this list won’t be secret for too long) and when I realized she was there, I felt the warmth that only working with your close associates can accomplish.


Army Regime, Paco the G train Bandit, Donna Travail (who had been in the studio just the day before) Scott Morris, Ricky Blaze, Jen, Drew Vester, Momma Rakoon, damn I know I’m forgetting people…but there were so many people who I was just happy to see again. And all of you, every single one of you was instrumental to helping me feel better about my life, my purpose and my career.


Never mind the fact that the performance were possibly the most amazing that I’ve seen in a long time, never mind the fact that Rakoon actually made me cry listening to one of his songs on stage, hell never mind the fact that this was one of the few shows where I was struggling to shoot because I was enjoying the show so much.


Ornge Live will be remembered for me as a moment in my career that helped me remember why I’m still a photographer. It was that serious. Rakoon thanked me for being there, but I thank Rakoon for inviting me.

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If there was anything to take away from the whole experience, it was that fulfillment in one’s career can’t come solely from the reactions of others. I think every photographer can remember the moment when someone first saw a photo of theirs and said “Oh my god, that’s amazing!”

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That moment is captivating, but it’s also dangerously addictive. The problem is that you won’t always find that moment.


Some shoots are bad, sometimes you can’t control the lighting, sometimes your client just won’t like what you create, heck sometimes your client loves what you make but doesn’t know how to react.


In those scenarios you won’t have that control over how awed your client is. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed irreversibly. You fulfillment has to come from you. You are privileged to do something you love, whether it’s for a job or hobby. Some people don’t even KNOW what they love.


So treasure it, enjoy the journey and not the result. We’re all learning. Don’t stop making great photos, and let every naysayer, every dislike, and every complaint be part of your motivation to get better.


It’s great to be back!

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