Distraction - What is the Cost to a Photographer?
As I continue to work diligently on my new darkroom, I have had many days and hours to think. I realized a few things today that I wanted to share with my readers and fellow photographers.
First, as I spend more time in the middle of nature building my darkroom, I realized how busy the world really is. When I am there, even though I am working very long days doing manual labor, my mind has free time to think about what is really important to me. I am not checking emails, or fiddling with my phone or involved in busy work. Over the last three months I have physically worked harder than any other time in my life that I can recall. I am grateful for this time because it has allowed me to think and to realize how busy the modern world is and what that means to me. One of the major reasons for building my home and darkroom off the grid and in the middle of nature is because of my desire to slow down, focus on the things that really matter to me, and to do things that are important. I realize that time is the most precious commodity that any human being possesses.
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Second, as I thought more deeply about the past, it made me realize some key points that I think may apply to many of you as well. As photographers, we live in very unique times. All of the "technical" things have already been figure out by many others that came before us and yet, many seem to still be fascinated by the technology. I find that very odd, and I really don't have an expiation for it, just the realization that I think it is happening. Maybe the glory days of photography have come and gone and now we are just consumers and imitators.
We live in a world that is literally bombarded with images from the moment we wake unit we go to sleep. I also feel like many people no longer value the physical print and I further suspect that many people are desensitized to the underlying meanings and motivations that professional photographers work so hard to share and communicate. When so many people have such high quality equipment and the lines between reality and fantasy land no longer exist, it makes me wonder what we have done and what the future may be for photography. Or, is the definition of photography just evolving as it has over time?
The last thought that I want to share with you today involves distraction and how I think it can negatively hold photographer's back from reaching their full potential. Distraction is an evasive variable that has many faces. From an equipment perspective, there are no practical limitations anymore. A professional photographer can work with film, or work completely digital, or even work with the two in a hybrid approach. There is no end to the amount of equipment options we have today, no matter what your chosen format may be. I know without a doubt that I have been distracted by options and it has been something that has been on my mind for a few years now.
I was recently watching a documentary about the life of Edward Steichen and I learned that he was an accomplished painter in addition to being a photographer. He ultimately decided to literally burn his complete inventory of paintings and fully dedicate himself to photography. It is my understanding that he was much more successful in monetary terms as a painter, but he put that aside and followed his heart. I also think about Clyde Butcher who has a similar story. He decided to focus on black and white photography and he burned all of his color prints, just like Steichen burned his paintings. I think these men knew what I know and what I am trying to express to you in this article. They understood the value of focusing and committing to one thing. As the old saying goes, "it is impossible to serve two masters".
I end this article with a heavy heart. As I continue the process of building my new darkroom, I feel this is a very special time in my personal and creative life, maybe like the times that Edward Steichen and Clyde Butcher experienced. I know in my gut that I need to simplify my photography and eliminate even more distractions, but I haven't fully made up my mind on how I plan to do that yet. I can only hope that I have the courage and possesses the wisdom to make a decision and stick with it. I feel like now is the perfect time for me to make those decisions, so I will write again once I know more.
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I have felt a bit of what you are talking about. A good friend who closed his business gave me a number of camera systems (35mm, MF, LF) that I could only dream about. I couldn't believe how lucky I was.
Looking back since the first "gift", I have never been so unproductive. I've love playing with all this stuff but have completely lost focus. All this is to say: listen to your gut. Put as much as you can in storage somewhere (assuming it's really tough to actually sell it or give it way) and focus, focus, focus.
One other suggestion: read (or re-read) Walden Pond.
Hi Chris, always good to hear from you. I am 100% in alignment with your thoughts and comments. I will share with you something that I told a good friend yesterday that was asking for some advice. I said that just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should. That can play out in a million different ways. Just because a person has the means to purchase a 100MP digital camera system doesn't mean they should, and it certainly doesn't mean their work will be worth anything either at an emotional level or otherwise.
The one thing that saddens me the most is the art of printmaking is all but dead. I believe there are "arts within the art" of traditional film and darkroom photography and very few people can understand that statement today. For me, I am minimizing the financial requirements placed on me so that I can focus on the art and craft of traditional darkroom photography. In an over-busy technology sinkhole of a life that most people are completely unaware of, I am taking a much slower and different path that feeds my soul. I could care less about the financial return or acceptance by the modern world. I do the work because it is in my soul and I am not complete without living the process. As I continue to work through this time of personal angst, I will continue to write more articles and share my journey. I could very easily end up just using my 8x10 or 11x14 and contact printing for the rest of my life. Even within that choice, there are so many options that one has to narrow them down to stay focused and truly master something. Stay in touch.
Hi Todd, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. I really like what you shared and it resonates with me. I also think you really hit the nail on the head when you said that if you have so many different processes, you never get good at any of them. I think that is a wise statement and I completely agree with you. Every camera has its strengths and weaknesses and there is no perfect tool, just options. The photographers that have the desire or courage to work through limited options are the ones that I think ultimately create those timeless images because they are focused on their subjects and not their gear. Stay in touch.
Thanks for sharing this very personal thought. I have a similar story, but have come to the following conclusion. Enjoy the process, regardless of the tools.
On my first workshop I took three cameras, a digital DSLR, a Pentax 645 medium format and the old Crown Graphic 4x5, along with color and black and white film, filters, holders, lenses, etc... I can't tell you how distracting that was. Yes, I got some good shots, and yes I enjoyed shooting all three systems, but throughout the weekend, I felt uneasy, awkward and out of sorts
Since then, I have focused on a single system on each outing. Going out with a 4x5 and (4-6) sheets of film is so freeing.
Going out with the medium format and a roll of Ektar is a wonderful challenge and a day that always makes me a better photographer.
I have often thought of selling off all but one system, but at times I simply enjoy each system.
But, I have to admit, when I am concerned about which gear I am holding, I am not focused on creating quality images.
When it comes to post processing it gets even more frustrating. If you have 4-5 films, processes and end product formats, you never get good at any of them.
At the end of the day, I know I have limited years ahead of me, so I need to stay focused and enjoy the hobby. Getting out into God's wonderful creation is the goal. If I get a few good images, then that's a bonus!
I hear you and feel your pain. The last year has been one of deep introspection for me as well. Not only are we bombarded with visual stimulus beyond the point of sensory overload, the amount of sewage drowning our senses has obliterated any kind of standard we had to meter true creative genius and extraordinary talent. How many of the new crop of "emerging" photographers, have ever seen the work of, or in some cases, even heard of Kertesz, Steichen, Penn, Weston or Cartier Bresson? Being able to snap a shot on an iPhone, which any real photographer would not even consider wasting a frame on, put it into a computer program and "create" something that looks like it came from the planet of the Gods...only means you are a skilled program operator, not a Master of the Art of Photography. I fear we are the last of a quickly dying breed and that Photography - the Art of Photography, that is, is quickly disappearing. Bravo to you for your commitment to the Art, and your pioneering spirit in this age of decay. I'm right behind you......
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