11-19-14_Jeffco-Tree-Winter15 3211-19-14_Jeffco-Tree-Winter15 32 Essay 3 - Distraction - What is the True Cost to a Photographer Long Term?

As I continue to work diligently on my new darkroom, I have had many days and hours to think.  I realized a few things 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 building the darkroom, even though I am working very long days doing manual labor, my mind has free time to think about what is crucial to me.  I don't have a chance to check emails, fiddle with my phone or get involved in other 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 period 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 primary 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 matter to me, and to do things that are important.  I realize that time is the most precious commodity that any human being possesses.  

Second, as I thought more deeply about the past, it made me realize some key points that I believe may apply to many of you as well.  As photographers, we live in unique times.  All of the "technical" things have already been figured out by many others that came before us and yet, many seem to be fascinated by the never-ending treadmill of new technology.  I find that very odd, and I don't have an explanation 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? 

Our modern world is 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.  Based on personal observation in my little slice of the world, I 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 access to high-quality camera 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 entirely digital, or use the two in a hybrid approach.  There is no end to the 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 love photography so much that I have been collecting cameras for over thirty years.  The problem for me arises because I like to use them, and I feel in inherent need to get them out on a regular basis.  I have been slowly realizing over the last few years that I either need to change my mental models about my camera collection or sell them, so they are no longer distracting me.  My true passion is large format, especially 8x10 and 11x14.  

I was recently watching a documentary on the life of Edward Steichen, and I learned that he was an accomplished painter in addition to being a photographer.  He ultimately decided to 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 admire Steichen's courage to go against the grain and follow his intuition.  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 essay 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 these types of decisions.  My intuition tells me this is a pivotal time for me creatively, and that I need to listen to my gut and make some changes.

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-Tim Layton

Tim Layton
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