I recently caught up with an old friend, someone I have enjoyed travel and photography with on many occasions and someone whose company is above all else a pleasure. I was a little sad to hear him talk about turning away from photography, that his journey with the camera may be coming to an end.
I shall call him Mr M. He is very talented with a camera both when shooting stills and video, and has genuine commercial appeal. But he has a big problem. Mr M already has a job and it pays very very well.
Most people become serious about photography when looking for a new career, ideally something that feeds their creative soul. I left a very well paid career myself to pursue this path, and made a conscious choice to be poor as dirt in the process. But the later in life you turn to photography, the harder it is to justify the financial challenge.
For many people there is a disconnect between the career of photography and their art of photography anyway. It will never be a career calling because they already have finished with careers. Sometimes we call it a hobby but I don’t like that expression, it suggests a pursuit of trivial importance and I think most people who get serious about photography have a deeper motivation than the word “hobby” suggests.
For Mr M the career of photography may never be fully realised, regardless of his talent or his wonderful personality. That made me sad. I thought about his situation for a couple of days and finally realised what it is that made me most sad, and where he has much in common with people who never pursue a photographic career but still have creative ambition.
When I think about the beautiful artistry of Mr M and his photography, I think of the gift he brings to the world. I think of the weddings he has photographed and the people he had made so deeply happy in the process. I think of the videos he had laboured to capture, and how unique his expression is through that medium. I think of the journeys we have travelled on together and the rare moments that we both managed to capture on film. They are treasures for me. They are gifts from Mr M.
And this is the point of the photography. Regardless of whether you seek a career or a hobby or a deeply fine artistic expression. What you have to offer the world is a gift.
If you consider your work to be a gift to others then it all makes sense. The act of learning new skills, cultivating new techniques and pursuing new horizons all makes much more sense. It’s not about you as such, it is about the gifts which you offer your friends, your clients, your community, your world. As an act of giving, photography becomes a meaningful pursuit and something you can more readily invest yourself into.
I have a plane to catch now and I have to say goodbye to Mr M and his lovely part of the world. I hope to see him again in future and I hope to see more of his photography. If indeed that happens then I will consider it a gift. I will also try to remember that my own work is best enjoyed when I am bringing some joy to my friends and indeed my clients. I have always seen my professional work as a challenge of making someone else’s life a little better, it’s just that I get paid for my effort in the process.
When I think of the many and varied people who have travelled with me over the years there have been a good many who I felt a degree of hollowness in their photography. I have found it difficult to help them along their journey, because they focus on the technical and ask for the “right” way to do things. These are often people who belong to a camera club and simply want to win points in competitions. This way of looking at photography has never really connected for me.
My entire photographic career has been guided by a simple desire, to share what makes the world beautiful. It is why I do not shoot photo-journalism in war zones, or take an interest in fashion photography. I have always seen my objective as giving something back to world, emphasising what is lovely and finding new expressions of everyday beauty.
I was reminded of this just a few days ago when walking through the streets of Brooklyn. We stumbled upon a group of very sassy girls doing some very funky poses for a photographer. They were shooting for a project hashtagged as #ImNotYourEnemy. Gorgeous black women giving their attitude and style for the love of an idea and the pursuit of empowerment, a true gift of itself.
I bombed the session and took a few frames on the side, because I loved what they were doing. On this trip I was carrying a little Lumix GX85, one of the Micro Four Thirds format by Panasonic, and I sent some of the shots back to Panasonic as a gift. They loved the photos and the context and decided to use the shots in a campaign, and we got permission from the lead girl in the group who featured in the shot, Amanda Luxe.
Amanda was generous enough to gift herself. I was able to gift the image to Panasonic. Panasonic were kind enough to gift me the camera and some gorgeous prime lenses. What I most enjoy about photography is giving the world something special, sharing something unique and creating an exchange of gifts that otherwise would not exist.
So Mr M, I hope you’ll agree that it would be a terrible thing to hide your gifts from the world too.