iLOVE: one humble photographer's perspective on liking it rough
As my dear friend JJ would say, ~fewf~
Amidst a flurry of accusations and name-calling, I feel a bit like the phoenix rising from the ashes this week. Sometimes, gaining perspective doesn't require climbing higher or crouching down or looking back. It's stopping and finding a mirror and looking within to see what's hiding just beneath the surface. January always makes me re-evaluate life, and this year it opened the floodgates. For me, it comes and goes like the rise and fall of the tides as I pine for the ability to stabilize instead of being caught between emotional swells, glimpsing without beholding that calm, level horizon I crave. My frustration as of late has emerged as a result of me forgetting this simple truth: the horizon can never be reached.
I believe the choices we make, whether conscious or not, lead us down the precise paths we need to learn whatever lessons we have not yet learned. With or without realizing it we pave a road to our own destiny not ahead of ourselves but with each step, creating our destiny one day at a time, one step at a time. I have chosen to travel rough waters (many, many... many...) times before, and have always emerged stronger, faster, smarter, and wiser. I sometimes forget, but know, that I need to ride the waves instead of flailing about in them like someone on the verge of drowning, because if I keep on like this, I will simply tire myself out and succumb to the undertow.
Every now and again, some of us need gentle reminders. I, however, need bats to the head, a steel-toed boot to the shin, and the occasional frying pan to the face. Frankly, I've survived worse storms than this, and I guess I like it rough. Amoung other recent not-so-gentle reminders about what is and is not important, it has dawned on me that I have not entirely processed the reverse culture shock I experienced last year after coming home from Republica Dominicana. (Thanks, D & E, for flipping my life upside down with your little wedding adventure...) Honestly, this isn't a bad thing. Guilt and shame, in appropriate doses, are humbling and gratifying. I have been given the gift of perspective that I think few of us are ever lucky enough to receive. Unfortunately, I think I have been wasting my energy, throwing it out in the wrong direction instead of harnessing it.
I want to share with you what has been at the heart of my irritation with my colleagues as of late. It goes like this:
We have one of the most AMAZING jobs on the planet. We get a bird's-eye view and a front row ticket to everything from weddings and births to major sporting events and rock concerts. We get to travel the world documenting people and places and things to share with the world. We photograph the stars in the sea and the sky, the stars in Hollywood, and the stars in lovers' and mothers' eyes alike. We specialize in creating art and beauty, exposing filth and ugliness, recording visual histories for generations to come, and whether that history is of milestones reached by one person, one nation, or one planet, whether there are millions of people around the globe that see it, or just one auntie working overseas, what we do is arguably invaluable and priceless.
I can waste all the breath I want trying to hammer common sense into people's heads with how-to's, but at the end of the day, I think I suffer from the same ailment most photographers do at certain points along their career: getting caught up in the minutiae of what everyone else is doing. There's an entire industry out there of folks one-upping each other with cooler, faster gear, winning more prizes, justifying charging higher prices, handing out tips on wooing more clients, attending more networking events, and trying to out-shoot one another sometimes at the expense of safety, or the dignity and personality of our clients, essentially creating more reasons to be doing anything but what we first felt we needed to do when we picked up our cameras a month, a year, or a few decades ago: shut up and shoot.
I've never been one to win popularity contests because I'm not always very diplomatic at getting my point across. For those of you who think shut up and shoot is me telling you to go ahead and run an illegal business that undercuts and disrespects your forebears, you have misunderstood. To those of you who think I am bashing established photographers in favour of newbies trying to get off the ground, you have misunderstood. To those of you who think I am devaluing what your photographer does for you, you have misunderstood. Shut up and shoot is about empowering each of us to own what we choose to do, but with humility, passion, and sensibility. It's about not allowing ourselves to be manipulated, beaten into submission, or brainwashed into either doubting the value of what we do or putting ourselves on false pedestals. It's about letting go of the fear of being judged for the choices we make both as consumers and as retailers. It's about humility and integrity and honesty. It's about being ethical and tolerant and empathetic. It's about doing what you do, how you do it, and doing it to the best of your abilities. It's about putting things in simple straightforward terms, and not apologizing when there is nothing to apologize for.
Despite encouragement to do otherwise, I am not sorry for saying shut up and shoot. I am not sorry for pointing out that we are photographers who capture the heart, not a heart surgeon who save lives. I am not sorry for injecting a little much-needed humility into this industry. I am not sorry for reinforcing the idea that our clients ultimately decide what we are worth, our delicate egos and carefully planned profit margins be damned. If something I said rattled your cage, good - I got you thinking. You may think you are angry with me for stating the obvious, but I'm going to hazard a guess that it's your own demons shaken off the bars of your own cage you're struggling with.
My demons are currently hanging out in my shoe collection, and I'm in the remarkably slow process of putting them firmly in their place, which for now is in the closet/props room where I keep my skeletons and baby baskets. If you need to find me, drop me an email to h dot walls at shaw dot ca and I'll get back to you when I am not drawing pictures of cats, watching movies with my husband, and shooting people I love, respect, and admire, which includes but is not limited to my family, my friends, and my clients.