Photos courtesy of John Young
We all grow old, if we are fortunate. It’s a given, the aging process. We do not all grow up. That’s more of an optional condition.
Now, growing up in certain areas of your life—love, being a provider, being a parent, being responsible to others, being decent in the general conduct of your life—is a good thing.
But in terms of the exuberance with which one embraces one’s craft, i.e. the making of pictures, well, that’s another thing altogether. When you consider the happenstance of this profession, the up and down nature of it, the essential importance and simultaneous silliness of it, the inarticulate rush of unfettered enthusiasm we retain for the click of the shutter, and the desperate tumble we all make in the madcap pursuit of a very uncertain result—well, growing up doesn’t suit that particularly well at all.
For instance, sitting on your ass on a cold, cobblestoned street to make a picture of a ballerina on pointe in a place she would never actually do that, that’s not like getting on a conference call scheduled at 3pm. The whole non-sequitur, head-tilting nature of the photographic endeavor doesn’t completely jive with growing up, being responsible, mature, and careful in the assessment of what one does relative to what one might produce. Growing old I’ll accept. Growing up, well, let’s not check that box just yet. Or maybe ever.
Or, perhaps you get a notion to become a window washer for a day, and you rope down the outside of the world’s tallest building. You’re old enough to know better, but hey, there are pictures there. As one often recalls at the end of an adventure, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” And, every once in a great while, when you look afterwards at the photos, it was, in fact, a good idea.
Being up for an adventure and seeing the world with continually fresh eyes is an essential component of being a photog. Getting up insanely early so you can get your tripod down ahead of everybody else so you can record those first slivers of light that will grace this magnificent scene that’s in your head is an act of recurrent, boundless, childlike enthusiasm. Especially as most of the time that magnificent scene you have dreamed of capturing remains just that, a dream. Those golden, wondrous slivers of light we desperately hoped for are often swallowed by clouds, and that angle that was gonna work out so well is now obscured by the giant crane they moved in overnight to begin construction on some new condominiums we had no idea about. Sigh. Oh, well. Where’s a good place for pancakes?
Why carry a camera with you? It would be so much easier to walk unencumbered. But, you never know, around the next corner might be a marvelous, not to be repeated scene, and the bitter disappointment of being camera-less is worse than fatigue from the leaden slog with a backpack full of gear. Except of course for those times when the marvelous scene presents, and we have the gear with us, and we miss it. Damn! Shit! Aargh! Loser!
Time for coffee! It’ll be okay. The gods of photography will eventually smile on those who resolutely bounce back, and continue to stride purposefully, camera in hand, eyes at the ready.
The wondrous anticipation and the sheer, ludicrous cruelty of all this would weather a soul more inclined to be staid and serious, i.e., mature. Hell, the foul nature of what occasionally occurs on location would convince some to never go back outside. But we are photographers, and locations are where the wild stories are. So we gear up, grab the kit and sally forth, yet again. Only to (most likely) end up at the coffee shop again. The perennial refuge from the unsuccessful photo sojourn. Who knew a triple vente non fat latte could be such a soothing balm to the injured photographic spirit?
Sincerely trying to do this is a ticket to disappointment on a regular basis. Things that don’t work out, pictures that fall short, time to work that was promised and then reneged on, coupled with technical glitches, instincts that misfire, subjects who won’t cooperate….need I go on?
Reminds me sometimes of that old joke about the enthusiastic child, laughing and smiling as he was digging in a sandbox full of horse manure. When asked why he was pursuing such an awful task with such grand exuberance, he replied, “Well, with all this horseshit, I figure there’s bound to be a pony in here somewhere!”
So it goes. The pictures are out there, the sirens singing on dangerous rocks. We resolutely refuse to put wax in our ears. We listen and respond, despite the disappointments.
Photo above courtesy of Peter Polcz
There are numerous times I’ve cried when I’ve had a camera in my hands. Thankfully the times I’ve laughed are far more numerous. The thrill of a good picture, the audacity of the pursuit, and the incongruity of it all when it works, well, those days will flat out make you chuckle, or even laugh outright. (Or at the very least, prompt a quiet, knowing smile. You are onto a secret. Being a photographer is a beautiful thing.)
Thanks to Natalie Wilmhurst, of Glasgow, a wonderful dancer who was patient and lovely to work with. I profoundly thank John Young and Peter Polcz, friends and fine fellow photogs, who contributed the pictures of our Scottish workshop above. Those snaps are reminders to me of the blessed truism of a career in pictures. You can have a laugh with a camera in hand, and maybe even make a living sitting on your ass in the street.
Gear used in demo of Natalie….Nikon D4S with Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8. Flashes are SB-910 units. Light shaping gear is by Lastolite, the Tri-flash attachment and the 4 in 1 umbrella, atop a Shur Line paint pole. Contact Jeff Snyder at [email protected] for details.