Why are you a photographer?
What do you want from photography?
Does your photography have a purpose?
When I get in the photography frame of mind and stuff my camera pack with gear, I find myself asking, “what do I need to get out of this.”
For me, to answer my constant internal questions, I think I have to go back to my childhood to understand how I arrived at where I am today.
When I first picked up a camera, I didn’t know what I liked about it, but I knew that I liked it. Perhaps it was the technical aspect of taking a small machine and creating something with my eyes and hands, with no concept of how to do it, other than knowing that I needed to do it. My mind would not let me continue until I understood every technical aspect of how a camera and film worked.
I moved around though. At one point in high school I was really getting into making motion pictures using a Super 8 film movie camera. I found a group of friends who had the same interest and together we made movies. Silent movies that we’d show in class. We’d select our favorite music and play tape recordings while the film rolled on the projector screen. Everybody involved loved it. Teenage creativity run wild.
I think my first thoughts were based on my attraction to solving an engineering problem. I can confirm this by following my own footsteps into the future from my youth. There was always a camera available, I was always taking photographs. I played with the mechanical toys and developed the film and explored ways to take photographs that were more interesting to me than the previous photographs I had made. I remember the excitement and anticipation that came with every roll of film and canister of movies I waited on impatiently to be developed and ready for retrieval at the local drug store. I’d save my pennies to pay for the processing of the negatives and prints. Each package far more important to see than the previous. It was always about the next photo or movie.
I also discovered at an early age that I like to blog. Back then blogs on the Internet didn’t exist. Blogging was done via diary. I kept a diary, not knowing why, but trying my best to document the things in my life that felt important to document at the time.
Photography and writing took over an area in my head as a teenager.
I never asked and never knew why I was doing it. It just felt natural to me.
As I grew older, I maintained my interest in photography. I recall during my time in the Navy, the first introduction of microprocessors and electronics in cameras. The Canon AE-1 was the talk of the town. I was still hung up on the vintage 35mm camera technology though. My father picked up a stereoscopic 35mm rangefinder at a yard sale and gave it to me. It had a 3D viewer made from Bakelite. The color slides were like other slide transparencies only two wide with enough change in perspective between the images to give that three dimensional view when inserted into the viewer. I was the only person to ever look at the photos I took. It was all about me and my need to take those photos and the need to learn more.
Raising a growing family while in the military required that I put my photographic desires on a back burner though. The cameras were relegated to family photographs and documenting our family adventures.
It was 1981 when I found my first real purpose to photography. I went to work at The Wall Street Journal as a Satellite Communications Engineer in the Production side of the newspaper. By this time, I was trained and skilled in radio electronics and that is where I anticipated I’d further my career. But, that job at one of the largest newspapers in the world was about far more than being a radio engineer. Newspapers are in the business of printing photographs and stories and all the equipment and technology used to accomplish that was now my responsibility and at my disposal. Photography, digital imaging and printing on an industrial scale became my soul purpose in life. I was so devoted to it I allowed it to consume me and it was a double-edged sword. I went into middle-age in a state of internal conflict and my single minded obsession destroyed my personal life. I hadn’t found a balance between work life and a personal life and it was unsustainable. I paid a heavy price for my obsessions and it cost me 10 years of happiness.
But through it all, there was still the fact that I enjoyed photography and wanted to keep my nose to the back of a camera. I had to find a way to make that work within the framework of my personal life.
In the early 2000’s, digital cameras were coming on to the market and I decided to get in on the action. By 2005, I knew that my time with The Wall Street Journal was coming to an end. I revisited my thoughts on what my purpose in life should be and I moved on from the reality that I was going to have to solve my own issues in my own way. Being a Satellite Communications Engineer wasn’t going to be my future. I did it, I was good at it but that’s not what I wanted for a future. It was photography that took the helm and I turned the rudder of my little ship of dreams towards the light, founded a photography business and retired from the corporate newspaper world. It was the best decision I ever made in my life.
As a kid, one would often be asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always struggled with that answer, as I don’t know that I was ever certain what I wanted to be. I followed a career path and learned a lot of things over time, but it was that sense of purpose that eluded me.
I now know that being a photographer became my purpose in 2006. I met a lady whose sensibilities aligned with my own, I had found the complete meaning of my life and a person to share it with.
Today, I can answer all the unanswered questions of my past. Why am I a photographer, what I want from photography, what is the purpose of my photography?
It’s simple. I want to be happy.
Now that I’m in my retirement years, I have found my happiness in life and I get to share it with a person who has found her happiness in life. Everything in my life has led me to this point.
I don’t know a photographer who isn’t trying to be happy about what they do. I’ve never heard a photographer complain that they had to go take photographs. We all do it for different reasons, with different viewpoints and subjects, but I do think the bottom line is that we all just want to be happy.