Why You Should Stop Being A Photographer

Stop being a photographer. Just for a few minutes. Think back to when you started taking pictures. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Did you start for fun? Maybe it was function. Did you want to capture the events in your life? Or maybe you wanted to express yourself. Think about it.

Barcelona 1914 Click to see original.

However you started, at some point you stopped just taking pictures and started wanting to be a photographer. Something about this world made up of nothing more than varying intensities of light bit you and infected you with its disease. What was that moment?

That’s right. Keep your seat belts fastened. I’m now asking you to remember two things practically at the same time. Why did you first pick up a camera, and what happened that made you unable to walk away from it?

In my pursuit of an unattainable perfection I almost never look back. But how can I know what direction I’m going in if I don’t look at the footprints of where I’ve been? Maybe I’m going in the wrong direction but my head is shoved so far up in the clouds searching for what I want that I’ll never see what I need. So today, I’m taking stock. I’m checking my roots.

I first picked up a camera in high school. I didn’t want to. I was a painter. I had brushes for fingers. Canvas beat in my chest. Gesso flooded my veins. My breath smelled like linseed oil and I pissed pigment. You get the idea. I liked to paint. A lot. Except for cheerleaders in pig tails, painting was my only passion. (And I actually got to touch my paintings.) But then my painting instructor told me I had to take a photography class because it would make me a better painter. I resisted, but with the threat of having to take a gym class instead, I relented.

Flash forward three years and I entered college as a photography major with my painting instructor chasing me down the street with a pallet knife. I had fallen in love with photography. There was nothing he could do about it. I was no longer a painter. I was a photographer.

That was a long time ago. I was young. But I remember exactly the moment I fell in love with photography. I was starting my senior year in high school. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back this was the moment I fell in love with photography.

I’m sure you’ll all be shocked to hear I was the weirdo artist type in high school. My friends were the other weirdo artist types for the most part. But one day about a week after some of my photographs were in an art show, a very popular, kind, and beautiful girl from my school asked if I would mind taking her picture. No. No. That’s not the moment I fell in love with photography.

It was that weekend, we were supposed to meet at this park near the edge of the woods. I was nervous. I got there early to let my shakes die down a bit even though I thought there was a 70% chance she either wouldn’t show or it was some sort of bamboozle and that an army of jocks would jump out and inflict some unbearable amount of humiliation upon myself involving peanut butter and granny panties. Only she was already there. She was even earlier and more nervous than I was.

What? How could this beautiful, smart, popular, perfect girl be nervous? But there it was, a struggling half smile, a shiver in her voice, sentences with words out of order. There was always a kind confidence about her. But not now. She wasn’t superhuman. She was human. Vulnerable. And whether by choice or chance that vulnerability vibrated through the lens and stuck to every frame of film. In those photographs she seemed lost, scared, alone.

Five years later that popular girl and this art weirdo became husband and wife and opened a fish hatchery on Bainbridge Island. Okay, that part’s not true. But we did become friends.

By the time I finished college we had lost touch, but recently she found me on facebook. Her mom had passed away from cancer. Her childhood home was up for sale so she had to clear out a few boxes of things she’d kept from high school. She came across a contact sheet filled with the black and white images I’d taken of her that day in the park on the edge of the woods. She said that was one of her favorite memories from high school and she loved how she looked so carefree in the photos.

Yeah. I love photography. Sometimes I just forget why.

I want you to stop being a photographer, just for a few minutes. Think about why you started, what made you fall in love with it, then, and only then, get back to taking photographs. Maybe your vision will be sharper than ever.

Nice!

What made you fall in love with photography? Let us know in the comments below!

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6 Comments

  1. I picked up my first camera after being inspired by my grandfather who has taken pictures since ages ago. He was not a professional but a kind of semi-pro. When I got my first camera, a Canon FT QL, I was hooked. Went to study photographer and ended up as a sports photographer. For abut ten years ago I quit being a photographer and became an IT professional. I never regret that but in recent years I’ve become a serious hobby photographer. Photography is very close to my heart and has always been. I simply love pictures. My pictures and your pictures.

    Flickr

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dahlstroms/

    A few of my grandfathers photos

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/dahlstroms/sets/72157594357369411/

  2. I fell in love with photography in year 11 in highschool, when I discovered Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills. I adored the idea of being able to change who you are (or at least, who you appear to be) through what you allow the lens to capture.
    I spent months pouring myself into a project of my own film stills, and pretty much haven’t put the camera down since! I think at that age, when you are trying so desperately to discover who you am (and I’m still trying!) the idea of being able to transform yourself so radically was wonderful!

  3. I never use the word photographer….because I’ll never understand all the stuff.
    And like you I started in art….so about half of my stuff is heavily transformed in photoshop etc, no longer a photograph.

    I say I DO photo-art.
    I say I am retired and do what I want.

    I think when I first took a photograph I thought it was magic.
    I could do what I wanted back then…except for homework.

    So I guess I’ve come full circle.

    (IN a parallel thought, I never called myself a writer…even after having 4 books published. But by the 7 or 8th title I decided I could say I was a writer…by then it didn’t matter much anymore)

  4. Nice

    I read this article yesterday:

    http://blog.epicedits.com/2009/05/18/why-are-we-so-compelled/

    I thought of it when I read your article today.

    I used to draw and paint. Like you, when I took my first photography class, I was hooked. When I bought my first SLR camera, I found that I could get much closer to the image that was in my minds eye (which is not necessarily reality either) with a camera than I could drawing or painting.

  5. What got me into photography? When I discovered that by having a camera in hand — and also by being able to converse relatively coherently with folks — that people would allow me nearly full access into their homes, businesses, places of worship, private estates, huts, farms, and (most interestingly) their private lives — well — I became hooked. And I was hooked at an early age.

    What photography has taught me — aside from the obvious techie stuff like framing and lighting — is that people enjoy showing other people the things in their lives that they’re proud of (i.e.: those homes, businesses, vineyards, and huts that I’d mentioned earlier). Most importantly, people especially enjoy showing these things (that is, the things that they’re proud of) to people who have a genuine interest. Let me repeat: a GENUINE interest.

    BTW, Zeke — you wanted to become a painter? I initially wanted to become a cartoonist. In High School, I had a running series in one of my math classes (that I’d draw up on the black board) called “Star Trig.” It was a really, really awful takeoff of Star Trek. The other kids seemed to like it. The teacher absolutely hated it, and eventually banned me from doing it because “it was too distracting and took away from classroom learning…”

    Matt

  6. It all started for me because I liked taking photos underwater, I had always had waterproof cameras because I had a bad habit of spilling stuff on them and its was only natural that I would take them with me when I went scuba diving.

    One year I decided I would take my open water course and I wanted to take better pictures, so I bought an Olympus C5050z with an underwater housing. It was the first camera I owned that wasn’t a point and shoot. So me and my new camera went on the open water course and I burst my eardrum on the emergency ascent.

    It turned out I had a problem with my ear that meant I would never be able to dive again. I was gutted, but I had this great little camera, so I learn’t how to use it and since then I haven’t looked back.