We make pictures. At the end of the day, we create something potentially significant that did not exist at the beginning of the day. We go forward, despite the uncertainty. Because this is an act of love and passion, which defies reason and prudence.
When I was in school, I wanted to be W. Eugene Smith. He was a legendary staffer at Life, a consummate photojournalist, and an architect of the photo essay. He was also kinda crazy.
That was obvious when he came to lecture at Syracuse University and put a glass of milk and a glass of vodka on the lectern. Both were gone at the end of the talk. He was taking questions and I was in the front row, hanging on every word.
Mr. Smith, is the only good light available light?” came the question.
He leaned into the microphone. “Yes,” he baritoned, and paused.
A shudder ran through all of us. That was it! No more flash! God’s light or nothing!
But then he leaned back into the mic, “By that, I mean, any &*%%@$ light that’s available.”
John Loengard, the picture editor at Life, always used to tell me, ”If you want something to look interesting, don’t light all of it.
No matter how much crap you gotta plow through to stay alive as a photographer, no matter how many bad assignments, bad days, bad clients, snotty subjects, obnoxious handlers, wigged-out art directors, technical disasters, failures of the mind, body, and will, all the shouldas, couldas, and wouldas that befuddle our brains and creep into our dreams, always remember to make room to shoot what you love. It’s the only way to keep your heart beating as a photographer.
The qualities that I think get underestimated quite often are durability and tenacity and a willingness to just keep at it. Time spent behind the camera is just phenomentally important.
A career in photography is a journey without a destination. And really, do you think someone’s gonna buy you a ticket to someplace you can’t even point out on the map?
Jay Maisel always says to bring your camera, ‘cause it’s tough to take a picture without it. Pursuant to the above aforementioned piece of the rule book, subset three, clause A, paragraph four would be…use the camera. Put it to your eye. You never know. There are lots of reasons, some of them even good, to just leave it on your shoulder or in your bag. Wrong lens. Wrong light. Aaahhh, it’s not that great, what am I gonna do with it anyway? I’ll have to put my coffee down. I’ll just delete it later, why bother? Lots of reasons not to take the dive into the eyepiece and once again try to sort out the world into an effective rectangle. It’s almost always worth it to take a look.
Unpredictability. Accidents. Not good when you’re engaging in, say, brain surgery, but when lighting...wonderful!
You’ve gotta taste the light, like my friend and fellow shooter Chip Maury says. And when you see light like this, trust me, it’s like a strawberry sundae with sprinkles.
I can’t tell you how many pictures I’ve missed, ignored, trampled, or otherwise lost just ‘cause I’ve been so hell bent on getting the shot I think I want.