I get weird when I’m surrounded by other photographers.
I get an attitude, for one thing. Like, I feel like I somehow have to justify my being there. It’s like, they have this club, and I’m not invited, so I have to strut around flaunting my sass just to show everyone that I don’t want to belong to their club. Of course, the reality is that everyone sees that as blatant overcompensation for desperately wanting to belong to their club.
God, I’m a child.
All these awkward emotions came to boil recently at the Las Vegas Balloon Festival. I was surrounded by photographers. It was like every shooter in the valley was there that morning.
The first thing I do is look at other peoples gear. Canon shooters with those huge gray lenses the size of canons are the first you see. Nikon shooters next. Normally they are fairly easy to differentiate because most are wearing neckstraps with their camera’s make and model printed in HUGE YELLOW LETTERS. Then, you notice the ones with large off camera flashes vs. those who have just popped up the small, stock flash. That’s a great way to split the heard. Bags come next. I notice those wearing huge backpacks that look like they are about to take a day trip up Mount Kilimanjaro. Or the women who have fashionable camera bags disguised as large purses.
Again, and I can’t stress this enough, all of these thoughts and feeling I’m describing are petty and condescending and speak volumes about me rather than the people I’m judging so harshly. It’s just……….
I’ve spent my life not belonging. I won’t bore you with too many of the details. Suffice it to say that, while S. E. Hinton was able to make being an outsider look cool, the cold, hard reality is that often being an outsider sucks donkey’s balls. Mostly, you just want to be able to hang out with people sometimes. The result of living this type of life is that I usually default to these imaginary adversarial relationships with people I’ve never met before.
Which brings me to the title of this post. Why am I here? Why put myself into these situations? Or, more specifically, why was I there? Why did I wake up at 5:30 in the morning to get to the Festival well before the sun came up. Why was I trying to muscle my way through the maddening crowd of other shooters, often times just to replicate the very shots they were taking? Why?
Because, basically, I have no choice but to be there. I am a creative. I create, it’s what I do. And I can’t not do it. From very early in my childhood I was creating. Whether it was drawing, or making paper sculptures, growing up I was always working on something.
And, instead of trying to go to college to gain a marketable skill and earn some sort of decent living, I decided to major in Art. Why? Because I knew I would be miserable doing anything else. I took up drawing because pencils and paper was all I had when I was a kid. I took up painting in college because I wanted to express all the thoughts and feelings I had. I eventually took up photography because the language of paint became inadequate for what I wanted to say.
Which brings me to the bigger question, why am I here? Or, why have I began to carve out this niche with my work? Why am I putting in so much of my time and effort into Generator Photography? I mean, every single other person alive owns a DSLR these days. Cameras are everywhere. What makes me so special?
One, I’ve trained for this. You can be a great artist without formal training. Many have. But, I guarantee you that having someone show you the ropes, establish the basics, help you hone your vision and give you intelligent, helpful critique has numerous, important advantages.
Two, I’m excited about my work. I have spent my life making art nobody will ever see. And, mostly, I’m o.k. with that. But now, I think I’ve reached a stage where I want to share what I’ve done. I’m thrilled to show off my work now. Instead of creating something then moping about how horrible it is and just moving on, I want to hold my photos up above my head, Lloyd Dobler style, and say, “Here, world, look at this!” Of course, not everyone will receive my work with the same enthusiasm. I have no illusions, I know a lot of my choices people find difficult to follow. That’s not the point. The point is that there are some that do receive my work with enthusiasm. And I’m connecting with more and more of those people. And I’m encouraged every day by them.
Three, I want to leave a legacy. I know that sounds big, scary and slightly pretentious. However, I think that, when my time comes, and if I am lucky enough to have lived a long life, and they eventually put me in that bed, the bed that I’ll never get up from, I doubt that one of my thoughts will be, “Gee, I wish I watched more television.” No, I want to leave behind a body of work that contributes something to this world. Whether it is to move forward the dialogue of artistic expression through photography, or just leave a lot of really great photos that make rooms look prettier. Something, anything. I don’t want to squander this opportunity I have been given. There is no redo for this life, you’ve only got one shot. So, yes, It is big, it is scary, and it is even pretty pretentious. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.
Now, do these things actually separate me from every other person who owns a DSLR? Maybe. Who knows. Does this make me somehow better than those guys with the huge Canons and Nikons? I would think not. I would imagine that every single shooter at that festival, whether they had been taking pictures for one month or 30+ years, whether they had a camera phone or thousands of dollars of full-frame pro gear, every shooter could have taught me something that day.
Which means, while I’ve gotten far, I know that I have a very long way to go. So, be patient with me. I have a lot of rough edges that need to be smoothed down. As the beginning of this post shows. I call this a journey for a reason.
Hopefully, it’s a journey where we can all help each other move forward.