I have doing some thinking lately, mostly of the odd, obtuse kind and have come up with an interesting photography question- What one word best describes your photography? This is a more nuanced question then first appears. It requires you to actually think (you all know how I love to get photographers to think!) about the totality of your photography, both the good and the bad, and then to try to sum it up in one word.
Perhaps it is not possible to sum it up in one word, perhaps a short phrase would be better. Okay, use a phrase but try to sum it up. What is the first word that popped into your head? And how does that one word make you feel? If the first word that came to you was something like ‘frustrating’ or ‘unorganized’ or ‘infrequent’ or ‘uninspired’ then it tells you that you need to make some positive changes to get your photography to a better, more satisfying place and earn a better word.
If your first thought was the phrase “in a rut’ or ‘same old, same old’ then you need to spend some effort to photograph some different things in different ways. If you came up with “just about perfect’ well then you can stop reading this now and go help the others of us who aren’t quite so satisfied.
When I first started taking pictures my word would’ve been ‘excited,’ probably not much different than many of you. When I started my professional career in photography I would’ve used ‘incredulous’ because I had a hard time believing that people would pay me for my pictures. Then over the next 30 years my word evolved from ‘nature’ to ‘wild’ to ‘forest’ to ‘book’ to ‘teaching’ to ‘Vermont’ to ‘story’ each one showing what the dominant thoughts were in my head at the time.
Now, I find it is harder to find one word for what I am doing. This might be because I seem to be doing less, or at least less of the standard photography stuff I used to do. I don’t make submissions anymore to magazine or calendars, book projects are getting to be maddeningly frustrating due to the insanity of the the publishing world and I am doing far fewer workshops then I used to do when I did 15+ a year. The vigorous days of my youth are clearly visible in my rear view mirror as they forever slip farther away.
I guess the word I would choose now is ‘generosity’ because I give far more of my pictures away then I sell these days and I give freely now of my time when I used to charge by the hour. I could also say the word might be ‘discriminating’ but that just puts a ten dollar word over the ten cent concept of ‘lazy.’
But actually, I think my word would be ‘change’ and my phrase would be ‘make a difference.’ That’s why I went to Uganda twice last year and why I am going to Kenya in a month and that’s why I helped start the new workshop company, Crossroads Photography workshops. Trying to make a positive change, trying to use my photography to make things better. After all, isn’t that the point?
Publication credits and notoriety mean nothing to me now, a curious thing since I spent the first 20 years of my career thinking of nothing else and single-mindedly chasing both. And here’s something else that has changed for me- I started out 30 years ago spending far more than I earned and now, after years of profitability,I am right back where I started, happily re-embracing deficit photography. I had forgotten how easy it is to dig a financial hole. Not any more! It’s something that comes quite naturally to me!
So what is your word? And what does it signify to you? Does it indicate a path forward or a pool of stagnation? Does it show decades of accomplishment or years of apathy? Think about it and think about what it means. And remember, words change and so can you.