The wrong question
On discovering the noble profession to which I am called, people always ask “What kind of photographer are you?” After some um-ing and ah-ing and wondering how to define myself I might reply- “I’m a poor/ I am an amazing/ I am an amazingly poor photographer’. They laugh. Or stare. Then they try again, “What kind of things do you take photos of? Weddings? Or wars? Or wildlife?” (If you really want to know then read my profile) But I think people miss the more interesting question, one that is far more revealing- why are you a photographer?
Our lives are limited
Steve Jobs gave this sage advice to encourage a class of the world’s most promising graduates:
‘Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life’ (1)
Stay with me on this, it a sobering but liberating truth. Jobs was asking the ‘why’ question – “Why will you do what you are planning on doing?” We don’t want to admit it and I wish it wasn’t so but its the ultimate statistic- 100% of us die. And that will change the way we work if we resist the urge to run from the fact. Your photographs are numbered. Maybe its one thousandth of a second or one thousand million frames but there is a day when what you will shoot will be your parting shot.
The best photographers I know of, dead or alive, all had a clear idea of what they were about. They have known where they have come from and where they are going. And that shaped their work. To survive as a professional you need a drive- something bigger to strive for. And that’s what I am getting at.
What pushes you to overcome the inevitable roadblocks and rejections. And where will that drive take you? What is driving you and where is it taking you?
I mean this lovingly. With a disembodied, electronic kind-of-love. Not like the worried parents or dismissive editor wondering why are you a photographer? The ‘why’ question is an antidote to artistic stagnation, mediocrity and produce your best work. So, why do you take photographs?
I ask it daily. Its fundamental to everything I do. This simple question will change how you photograph, where you photograph and what you photograph. Why are you a photographer?