Over the past twenty-five years I've been asked this question by a variety of people who THINK they know what's it's like to be a photographer. For some reason the title of photographer comes with romantic notions of a swashbuckling individual who lives a jet-set life of cover images and fat stacks of cheddar. The lives of most working photographers are somewhat of a grind no matter how they look on Instagram. Photography as a career, at least in 2017, isn't easy for anyone. And anyone saying it's easy is typically trying to sell you something. I spent four years of my life, on and off, assisting other photographers. Really good, established people who were doing work for National Geographic, Life Magazine as well as advertising clients like Adidas, Nike, Land Rover, etc. Assisting made me the photographer I am, and gave me an understanding of the business of photography but holy schnikes it was a grind. I was young, eager and in shape and it was still a grind. There are days of wonder, for sure, days that realign your place in the world, and there are other days when you find yourself in a drainage ditch in San Jose wondering there things went wrong.
Who told you I was single? Nope. Not me. Been with the same wonderful woman for twenty-one years. My photography, however, rarely comes in single from. I'm a essay guy. Long-term bodies of work are my fav way to move with a camera. Most of the time I suck at single images. But, from time to time I make something I like. This was made in Steinbeck country. The light did the work. I just stumbled to the railing and managed to hit the shutter.
What does it feel like to do documentary work? Well, it feels like this. Noise, chaos, confusion and fleeting moments of permission and endless possibility. After you do this work for so many years you begin to FEEL when things are right. Light, timing, composition..all working like pieces on a chessboard. For me it begins with light. Unless the light is right I'm not firing on all cylinders. Then comes the action....where the timing comes in. Am I good enough to get what I need to get when I need to get it? Sometimes. Rarely. And finally, the composition. Mine looks different from yours, most likely. Not better, just different. Our visual style is like our fingerprint. Unique. You can lose it, find it, lose it again. Or if you just shoot for clients you might never find it. A funny thing that way.
Actually, scratch that. I didn't shoot this. I tried a selfie right before this but felt so awful about it I swore off ever attempting ever again. I'm covered in the mud at Ojo Caliente. I'm normally not this ghostly white. My generation(I'm 48) was trained to point their cameras into the world. The most recent generation was trained to point the camera at themselves. At the core of this reality is simply that things are different now. Pointing the camera at yourself can reward the modern snapper with things like following, but for anyone from my generation the act of pointing the camera at oneself is traumatic to say the least. We were trained to NOT be the story, to allow the work to sing through the voice of the subject, not the photographer. Posting this image isn't easy for me. I don't like people looking at me and I don't like being center of attention, but I also like doing things that make me feel challenged. Like going to the DMV on a day off, just for sport. Or getting TWO annual physicals. Hey, why not.
When you tell people you write in a journal they normally respond with "That's nice." I think most people assume it's a secondary part of my life, or that I perhaps only journal when I'm on vacation with the family, sitting poolside while waxing poetic on the "joys of unplugging." I don't take vacations. I wouldn't dream of vacation with my family(they are crazy) and I try to ALWAYS remain as unplugged as humanly possible. I photographed a few of my books once. Here is what that looked like.
My books have ranged in shape and size over the years, and I've been through more arty periods. Mixing media, chemicals, textures and media. I love acrylic. Dries fast, lots of contrast and a saturation that reminds me of Kodachrome.