Did you ever stop to think that maybe you became a photographer for a reason that you never really thought of before?

For as long as I can remember I've been in love with the process of writing. One of my early heros was Vladimir Nabokov. He wrote beautiful sentences. He wrote wonderfully visual descriptions. And he wrote with an incredible ear for narrative. Many years ago I got a degree in English Literature from the University of Texas at Austin and started a career as a copywriter in the advertising industry. Sometime in the whole mess of becoming a real, dues paying, adult I got seduced by the promise of photography= that one could make art with less fuss and commitment.

Even though I consider myself to be a "middle of the road" photographer I've been able to make a living at it for a variety of reasons. Early on there were enough barriers to entry in the field so that you actually had to know what you were doing and how you were going to do it to make photographs. I picked up enough marketing smarts early on to be able to sell the sizzle instead of the dektol. I made enough friends in the business who needed fairly straightforward work from a reliable source and I rode the reliability horse for years without ever falling off.

But as I put my fourth book for Amherst Media in the Fedex last Thurs and the went out to celebrate over margharitas with Belinda it finally dawned on me what the allure is for me. It's note taking at its most immediate. Looking back over fascinating trips to Russia or Maui it's not the photographs I want to share when I get back home, it's the stories. I spent a week in Monte Carlo several years ago and I don't think any of my friends saw any of my photos. I sent what I needed to over to the client and got well paid but for me the thrill was in sharing the stories. I was the first American to set foot in the Alexander Palace in Pushkin, Russia a while back but I would rather regale my friends with stories about sneaking off to use the Czar's toilet than wave prints of the Catherine Palace Golden Ballroom in my friend's faces.

I suspect many of us were lured into photography for reasons that have never been clear to us. It was interesting to have this epiphany. Now I see the interconnection between the two crafts; writing and photographing. It's clearer to me than every before. It's all about the storytelling.

The image above is from one of the last Metro stations in Paris to still have wooden slat escalators. It was taken back in the mid 1990's with an old M3 and a 50mm. Great gear for preserving the feel of history and the flow of life.


Rockhopper said...

Every photo that I have ever took I can remember names places, how the process developed what newspapers or magazines it went too.

I recently started putting a reference book together of my images. Everything came flooding back. Its personal even though your working, how many people in the course of there work can remember vividly what they have been up to?

I am a lousy writer but I love sharing my vision and after 6 months work on a photo essay for 6 photos my raw library came at a thousand photos.

Yes you are right its about the story...

Really good thought provoking article as always Kirk you hit the nail on the head.


Poagao said...

I see writing, filming and photography as parallel pursuits; all ending up telling stories, but very different stories in scale, scope and method. I tend to keep them separate in my mind, though, almost as different things. I suppose it's like keeping different languages separate in my mind as well; switching from one to another takes a little effort.

Matt Boyd said...

Have to agree with you, I became a photographer (I'll rephrase that) I started taking pictures on the back of my journalism degree in the UK and as there is an appalling job market in general and the media. I decided to skip looking for a job as a writer and become a photographer, one day i hope to be able to move back into journalism. But I do love reportage

Gordon said...

A camera enables me to get into all sorts of trouble that I wouldn't do, without that as an excuse.

I've hung off ledges in Big Bend National park to get just the right angle, but I wouldn't go near them without a camera. I've talked my way back stage at concerts and been in the pit down the front to take pictures. Last weekend I was shooting out of the back of a SUV with the hatch open, again trying not to fall out - all for pictures. I've almost sunk on a floating pontoon to get great rowing images.

I've met complete strangers, talked for hours with people I'd have otherwise passed by or been too concerned to bother without a camera in my hand or that excuse to get me into the place.

The images are quite a bit secondary to the things I get to do with a camera in hand.

Robert said...

Interesting idea Kirk, and thoughtful as always. I certainly enjoy writing, altough I'm not great at it .... I too enjoy the story behind the photography. I've come to realize, that for me, the story and my photography is related, and tied, to the location itself ... which is probably the reason I'm a large format landscape photographer (and see to be nothing else).

I love the art of photography, and love the handling of the cameras, loading the film, and preparing the actual shoot, but it's the land, and the light on the land that remains in my memory. For example, even thought I live in Hawaii, there is a spot in central Australia, a place called the Finke River that forever stays in my memory .... a place I love.

All in all, when I get back, the most important thing for me, is the photograph hanging on the wall.

John said...

Thanks for sharing your wakening moment! I've often wondered to myself what draws me to photography even though I think I have some preconceived notions as to why I enjoy it. I read your blog quite often and I love the personal interjections you share as much as the useful info.