It's all about the Ruby Slippers.

    Red shoes in a museum thrift store in Marfa, Texas.  EP2.  Kit Lens.

I drove 1200 miles.  I froze my butt off in the Davis Mountains when the temperature dipped to 15 degrees one night and I was camping rough.   I ate protein bars while nudging the wheel to keep within the faded lines on the most desolate roads I've ever seen.  I woke up and drove 45 miles one morning in search of good coffee.  Or hot coffee.  Or any coffee.  I sat, bored in a coffee shop in Marathon as the rain moved in, thumbing thru my withered copy of Jack Kerouac's, On The Road.  And I discovered the thing I missed when I went off on my half baked desert driving adventure.  I discovered why it all works and it all doesn't work.

My revelation was put into words for me by the movie, Buckeroo Bonzai, when Buckaroo says, "Wherever you go, there you are." and, of course from, The Wizard of Oz.  I convinced myself that I needed the Ruby Slippers to transport me back to the land of "Art".  But on my whirlwind visit to the Oz of the great southwest I came to understand something very important.  Vital.  Art isn't some place, it's some thing that you carry around inside of you.  If the art isn't working it doesn't need a change of venue it needs a change in you. Art isn't a camera or a wide open landscape --- it's a way of seeing.  And art definitely isn't something you pick off a low branch.  Doesn't matter where you go because the firmware is already uploaded.  Only the scenery changes.

And the further I drove the more I felt that I was running from something and not towards something.  I went out expecting to find exciting things to see only to find that the endless and picked over landscape felt, for me, all used up out here.  But this process of discovery and re-discovery was important.  What did I really see?  What did Jack Kerouac see on his sad series of desperate journeys back and forth across the United States? The sadness he carried around with him.  The journey gives you time to look into your own heart.  If the images you create aren't good it's because you've given in to the conformity that pushes us all down to some mediocre baseline.  I've gotten good at technique but lousy and lazy at looking for something that means something to me.  The journey was like a mirror in a cold, dirty Exxon gas station restroom.  You look in the mirror in the morning, after sleeping hard on the floor of your car the night before and you see the tired eyes of truth look back at you with the recrimination that you could have done better.  You should have looked harder and felt more.  You should have ignored what everyone else was doing and stuck to the work that gave you butterflies in your own stomach and a sense of anticipation every time you thought about it.  But I didn't.    And you get two choices.  Or a thousand choices.  I only get two choices.  Try harder and better or hang up those magic boxes and quit.

So here's the deal for me.  I traded normal for photography many years ago.  While my friends marched into jobs as doctors and lawyers and bankers and engineers I marched into the chaos and candy of being a photographer.  An artist.  But over the years I reached too far.  I tried to make photography into the same secure path that my friends enjoyed in their career paths.  How to do that?  By making the thing you love into a business.  By slowly and systematically sucking out the life from the art.  Chasing a dollar by giving the people what you think they want.

And you know what?  You end up not pleasing anyone.  You don't have art.  You don't have product.  You don't have equity and you can't sell your practice.  If you didn't do art you screwed yourself because that was the only prize on the path you chose.  And the sad thing is that there may always be a market for the people that ignore the perceived marketplace and do the art even if they think no one will like it.  Even if they think no one will notice.  Because they will have, at least, pleased themselves.

What I learned from Sal Paradiso's journey was this.  We count up our losses.  But there are also gains.  The overwhelming journey is the important one and we're constantly learning those lessons.  I learned that, at 54 I can still sleep on the floor of a Honda Element with an old orange sleeping bag from Costco.  I learned that waking up at 6 am on a freezing morning means that I alone can watch the sunrise from my austere angle, miles from anyone else.  It's like water in a fast moving river.  You never step into the same water twice.  I watched the sunrise over nameless peeks and hills and I knew that no matter how good my craft the photos would never equal the experience of just watching quietly and soaking it all in like rays of new energy.  I didn't take a camera out of the bag as I watched the purple and blue and yellow of the sunlight slowly work its way down naked mountains and into valleys of valiant scrub  brush and bustling Javalinas.

There's no long term project here.  No book.  No shared quantum of revelation or wisdom.  There are no masterpeices among the 1200 images I stuck onto little memory cards.  But there is an overwhelming joy in knowing that I can still feel wonder and curiosity.  That I still have time to rescue the second half of my life from the mindless conformity of image making that I expected I needed to do to make a living instead of making a thriving.

I guess what I realized most was that the first half of most lives are about mistakes and enthusiasm and lessons learned and time spent in the raw pursuit of mastery.  The second half of life can be about whatever you can take from all those lessons and leverage into sheer, exuberant happiness.  And if that comes in your art, so much the better.  Shared or unshared.  It's the one things that's totally yours.

When I set out to do a roadtrip project I was in talks with a publisher.  After weeks of negotiations we'd worked out a contract that was workable.  We had agreement.  Right up until I saw their writer's guidelines.  They were so regimented.  How to deliver chunk by chunk of the writing on a factory schedule.  What program to use. What operating system to use.  Precise and required formatting.  It turned a creative idea and a creative process into a Sinclair sweatshop.

We parted ways.  And I decided to go on and do the project my way.  Only what I found out on this trip is that trying to teach creativity is like trying to do anything else.  The teaching is not the art.  The idea of a book is  like a life preserver for people whose industries are in trauma.  It's a way of delaying the need to change.  It's not change.  I may never do that particular book.  Or I may find a better way to get the ideas across.

But I did come away from the last six days with one firm idea.  I really love taking photographs and I'll do that until I can't do it any more.

(This is the only philosophical rambling I'll post from the project.  I do have images to share and discussions to put out here in the blog about what worked for me on the trip.  I am happy with the outcome of the adventure and ready to jump back into photography with more passion.---Thanks, Kirk)


Craig said...

Beautiful rant, Kirk. Thanks for posting it.

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

I think I know what you're speaking of, Kirk.

I was once a musician. At the age of 19, I was in a studio the first time. Jumped off somewhere between the age of 23 and 26, before it all became business only. I even stopped making music altogether, since as a bass player, you cannot do it all on your own, and just please yourself.

Later on, I finished college, got into studies and into IT. That is what I'm still doing for a living, but once that turned into making money, the fun was gone. Today, I have hardly any time to deal with a community of Debian developers and free software enthusiasts; instead I'm locked into a big blue 3-letter company during daytime, and spend the evenings with my family. Fun? Looks different in my book.

And photography? Well when I was still younger, I took some pictures of people I cared for, with a Canon A1 and the usual combo of 28, 50, and 135mm. I gave up that as well for almost 30 years, and now shoot using an E-520 with the kit lenses and an old manual 1.8 50mm for the shallow DoF. I do this for fun only, or at least I'm trying to.

And road trips? Oh yeah, those were great, if I was alone and could really lose myself somewhere. I did not bring home any new music or photographs or anything, but lived for the moment only, listening to whatever was in my head and around me. A bit like "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance".

I'm 53 now, and getting calmer (tho still a lot of the stupidity around us can still get me fuming with anger). I try to understand what I see, be it people or anything else. I think in the end it will all (or mostly) have been a trip to find oneself, maybe for all of us.

So whatever you're looking for, I hope you'll find it. And thanks for your great thoughts, mate!


Poagao said...

I couldn't agree more. Since I began reading your site I've always suspected something like this was lurking inside of you. Many people go a lifetime without realizing what you've written here; I'm glad you found a way to express it at last.

Hypnos Tene said...

That was an interesting and thought-provoking post and I enjoyed reading it immensely. Thank you.

Paulo Rodrigues said...

Art isn't some place, it's some thing that you carry around inside of you? That explains why some days I just pat each of my pockets and cant find it. Then when I get home I discover that it was on top of my head the whole time

Seiko said...

Absolutely beautiful rambling of thoughts, but laden with foreboding to me personally. I myself am about to embark on a similar excursion, looking to get lost on a trip westward to destinations as of yet unknown. I'd already suspected the experience itself would be the more poignant aspect of the trip, your words have solidified it as a concern. But the saying does go "The Journey is more important than the destination".

Thank you. :)

Peter Frailey said...

Excellent. Don't forget that the essay you just wrote is in itself a nice piece of art that should make you smile. (As I recall finding things that make you smile was one of the trip's objectives).

Peter F.

P.S. Your essay makes me realize that the differnce between a "hobby" and a "job" is that with a hobby you only have to please yourself.

kirk tuck said...

Seiko. No fear. Just go and discover. Everyone's journey and the things they discover are custom made by the universe just for them.....

GOCGO Youth said...

Great post. When I was a kid I asked a rancher where the good spot to find Indian arrow head was. He just laughed and said "arrow heads are where ever you find them". That's true of life in general. You can go out looking for it or just appreciate it as you find it. That's what I like about the little rangefinder-ish M43 cameras. Great companion cams for the things you find every day, and in some part capturing that is art to me. I used to think I needed a killer camera with 5 pound lenses, now I realize what I really need is a daily appreciation of what goes on around me.

laruel said...

The most obvious lessons are the hardest to learn. For example, I know that you can't take a photo of what you don't see, and that you can't see unless you stop thinking about yourself and become open to the world. I know that; but I don't do it often enough. Indeed, I flatter myself by saying that I do it sometimes.

So everything you say rings true to me!!! ..... Lash LaRue /

laruel said...

Everything you say is true, Kirk, and it exemplifies the old lesson that the most obvious truths are the one that are hardest to bring into one's life.

One can only keep trying, ....... Lash LaRue /

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this Kirk.
I'm trying to stay focused on the art in photography and figure out ways to keep food on the table, too, so this is exactly on point for me. This post is one of the reasons I like your blog so much.


Victor said...

Kirk, I loved reading this in this moment. Thanks a lot for sharing. I think many of us who once turned our passion for photography into a profession are somewhere in this journey. I've started a few months ago and, at the beginning I was sort of obsesed with what could be commercially viable. Later on I realized that I did not get into photography to please the market, to become sort of a mercenary who knows how to use camera, lights and the other tools. Too much worrying about the business make you park creativity and your original drive to make photographs. And then you feel frustrated because do not identify with what you're doing which, is similar to what others are doing, not a personal work.

I also realized something similar happens with 'technique'. Too much concerned about using the right lens, aperture, etc and you focus on those aspects rather than being there seeing and feeling what is in front of your eyes and motivated to make personal images of it. I also got the impression you were through this, when you started getting back to using less sophisticated equipment. I think it is a good exercise to get back to the creative path; I did not get rid of the big nikons but I now travel much lighter with only two lenses and I am sticking most of the time to 35 and 50mm zoom positions; surprisingly, these are the two focal lenghts in which I see naturally and love their perspectives. It is like getting back to basics, simplifying to set your focus back on the photographic act.

Damn! Why does creativity slip so easily between our fingers? :-)

On the positive side, I think the fact that we are reflecting about this shows that we are determined to chase it, not to be contend with just 'following the flow' but rather looking for the path we started walking when we started feeling that photography was something else than fixing images, something that had a lot to do with our way of being present and, I know from other times that after the uncertainty and frustration comes the satisfaction of overcoming it and feeling yourself reenergized, one step forward...

Dave said...

Thank you for sharing this with us Kirk!