Abstract Reality.

Walking downtown always looks different but the same. I like the neutral look of a 50mm lens on 35mm frame. It's not passionate or showy. It just....is.

The start of a new year always paralyzes me. I never know what to expect. Are we supposed to just do the same thing we did last year but with different dates? Do we jump into the river of change or sit on the banks and watch the people frolic as they get swept downstream?

I don't know how to get started. Eventually the phone will ring and the e-mail will chime and I'll get pushed along. There's something disquieting about being grown up and not knowing what it is you really want to do when you grow up. When you are young you have all the answers. As you progress through your life you have fewer and fewer answers but even more vague is any idea of what it is you really want.

The cameras are a fun distraction. The photography is a pleasant disconnection. The family anchors one to the here and now. Friends keep you from flying off the edges. But at some point is there a juncture at which you are supposed to say, "This is it. This is the thing I know I should be doing." ???

How do you do it? How do you continue to put on your pants, shave your face, brush your teeth, and go out for more of the stuff of which you've already had heady doses? Is there a lure of some treasure hidden in the near future that keeps you moving or is it just your monumental faith that all of this (life, work, love, death) is part of some great master plan that will reward you with purpose in some distant or alternate reality?

What is it that keeps you engaged? Not a rhetorical question. I really want to know...


  1. Well, there is always something new, different, unknown around the corner to photograph and get excited about. Then we process and post and get reaction or not!

    1. Hmmm. Maybe. But is there more? And how important is the external reaction?

  2. I mainly do photograph for myself, really. Other people always have different take, they complain, disagree, want to change, modify and end result is really not what I intended at all. So to each his own, I am afraid and the rest is...

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  4. I'm a high school English teacher. I like my job, at times very much. Actually, the only thing I like about the job is the contact with the kids (young minds are terrific and always surprise me), everything else about it I loathe. I could go on for a long time about how badly broken our educational systems are. My career means nothing to me in the traditional sense of climbing the corporate or social ladder.

    I have always had the feeling that I haven't even started my life yet (I turn 45 this year), that I'm not doing what it is I'm supposed to be doing. When summer begins in June and I walk out of my class for the last time I feel like I'm never going to return, and Septembers are always hard on me as I try to settle into the routine of the school day.

    I don't have things figured out, so no answers here. I have a creative mind and I would describe myself as a frustrated artist. I'd love to be able to paint. I wish I was a better guitar player, a better photographer, a better writer...I don't know where to go from here. I'm also a contrarian by nature. The older I get the less I know. I don't know how my family puts up with me.

    1. Carlo, If it's any consolation I am 57, have taught, been in advertising, done photography, written books and I still don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life. The only thing I really love to do is swim. And eat. And walk. Not much to hang a career on.....

      I think it's okay to be unsettled. At least keep your mind open to chance.

    2. A friend of mine and I had a similar discussion recently. Now that we're both 50, neither one of us feel "grown up". We both expected *something* to signal that we made it. We're both engineering/science geeks and perhaps expected a ice-to-water, water-to-steam type of transition. Sadly/happily, nothing!

      I agree that it's OK to be unsettled too ... "the only constant is change" ... embrace it.

    3. Yes I think a lot of adults have this type of experience, perhaps because society is structured in such a way that everyone is supposed to be just this one thing...Art is an engineer, I am a teacher, Kirk is a photographer and on and on. So I'm a teacher, I enjoy it and I'm good at it, but I don't identify myself or see myself as a teacher really. We all know that we are more than just that one thing, and for a lot of us the things we truly love we cannot possibly pay the bills with, so they become our hobbies, the things we do in our spare time with whatever energy hasn't been sucked out of us by the responsibilities of the "real" world.

      I really think here in North America we have it all wrong. Everything is go go go, work work work and we all seem to exist under a mountain of financial commitments...mortgages, visa bills, property tax, insurance, income tax, car payments etc. It's such an unhealthy way to live.

      Opportunities to be creative, those keep me going. So do naps. Good food, yes. A good book that you can get lost in. Quiet time with my wife...absolutely. Not much else matters.

  5. lately I have gravitated toward things close to home: my kids, my backyard. Today a redtail hawk spent most of the day hanging around my suburban home. It was an unusual sighting. It eventually dined on a squirrel while standing on top of my Subaru parked in my drive way. A very unusual sight that made for interesting photos.

  6. Kirk> "I like the neutral look of a 50mm lens on 35mm frame. It's not passionate or showy. It just....is."

    True. If I could have only one, a 50 it would be. The next being something 85-105, and then a 28mm. Funny thing is that for my digital cameras I still don't have any 50mm-equivalent prime; only for the OM-2, for which I have two.

    About the growing up: well I hope that I'll never do ;-) But I try to live in the here & now. Today it's a bit chilly but at least bright - maybe I should get into the woods somewhere to discover - whatever. Maybe myself?

  7. What keeps me engaged?

    I started making pictures to make a visual diary for my art projects.

    Shortly after reading this blog I was inspired to take up the challenge/fun of black and white film street portrait with a 50mm lens.

    A year later, I believe that what keeps me going for now is the hope that throwing myself into the street reminds me of what it truly means to be human.

    As a ignorant and misinformed human being I feel that this is very important, as being on the street you have the opportunity to meet all kinds of people. And I hope that the end result will be that I close up the distance between self and other to make for better living, both for myself and others.

    And it is always nice to turn of the internet and the news and go out and see life for what it is. Watch parents playing hide and seek with their kids. A young boy jumping to reach a kite hanging from a branch above.

    You may not be "surprised" every time you chose to step out that door. But it is always pleasant to be reminded to exist in the present.

    And if I get to see something beautiful, or something that in some way confirms some secret suspicion I have about the world that I can catch on film -great. If not, I try my best to feel privileged to have had the honor bestowed upon me by the universe to witness such beauty.

    1. And please understand that when I say "ignorant and misinformed" I am referring to myself.

  8. What keeps me engaged? As a pure amateur the desire to work on my photo projects is in one way or the other related to my memories, dreams, desires, nightmares, feelings...all this makes me alive. I like both, one to experiment new visual approaches, two to work in a more conservative way. And photography is also a good way to meet people to share ideas with, to discuss project, to ask or to give suggestions...and there is always something new to learn ...I'm retired now and at my age of 64 it's nice to have such a passion...

  9. I’ve always had this inner need to create images that goes back to my teens. It’s an obsession that I’ve harnessed into a career in the visual arts as a 3D modeler. I’ve always kept my inner photographer asleep as I know it would want to take control but as I get older I’m finding that harder to do. I make a very good living as a 3D modeler and there are fulltime jobs available so I have to keep things in perspective. This last summer as I finished a nasty contract on Halo 4 I let the photographer in me fully wake up and assume its role as sole creator, it was a very rewarding time in my life. I believe that I created some of my best work and enjoyed every minute of it. But I discovered that I just don’t have the desire to do this as a profession. There are just too many things you have to do that are unrelated to being creative.
    As I write this I’m about to board a flight and start a new life in San Francisco. I got a job at game developer in downtown San Fran and it’s a job that fits me perfectly. I’ll keep shooting but only on an amateur level and work on some photo book projects and my street photos. I think of being an amateur as doing it for the love of it because there really not enough money.
    So, although the photographer in me is fully awake, it’s something I’m just going to have to work with, could be fun!

  10. In the end, I think it all comes round to spiritual growth and its expression in our lives and work as the only thing of enduring value. Love, compassion, inner realization -- that's the path to completeness as a person. I don't mean to be so serious, but everything else is just part of the grand side show and can't fill the emptiness we all feel, even after our best achievements. It's the real "what's next" in life. And it's not an "abstract reality," but a tangible force that can be expressed in everything we do, even our photography. OK, my Sunday sermon complete. Sorry, but you asked...:)


    1. John, it's in this vein that I'm really asking. Staying engaged in photography is secondary. What keeps people engaged in moving their lives forward? At what point do you surrender to inertia? How do you combat entropy? What is the thing that makes every day worth engaging? That really was the point of my question===beyond our photography. So the sermon was what I really asked for. I'd like to hear other people's take on this as well. Not as a photographer but as a person.

    2. Well, now that I understand that the question extends beyond photography...

      This is a short video from an author whose fiction I enjoy reading. There's some stuff at the start and some inside jokes (for the fan community that surrounds the vlogs that the author and his brother make) that you can ignore.

      Also, I understand that John speaks about this while mainly addressing younger people like myself who don't know yet what they want to do in life, but I thought you might find something in there for yourself as well.


    3. Also, here is a speech by David Foster Wallace which I think you will find very interesting given the questions you have in mind about going through the daily grind:


  11. Kirk, I'm 60 and have always suffered the same dilemma, no matter how successfully my career has gone, and some people would die to do what I get paid for - design and produce video games. But what I've finally come to realise is that the most valuable contribution I make every day is to help those around me succeed at their ambitions and talent development. It's really what I do best. And then at the end of the work day I go home and do photography and woodworking for myself. I've discovered that I now enjoy my personal work far more now that I see my day job as amplifying other people's talents and giving their dreams wings. But above all that, my family truly gets the very best of me. That's been a drag at time over the years, but somewhere deep inside I've always known that none of the rest matters if I'm not an engaged husband and father. And finally, finding that balance between what you do best and what you love most is tricky. It's not always the same thing, and that can be tough.

  12. Kirk - You ask a question that is so prevalent, especially among adult males middle-aged and beyond, that it is epidemic. For myself, perhaps older at 82 than any who have answered so far, I am finally doing what I want to do after many years of searching. I retired with nothing in the bank at the age of 52, and a very small retirement, determined to continue my path as a sailing instructor in order to support my wife and myself after the kids had moved out. This was the first of 3 hobbies I loved that quickly became a burden when they turned into a job.
    I also did a bunch of other jobs to be sure we stayed afloat until I was grounded while recuperating from surgery at the age of 79. I have not worked since. During that recuperation I stopped doing, (or attempting to do), and did some looking and thinking. I discovered that: 1. Hiking and bicycling every day satisfied my itch for activity; 2. Creative activity is where my mind wanted to go.
    Since then I have plotted a path through photography courses at the local community college, drawing and sketching privately, and am planning to begin Visual Communication courses at the college next fall. It took a long time to slow down long enough to smell the coffee, roses, you name it.
    It seems to me that few people realize what satisfaction and fulfillment they receive from their chosen path. This is unfortunate as we spend so many years unhappy with seemingly not achieving some ephemeral goal of success and stature. Didn't mean to rattle on so long but I couldn't seem to shut off the flow.

  13. At 43 I'm still very much taken in the flow of everyday life and obligations, having a job, raising a young kid (mine is 4 yr old). At the end (or beginning, to relate more to your question) of the day what matters to me are my loved ones, and the well being of my own soul. I love photography, riding horses and long walks with dogs. I just slammed the door on my job in the middle of the lowest point of a severe recession and feel only mildly apprehensive of things to come. I'll go thru training, find another job, I'm very dispasionnate about it. OTOH we just got a new puppy, and like our kid, it's fascinating to watch it get the bases for a healthy and happy lige thru our thorough education. Both my husband and I are very centered on our family, vacations, quality time spent together. And of course raising our kid to be all she can be. There is so much to learn to, and with, a child. I've gone through many strong emotions and experiences in my life, passion, boredom, anxiety, elation, heartbreak, confidence, etc, but being a parent and mother instinct is the most powerful thing that ever drove me. Bar none. Next to that, keeping oneself interested and content is the thing. Walking around with a camera, swimming, fine food, reading (or writing for that matter) books, what more can you ask from (or give to) life ? The thing is, as Dire Straits once put it "we have just one world, but we live in different ones". How true that is. The Chinese coal miner or Syrian opposant or Russian convict lives in a totally different galaxy from the American, German, or French family guy with an established business or secure job. In my daughter's preschool class there's a little refugee boy from Kossovo. He's older but can't go to elementary school, because he's never uttered a word in his life. His mother has to stay with him in class because he won't communicate and the teacher can"t watch over him full time. I chat with his mom from time to time. What lives in the back of her eyes send shivers down my spine every time.
    We have a pretty smooth and gentle life, let's enjoy and be grateful for it.

  14. For me photography is'nt a goal in itself. It's a means to a more consciously observation of the world around me. Photography forces me to look for images and so I get more aware of people, activities, structures, light, architecture and so on.
    In this way photography enriches my life.
    And to answer your question: Well for known objects I'm constantly seeking for better light, better circumstances; from now and then I do small projects; and I travel a lot which brings inspiration.

  15. Kirk, I think you would enjoy Bill Jay's book, Negative/Positive: A Philosophy of Photography (if you can find a copy at a reasonable price). It's all about values and meaning in our lives and work.

    Especially as we get older I think we need more from what we do. There's no simple answer for finding it. The cliche is probably right, that the satisfaction is in the seeking. I think that search for purpose and sharing it with others is what gives life its spark.


  16. Kirk, Sherwood Anderson wrote to his teenage son in 1927, offering this advice about art as his son went to Paris to study painting (in part):

    "The thing of course, is to make yourself alive. Most people remain all of their lives in a stupor.

    The point of being an artist is that you may live.

    You won’t arrive. It is an endless search."

    link to article


    John Maeda from Rhode Island School of Design posted the link on Twitter.

  17. Lots of thought provoking and hopefully attitude arraigning comments.
    Emerging from my own 59 year stupor.
    Better late, than never.

    Ya know, life is funny, in a subversive sort of way.
    I stumbled here looking for a review of the Sony Alpha 77.
    Ended up finding much, much more in Kirk's blog and the
    perceptive dialog of his community.

    I don't know if I'll ever roar intensely,
    but I'll never stop searching for my path.

  18. It's learning and some variety which keeps me enthused. I started college in summer 2010 at age 50 (after several attempts in earlier years.) This time I decided to finish no matter what; to accomplish something I previously found difficult and gave up. I enjoy the learning, even with courses unrelated to computers. Sometimes I still have questions - "Will Web Administration give enough variety that other work lacked?, What if...?" I push them away if they get too narrow or doubting. I just want to have some starting point today, embrace change and not a final "Work defines me."

    Being here in Chicago most of my life, it more often seems mundane, "There's nothing here I want to photograph. Been there, seen it." The suburban forest preserves look similar - though I do find nature to occasionally show differences. Recently travelling to other towns outside metro area I find the new enthusiasm of photography old. The gas station that still has a Sinclair sign. A seldom seen nowadays photo store in an older building, with film processing and used manual focus cameras they sell to students. A large public lawn (Simmons Island Kenosha Wisc.) at Lake Michigan shoreline, watching boats go by. A compressed Chicago loop, different areas a few minutes away and not twenty minutes walk each direction.


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