Self Portrait on my Sixtieth Birthday.
It is often said that "photography is a young person's job." There are few professional football or baseball players who last in the leagues over 40, much less 50; and sixty year old sports stars are almost unheard of in professional sports. Same thing with photographers. Most of them are smart enough to find something better to do by the time they hit their forties. The drop out rate of professional (working) photographers gets higher as the years advance. Many people credit aging with the greater and greater market acceptance of smaller, lighter mirrorless cameras: they are easier to carry around on battered shoulders and by people with bad backs.
We also live in a youth culture that has a difficult time believing that anyone over thirty has anything useful to say about visual culture. The younger people in our business and our avocation tend to think of older photographs mostly as "landscape" photographers rather than as people who can still have a vital connection to popular culture. We venerate some older advertising photographers but we also relegate them to being workshop producers, club speakers and people busy cobbling together various retrospectives.
In one regard I get it. We tend to shoot a lot of the same kinds of assignments over and over again. I just finished photographing a conference with software executives who are convinced that everything they are working on is new and groundbreaking. That it will change the landscape of modern business. That they alone are gifted enough to pull it off. "It" being the industry and financial success of another "unicorn" business. I shot earnest business meetings and included lots of shots of men in sport coats looking serious and engaged. I sat through dinners and presentations ad infinitum. I laughed (weakly) at the same kind of jokes I heard from the same basic cohort of people thirty years ago. I was happy with the challenges of working with low and drifting light but I was bored by the content and almost resentful about the huge gaps of lost time between and around the various events. It was deja vu all over again. The documentation of the ephemeral nature of commerce...
As we age we tend to get pigeonholed by younger generations based on the stereotypes the media creates about people who are our age. One mythology is that few people at sixty can program a remote for their own television, troubleshoot their own computers, or text with admirable dexterity. They presume that we all have bad backs, heart conditions, hearing loss and need to pee all the time. The younger photographers are mostly convinced that we are all bitter wedding photographers who've lost our relevance to modern photographic commerce and are coasting unhappily toward retirement with fond memories of our time spent with Mamiya RB67's and portrait films. Pass the Metamucil and the Centrum Silver vitamins and let's rehash whether Dean Collins or Monte Zucker was the better lighting teacher.
Well, I hate to push back on the stereotypes but I'm not ready to give up, get a mini-van and a Naugahyde Lazy Boy Lounger, and sit back watching "Good Morning America" with a cup of Sanka in my hands. Fuck that.
Some of us can still knock out a good, five mile run without reaching for the AED paddles. Some of us can swim faster at 60 than the general population could....ever. Some of us still take the stairs two at a time with a camera bag filled with dead weight, without falling over, panting. And some of us can still take really good photographs.
If I'm sounding a bit put out today it's because it's my birthday and I turned 60. I hate the idea of getting older. I hate the idea (with a white hot passion) of ever retiring, quitting, stopping or slowing down. And I will resist, with all my energy, the entropy that renders one irrelevant. I'm not ready to drop the bag of stands and bag of cameras in order to start the decline into the "quiet and thoughtful" workshop routine. I have no desire to put together a big show of my life's work. I never got into the field of photography to preen and display. I do this because I love the process more than I love the trappings. I show images to prove my value--- in order to get new access, and to gain entrance to new conversations. I shoot the images because they touch something in my heart or my brain.
The human condition is in constant flux. The nature of human physiology changes with the intermingling of our races and societies and creates new faces and new cultural identities. It's a rich mix of ingredients that make portrait photography and documentary photography new and magical nearly every day.
I've come to understand that the best way to prevent sliding off the map is to resist embracing the dated mythologies of the people in my general age group and social strata. Embracing the constant change keeps one in the flow of change rather than on the outside, tutting derisively about "the way things have become." If it's common knowledge it's generally so dated it is now wrong. Discovery. It's why I shoot with new cameras. It's why I embrace street art and it's why I refuse to do photographic things the "old, proven" way instead of pushing a bit harder at the parts I never liked in the first place.
I plan to shoot and work until no one else will hire me. I intend to go out into the world in the spirit of visual exploration until they stop making cameras and outlaw serious photography altogether.
So, what am I doing for my 60th birthday? Same stuff. Walk the dog. Have coffee. Swim with the master's team. Take a long walk through downtown Austin with a fun camera in my hands. Finish the post processing from a long, four day job and then wind down and have a nice dinner with Belinda.
That, and fight against the stereotype of the aging photographer.
added after posting: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2013/04/up-in-smoke-burn-past.html