The taboo subject that no photographer or blogger really wants to write about. But it's part of the spectrum of our professional (and personal) existence...

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


Nigel said...

Judging by your blog, you're rather more relevant than 95% of the stuff out there.

Happy birthday !

jlemile salvignol said...

Bravo l'ami!

Creativity is not correlated with age, unlike lucidity. Our sole enemy is the weight of the hardware, but there is always a solution. And this is where we begin to free ourselves from so many false ideas or factitious targets.

Henk said...

Congratulations mr. Tuck, Happy Birthday. Now that didn't hurt, like when you turned 50..., did it? ;-)


John Lucia said...

Coming from the viewpoint of that younger generation you rightfully deride for thinking it's inventing the wheel for the first time (as all generations seem to do)... Kirk, dude, I want to be you when I grow up. :)

amolitor said...


Sally Mann is 64 and she still knocks out a pretty good picture now and then.

Leica almost has it, but perhaps what the world needs is a big *light* camera, possibly with a little lead tucked in here and there for balance.

neopavlik said...

Happy Birthday !

You and Don G set a high bar.

I've got to get back to sending out more (already over 100) requests to shoot.

Raymond Charette said...

Good afternoon Mr Tuck. Happy Birthday!

I was a wedding photographer for years. Did good work. Had a very competitive rate. Had a lot of fun meeting younger people starting out in life, helping them celebrate that special day.

Then, just about when I turned 60, rather suddenly, I wasn't getting contracts at bridal salons. People looked at my photos enthusiastically, then hired other, younger photographers, even at a hire price and lower service. As if an older photographer could only make «old» photos. Of course, I reasoned, young people are starting out, independently, they don't wan't someone as old as their father or grandfather taking their picture. And the «experience» argument didn't work either. They just don't wan't an old person around. There it is. As you've mentioned many times it's all about the rapport between the photographer and his or her clients.

That being said, I'm always glad to look at your work and to hear what you have to say about it.

Eric said...

Happy Birthday!

Age is just a number, unless you choose otherwise (speaking as someone not many moons behind you) -- keeping up the good work is what counts.

atmtx said...

Happy Birthday, Kirk.

PittsburghDog said...

I'm going to disagree with you a little. I love getting older. I love the wisdom that comes with it. I love the learning. I love trying to pass some of that to my nieces & nephews. What I hate is the ageing, which I'm fighting vigorously (though not as well as you). To quote Lauren Hutton "I would only go back to being 21 if I could take my 50-year-old brain with me."

Given your quality of work, I doubt you'll have much trouble keeping busy. Just don't become too cantankerous that people deem you difficult to work with. I love my father, but he would be a pain to work with.

PittsburghDog said...

Oh, & Happy Birthday !

Michael Matthews said...

Oh, hell. I thought you were going to be 56 forever. That would give me, just shy of 20 years further along, some comfort in rationalizing my lethargy and sloth. Now you go and hit me in the face with another manifesto. I'll just have to pry myself off the recliner, remortgage the house to buy a Leica SL, and lurch about shooting with manual flash to keep by brain engaged. Jeezus.

Happy birthday!

John Krumm said...

60 is the new... okay it's just 60, but you look good. Happy birthday. I turn 50 in December, which sounds freaky to my monkey brain.

Only 40 more years until 100! I want to see that self portrait.

Sanjay said...

Happy Birthday Kirk. I'll have to introduce you to my 80 year old mentor (heck I didn't know he was 80...I figured 60's somewhere) that started a new multi million dollar business a few years ago and can still out work and out think most of us.

Dave Jenkins said...

Happy birthday, Kirk! Your blog is better than subscriptions to any five photography magazines.

Every one of us has a choice: as long as we have reasonable health, we can choose either to be aged or to be ageless. I'm 78 now, and still choosing to be ageless. My philosophy is simple: Think young, because thinking old will kill you!

At 60, you are very much in your prime, as I was at that age. And you are a much better marketer than I ever was. But still, time moves on and you will eventually face, as I have, that most of the creative directors and VPs of Communications you have worked with have retired or moved on to other things, and their replacements will have difficulty relating to you.

This is not intended to be dire, but just a realistic look at the facts of life, as you have done in the post above. You may at some point decide to retire, but I suspect you will find ways to keep your oar in the water for as long as you are able to lift a camera (to mix a few metaphors!).

Patrick Dodds said...

Happy birthday Mr Tuck. And bollocks to aging.

James Weekes said...

All you kids do is bitch:-) I am seven months shy of my 70th birthday. I got my 10,000 steps in by noon and started the day with a 45 minute spin class full of "youts". I still photograph every day and print most days. I am retired (it's the law here in Florida), but love photography as much or more than I did when I had a studio, shot portraits, weddings, products, meetings etc. on a scale far smaller than yours. The way you work and, more importantly, the way you think, will stand you in good stead for as long as you want to work. You have just entered the 60s and I am about to exit. I'll leave the door open.

Happy birthday,
Jim Weekes

Cliff said...

Happy Birthday!

Wolfgang Lonien said...

Happy birthday Kirk. And thanks for your blog, and all of your books.

Chuck Albertson said...

When I hit 60, I was glad to have made it that far. In fact, I feel that way most days now. It's only when I ask for the senior discount, and they don't bother to card me, that I get depressed.

Frank Grygier said...

Happy 60th! Embrace image stabilization. It will keep you young.

Hugh said...

I'm 60 next week.

You have to grow old, but you don't have to grow up. :)

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday!


Mike Rosiak said...

What a pickle-puss! Did you just step into something cold and squishy and you know it's something really gross?

I don't think 60 is so bad. I'm 73, still working, recovering just now from a total knee replacement, and looking forward to the days beyond therapy. It's a puzzling place, these 70's. It used to be OLD. I mean, really, REALLY OLD! But, there are a lot of people in this strange new land who have ignored the memo. Mick Jagger! Paul McCartney! Warren Buffet. JIMMY Buffet! (Well, not yet, but close).

When a day comes that you feel as though you've stepped in it (see above), keep in mind "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" and consider what Kurt Vonnegut would say about that: "If this isn't nice, what is?"

Happy birthday!

Dwight Parker said...

Happy Birthday from an older fart.....

Steve Mack said...

Happy Birthday, Kirk!

With best regards,


Gato said...

Happy birthday!

I'm almost 10 years ahead of you, and while I am happily retired from most business I am still happily working and creating in photography. Keep at it.

Yoram Nevo said...

Beautiful portrait !
Your asymmetric eyes are so Human. They make the photo.
Keep on writing swimming photoing and doing all those millions of things you're doing.
Remember - if you don't write for 3 days I start to get worried :-)
Whenever I read one of your thoughtful mails about life and how it should be lived I always show
it to my wife and she says - why don't you do what Kirk says ?
But I go on just quietly living and let you and her explore the whole possibilities of life.
Later I can read about it :-)

Thanks you very much for your sharing in this blog.
If we don't write it doesn't mean we don't read !

Your long time reader -

p.s. Happy Birthday !!!

MO said...

Happy birthday Mr. Tuck.

Im a 30 somthing guy n i find this blog the most inspiring photoblog out there. 60 is the new 30. Keep it up!

George Bishop said...

Congratulations on passing a milestone birthday . . . . . you are officially part of the "senior citizens club", or would be this side of the pond. I passed the milestone in 2012 which is when I started to spend my winters in southern Spain, for the climate (It's a bit like yours I think). I do the 1600 mile trip with my caravan (trailer I think you call them), wife and cat. That gives me the privilege of enjoying France and the length of Spain during the journey. Can't see much from a 'plane and certainly don't get to meet the wonderful people and to sample the marvelous food. I'm off at the weekend . . . hope the snow holds off 'till we get there :-)

Thanks again for all the effort you put in to keeping us all entertained (and educated)!

Mark W. said...

Happy Birthday!!! I wouldn't have guessed you were a day over 50! (Except for the photos with the big curly hair from the early 70's...)

Thank you for your constancy of purpose and wonderful penmanship.


Nick Davis said...

Happy birthday Kirk! Recently a client commented on how animated I become when I'm shooting and how my passion for what I do came through. It was nice that they noticed. I'm coming up to 65 in a few weeks (the official retirement age of people of my age in the UK, although it is becoming a movable feast) but I have no intention of giving up work. The only thing I have to overcome is people's prejudices. I also consider myself fortunate to be doing something I love, rather than being in the position of many of the population where they are literally counting the days until they can retire. The key point of your article is that when people retire they start to look backwards rather than forwards.
Great self portrait! Keep on shooting and writing . . .

Michael Ferron said...

#1 Happy birthday. #2 as a fellow 60 year old Austinite myself I must say I feel and look better at this age than I ever expected. Life is good :)

ykarious said...

Hear, hear!

Edward Richards said...

Think of the photographers whose work you admire. Whether it is Adams, Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, Parks, etc., all did wonderful work as long as they could get around. Same with other artists of all kinds. This is not mathematics, where most people do their best work before 30. An artist's work benefits from his experience with himself and with other people. Sure, some burn out, get bored, get rich and lazy, but there is nothing about age that inherently degrades your work. Plus cameras are getting smaller and easier to handle - think about what WeeGee had to do to keep working. (I am older than you are and have been thinking about these things for awhile.)

Don said...

Welcome to the Sixties, Kirk.

I have been here a while, in fact I am over halfway to the Seventies.

Age, shmage... I am no longer much interested in youth culture. It seems such a temporary place given that no one can ever stay there for more than 20 years without looking like a doofus (sorry, Steven Tyler, but dude... seriously?). The years of the master are where everything starts to culminate and you realize you just may know more than you thought you did, and definitely more than kids think you do. And that knowledge is power, my friend.

Use it wisely. :-)

They say that 60 is the new 40. And I must confess I have no damned idea what that means, but they say it.

I will turn 67 next year.
I will turn 67 next year in the wilds of the Yukon.
I will turn 67 next year in the wilds of theYukon on the saddle of a motorcycle going from Phoenix to Fairbanks and back.

As to the kids running the show now. Yeah, that is pretty much a given. So what we do is find another show - and there are a lot of them. When the world stops making paths for us, we simply make our own.

Don't slow down, go quicker.

Have a tall cold one today, and jump headlong into the decade of the masters.

Happy birthday, kid.

Goff said...

Happy birthday! Wishing you many more years of enjoying photography.

Your Leica SL review was brilliant. I'm sure you'll buy one. You really must.

Yesterday I turned 76 and I'm still shooting.
I prefer the less heavy cameras these days.
Leica M for still. Canon XL10 for video. Both excellent.
Binned the Hassy and Nikon D3 because they are too heavy for this old man.
But I am lusting over the Raven. 4K @ 120fps is what I need to film water.

Still writing books and making films, and intend to do so for another decade. At least....

Please keep entertaining us with your insights into real world photography/cinematography


Fotozerui.com. Vimeo.com/goff

Corwin Black said...

Grats to living that long. :) Hope you will enjoy a lot of years to come in good health.

Anyway, I think being bit older is actually good for photography, not reverse. Stockpile of experience helps with this job. Also given what you write and shoot, I think you are kinda "young in heart/soul". So no worries.

Btw. any job is worth doing as long as one enjoys it (and isnt going to starve to death).

Hugh said...

Far more cute young chicks to photograph when you are 60 than when you are 30.

30 year old photographer.... cute young chicks are between 20 and 30.
60 year old photographer.... cute young chicks are between 20 and 55.
80 year old photographer.... if the chick has a pulse its nice, bet not essential.

William Beebe said...

Beat you by two years.

Nick N. said...

Happy birthday, Tuck!

One year into my 60s, i'm still working at a physical, outdoor job, doing multi-day hikes with a pack, and managing to stay healthy. Looking around at the general population, i feel grateful and fortunate. For those graced with favorable genetics, supportive experience, etc., use it or lose it serves well.

Having once worked for publications, i do my photography mostly for myself now as a kind of meditative activity, and still enjoy the process and associated learning.

As Maggie Kuhn, social activist and founder of the Gray Panthers was fond of saying, "Sex and learning until rigor mortis!"

Robert said...

Amen, brother.

And on top of all that, our baby-boomer generation is WAY cooler at 60 than our parents generation was at the same age.

Suck on that, millennials!

Craig Carlson said...


I recently passed my 60th birthmark...hard for any halfway thoughtful person not to get smacked-upside-the-head when one has to chew on that reality, first-person and all. So that's a round-about way of saying i found your ruminations especially timely and personal. Also have appreciated many of your commenters' thoughts. May just print out the whole lot of it for future reference. Keep kicken' it!


CSMedia said...

It is funny that this is mentioned, only last week the local hospital sent a letter and it read, "Thank you for referring this lovely 60 year old gentleman to us". Of course it took a few moments to take in as I do not recall referring anyone until realised it was a copy of a letter to my doctor about me!

I found myself buying up equipment from photographers of similar age who were retiring, some well known commercial photographers that were remembered from assisting days. It has never occurred that age was or is a problem after all it is the images that talk, not the person behind the camera. ok so some equipment gets heavier but there is always a work round.

Love being 60 and still enjoy everything about it, even get free travel, swimming and gym pass, arf! Early retirement sees an amusing pension to any income earned and there are many ambitions still to realise. Live long and prosper and the photo is cool and upto date with that Beanie, I wear one as well : D

CSMedia said...

ps....Happy Birthday!

tom rose said...

Hi Kirk,

I am also 60 and as well as being able to make photos all day with a pair of Canon 1-series DSLRs I can still write decent Perl, C++, SQL ... fix complicated IT Problems and (on the results of decades of regular training) outrun, out-swim and out-cycle most folk half my age (or less).

So I seriously object to the pigeonholing that assumes that people of our age have become useless ... though here in Holland older folk are not so disrespected and presumed useless as in my native country, England nor (I suspect) the USA.

But what is to be done about the ever deepening wrinkles and fast-greying hair?