Dancer in a downtown warehouse on Sixth Street. In a time when rent in downtown Austin was $100.

It's been a rough week for me. I've been more or less chained to my desk sending out notes to family and friends about the passing of my father, and, from time to time, conferencing with insurance companies, brokerage firms and banks. More of them than I thought possible. My saving moments have been my almost daily swim practices (swimmers make me happy), lunches with old and new friends, and a dive into looking through work I did closer to the beginning of my career. Work done with much more rudimentary tools but with the feeling that I had all the time in the world.

I have some work e-mails that I've been slow to return. It's a time of reappraisal. Do I want to continue on with some of my clients? The ones who always push to hard on budget? The ones who would like my pricing to never change? The ones whose imaginations keep all of us from creating work of which we can be proud? I've never been a particularly good business man but at 63 I'm not thinking that will change much. I more or less went with the flow for a lot of my career and now that both of my parents are gone and the kid is out of college, almost out of the house (August) and gainfully employed, I wonder just how much I want to keep firing up the steam powered cameras and sally forth in the service of clients who are hell bent on proudly achieving mediocrity in advertising.

When I get gloomy like this about the business of photography I go through a few boxes of my favorite black and white prints to remind myself how I came to wander down this long and winding road to begin with. The answer, of course, is that making photographs is the most fun thing one can do when not busy having sex. As we move through our careers (as photographers, not sex workers...) I think it's always instructive to look back and listen to what our younger selves can tell us. I found myself listening to a 22 year old who was living in an un-air conditioned studio space, sleeping on a second hand futon and making black and white portraits of any person (beautiful girl or middle-aged man, anyone) I could convince to come over into the primitive studio space and sit for one.

Some of my best portraits ever were done with a haggard, ancient and well used Mamiya 220 camera and its twin 135mm lenses. Just popping a Vivitar 283 flash into a partially disabled white umbrella and hoping I could load film fast enough to get twenty or thirty good frames before the double "A" batteries in the flash ran down and I tried to explain away the 30 second+ recycle time.

The process of dealing with parents who have passed just 18 months apart involves distilling down the lives of two people who lived a combined 180 years and collected all manner of stuff all along the way. It's easier this time with my father because the heavy lifting happened last year after my mom's passing, the clearing out and selling of the house, the combining of their conjoined finances and the move of my father into a single room in memory care.

The experience of the last two years is straining. I'm tense and I'm always waiting for another shoe to drop. I want to hurry all the functionaries along but I know that they do these processes in their own good time. I call my physician from time to time to check in and see if I'm presenting with symptoms of depression (not yet!!!).

But I always like to look for the silver lining, the unexpected dividend, the gift of being just a little bit wiser for the wear. In my case my brother, sister and I are getting along marvelously well. No rifts, no arguments; just endless support and love. My trauma at realizing just how much stuff my parents had in their rambling house has translated into my acceleration of my own divestment of all the junk I never used but in the past could never bear to toss. Really, how many different medium priced shotgun microphones do I really need? I organized the end of my parents' lives and I'm not going to leave the same mess and complexity for the kid.

But the biggest lesson is that no matter how long you live and how much you've done you would always be ready to trade it all ..... for just a little more (Thank you to Monte Burns (Simpson's reference) for the paraphrased quote). I'm interpreting that to mean that all the personal project that didn't have budgets attached aren't going to wait forever and it's time to jump on them. After I finish with the process of probate I'm out the door on a series of adventures. My goal is to go to all the places I've dreamed about and thought about with a camera in my hand and my Speedo jammers and my swim goggles in hand.

It's amazing how much I've accumulated over the years. It's amazing how little value most of the photo equipment really holds on to. But the clearing out is more about shutting down the inventory subroutines in my brain and also giving me unencumbered space to work in with what's left.  Some gets tossed, some gets sold or traded in and some gets gifted to people who are closer to the beginning of their arc of a career making photographs.

Belinda is taking off July and Ben is working through the Summer. With someone around all the time to take care of Studio Dog I'm already planning my first photographic road trip in the shiny white Subaru Forester. Middle of the Summer. Middle of Texas. I'll probably head north through Colorado. I have a friend in Estes Park who just built his mountain side dream home. I can crash there for a night or two. I have another friend who just dropped ten times my total net worth on a place in Aspen and I'm sure she and her husband have a guest room that might meet my picky standards (joke) and then northward from there.

I'll do some research and I'll start to winnow this trip down. But I'm taking this little laptop so I'll let you know, day by day, how it's all going. Might even take along a couple of cameras with a 50 and 135mm equivalent duo of lenses. At least thats the thought I'm having this evening as I wrap up a week as a paper pusher trapped by the process of the passing of torches.

Can anyone definitely tell me I should own the Fuji 35mm f1.4 lens? I hear a lot of good stuff about it and then some yinky stuff. I'll trust the braintrust that is the readers of VSL.

Tomorrow my attitude will probably be totally different, after all we have the big Saturday swim practice in the morning.

My younger self counsels me to bring a camera and a decent lens to swim practice. Surely, he says, there will be someone there worth photographing....


Gordon R. Brown said...

As we cleaned out my parents’ home after they passed, my niece told her mother: “Don’t leave us with a mess!”

Good for you taking action now.

Donating and tossing is my continuing project this year.

MikeR said...

Do it, do it, do it! Take the time, invest the time, in what causes your sparks to fly.

Probably misquoting here, but I think there's a Buddhist saying, "The biggest illusion is thinking you have the time." (Aha! I found it on WildMind. "Jack Kornfield, in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, says, “The trouble is, you think you have time.” In other words, we put off important things, assuming that we can do them later. But there may not be any “later.” Life is short; make good use of it."

At 77, I've been trying DOSTADNING, the Swedish art of death cleaning, IOW, getting rid of crap so that those you (eventually) leave behind will not have to. It's also for me. The physical clutter gets echoed in mental clutter. But, it sounds like you already are on your way, and more than a dozen years ahead of me.

Have a great road trip!

Anonymous said...

I really like your early work. If you have the option shifting your focus to personal projects go for it.

Michael Matthews said...

Yup. Road trip. The time has come.

mosswings said...

Yes, Death Cleaning. It is so essential, so necessary. And yet, so hard. When my father died the necessary culling of his voluminuous life records - still waiting for him to us to write his autobiography - would had to take a back seat to the care of my mother, whose dependence on him was profound. And when she died, well, there were no kin to back us up, no energy left for the sorting and tossing.

And so the effects remain in the attic. And now my own cullings require my attention.

Kirk, you are so very lucky to be traveling this path with your loving siblings, so wise to realize that whatever else there is to distract you, this is what must be done to honor your family and the impermanence of all things.

It is the right path.


Matt Kallio said...

Really agree with Anonymous above: your early travel and portrait work is a delight. Obviously it's your choice, but travel is great.

Alex Carnes said...

W.r.t. the Fuji - get the 35/2. I used the 35/1.4 for a good few years and sold it as soon as I bought the newer one. The 1.4 is a crude, old-fashioned lens by comparison - relatively slow, noisy focusing, and it'll pinch your fingers as it does so; no weather sealing, and despite the guff you read on the internet, the 1.4 aperture is for emergency use only.

The new, slower lenses are really nice.

Anthony Bridges said...

I own the Fuji XF 35 f/1.4. I have no gripes about it. There is some green fringing wide open. It's easily corrected in Photoshop. One of my nephews is a photographer and he loves the XF 35 f/2. I don't think there's not much wrong in either lens for typical shooting in controlled environments.

ODL Designs said...

I know it is odd to quote an avengers movie, but there was a line that resonated with me. "All the money in the world never bought a second of time".

Enjoy your trip, if you make it as far up as the Toronto area I would love to take you for dinner!

Dogman said...

I have both the f/2 and f/1.4 Fuji 35's. Also the 32mm Zeiss Touit...I'm something of a normal lens aficionado. Actually, I just ended up with too many lenses. They're all very good. Of the three, I use the 35/2 Fuji the most. It's smaller, has faster AF, works more quietly and the size and shape go well with the XPro2 in that it doesn't interfere with the frame lines in the OVF.

Some have said the f/1.4 Fuji and the Zeiss lens impart a special "look" to photos. I've repeated that myself. But more and more I have to wonder if there's really a "look" to certain lenses anymore. With all the post processing, in-camera film simulations and various subject matter being photographed, I've decided "the look" is more about the light. A good sharp lens certainly makes the job of capturing that "look" easier and any of these three lenses fit that requirement.

Anonymous said...

I personally like the Fuji 35 F2 better...but the 1.4 older version does have some soul..

david myers said...

I have both the 35/2 and 35/1.4. Both are good lenses. I recently spent 10 days in Naples, Italy with two xpro-2s and a GFX-R with the 45/2.8 for shooting in the xpan (panoramic) format. I also had an 18/2 and a 23/2, the 35/1.4 and 35/2. I only used the 35/1.4 and the medium format. Why I kept with the 35/1.4 I will never know, but I loved it. AF speed was fine, look was good, ... . And, now that I am home, it is often on the camera. As a walk around, keep the camera with me, I also use the 27/2.8 pancake lens.

Anonymous said...


Your trip will be very helpful for you to refocus and to put some distance between the experiences of helping your parents and the next phase of your life. I retired last year and drove cross country solo on a long, flexible schedule and itinerary. Having never been in the West, except CA and OR, the trip blew my mind. Sometimes the places of which you have low expectations yield surprising delights. In my case, those areas were eastern Iowa, the Nebraska Sandhills and northern Nevada. I'm not suggesting these places to you necessarily, but just advising that it is good to stay open to what the road brings you. There are a lot of surprises out there.

Bon voyage.


Jerry said...

Fire the damn clients who steal your time/creativity/patience/soul. You're fortunate that any client you have is never going to require your services for weeks/months/years. But your good and bad clients are going to want to be repeat clients. But the bad ones don't have to be. I do not believe the customer is always right. I've fired customers for just dragging me down into their craziness. Fire the fuckers, Kirk!

I found a LOT of alone time was required to process the demise of my father (many years ago). Losing both parents in a relatively short time (and all the attending to your father as he diminished) affects you in ways you cannot even see in yourself. Take the time. (Be forewarned, you'll miss studio dog more than you imagine on a long road trip).

J Williams said...

If in Estes Park you will be right next to Rocky Mountain National Park. Beautiful place. While I was there I saw many beautiful sights, but the best one is a valley that you hike into that is about halfway between the Visitor Center and the town of Grand Lake which is on the opposite side of the park from Estes Park. It is East of Trail Ridge Road, can't remember exactly where, but its a moderate hike (surely easy for someone who swims regularly) and the valley is just serene and beautiful. The folks at the visitor center should be able to point you to the right trail. Great place to snap a few pictures or just sit on a rock and soak it all in. The town of Grand Lake is pretty nice too and I highly recommend Grand Pizza for a pizza that's a little different than you're likely used to. Enjoy your trip.

MB.Kinsman said...

I own both 35s and whenever i pull out the 1.4, I wonder why I don't use it more often. As Dogman stated, both are good, but I do think you might enjoy the 1.4 too. It is a little slower on the focus , but very sweet wide open.

bishopsmead said...

I agree with many of the other comments. I am a decade older than you and lost the last of our parents a year ago following a gradual and harrowing physical and mental decline. You need to take some time to be good to yourself, you appear to be in good physical shape and by the tone of your writing your mind is as sharp as a tack. A long road trip is a great idea, try to pull in some places you have never been before. Write and let us know what you discover. Keep well and drive safely. G

Eric Rose said...

Erna and I have a spare bedroom just waiting for you here in Calgary. We have everything from badlands to Rocky Mountains within a 100 mile radius. On top of that your US dollar gives you a 25% premium over ours. And if that isn't enough I could probably setup a coffee with Chris and Jordan for you.


Anonymous said...

Just don't quit. And don't worry about stress. If you managed a lifetime as a free-lance photographer, you're most likely a stress-seeker, and a lack of stress will leave you feeling bored and out-of-sorts. (Though there's bad stress -- I went through the same thing with my father as you went through with yours, and there's nothing good about that.) One thing you need to sort out before the road trip -- do you have an objective? Or is the whole idea simply to bliss out? If it's the latter, have you considered leaving the cameras at home, sitting on top of the laptop?

John Camp