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....