Dealing with the reality of aging as a person and as a photographer.

©2019 Frank Grygier.

No matter how fast I swim or how much I run I'll never be able to outpace the process of aging. We all start young and move through life largely unaffected until one day we wake up and there are far fewer years in front of us than there are behind. And when you finally start to grapple with all this it seems as though the process of aging just jumped out of the bushes and surprised us. Almost as if we never saw it coming or, at least, we never acknowledged that getting grayer (or whiter) hair would be part of our own story. But one day you look in the mirror and you see a different person than you did the month or week or year before and, as much as you try to hide it, you have to admit that the process spares no one. 

My 64th birthday is just around the corner. It's not an event I'm looking forward to. I'm not ready for friends and family to queue up the old Beatles tune, When I'm Sixty Four, and torture me with it all day long. But I'm not exactly depressed about it either. I feel like I'm in a good place since I'm not experiencing any medical issues, or financial worry. My eyes and ears still work. My knees are pain free and my back never hurts...  But I do notice that I'm becoming less tolerant of people and events that waste my time. That would include interviews wherein the subject takes a long time getting to the point. Movies that stretch out the  patently obvious reveal. Deliveries that go awry. Flights that are delayed. 

I think, once all your bills are paid and your kids are through school, you grapple most with what to do for the rest of your life. I worked for so long as a photographer and, when everyone depended upon me financially, it didn't seem wise to even consider changing horses (careers) in mid-stream. Better to continue on as long as everything was working ... but you have to know that the sense of responsibility that drives us is also a bit of a prison that traps us into a certain well worn repetition mostly because it seems "safe." 

Belinda and I were walking with Studio Dog through the neighborhood the morning after we got back from Montreal and we were talking about what I might do next. Her response was to write more fiction. I said that I might but that I still feel an strong attachment to photography. Her advice was to continue doing as much work as I wanted to do but to reject anything that wasn't fun, didn't make me smile, and to reject any project put me in contact with assholes who work hard make life less than wonderful. I think it's good advice but I think I'll take it one step further and only do work that conforms to my vision of art. My art. 

I love the work I get to do for Zach Theatre and they'll have to pry the camera out of my cold dead hands to get me to stop, but the work I've done for most multi-national corporations is like fish. It tends to stink after a couple of days. And most of it never gets even close to making it into the portfolio because ... well, just because. 

There are two problems I can see with the whole scary idea of getting older. One is that you all of a sudden have too many choices. For example in the middle of my career I could always justify switching systems but the economic reality was that something had to go out in order to bring new stuff in. If I wanted to switch from Canon to Nikon then all the Canon gear had to go on the chopping block to subsidize the purchase of the Nikon gear. Now that everything that requires big money is paid and done with I don't have to get rid of Fuji to buy something Pentax and I don't need to peddle the Pentax or Fuji stuff to play around with the new Panasonic stuff. But, you end up with too many choices. Too many magnets pulling you out of the orbit of creation and creating tidal pools that just confuse the issue of how to proceed with the very basic practice of making photographs. I'll figure that one out. Maybe I'll have a "garage" sale at the office and sell it all to the walls except for one lone camera and a couple of lenses (always a dream I've had....). 

You also have more choices about how you'll spend your time. Fewer photo projects take entire days or weeks. Most are shorter and more focused. A portrait. And evening shooting theater. A half day on a location. So you have time to do whatever you want. Then you have to decide what it is you want to do. 

But the second problem is more significant. It's based (for me) on the idea that for men in particular it's the whole idea of having responsibility for things that seems to give the most meaning to our lives. In that respect having your kid launch and leave the nest, and being sure that he is capable, eliminates one of my reasons for existence = being responsible for his wellbeing and tangentially responsible for helping him to be successful. Ben, always the overachiever, is more competent at 23 than I was at 43. No worries there but no more feeling of vital responsibility. 

It's the same thing with my lovely wife of 35 years. She's more financially successful in her work than I am and doesn't depend on me for.....anything (other than friendship, companionship and a shared existence). I think when we hit this age our real need is to redefine some sense of responsibility; even if it's just to ourselves. Being responsible for living well. Being responsible to support our friends, loved ones, and our charities.

So, this is sounding way too serious. 

Here's something to chew on instead of grappling with issues better served up in an Ingmar Bergman movie =  Sony's camera menus suck. But their haptics suck more! Discuss!!!

Maybe tomorrow I can distract myself from the fear of uncertainty by starting a big Android versus iPhone discussion.... Or maybe I'll just do a portrait in the morning and then go for a walk. 

All good advice about aging happily accepted and shared. Thanks, KT

 ©1980 Alan Pogue

Grappling with defining a style in photography.

Texan. For a project with Live Oak Theatre. 
In the "pre-Zach" days of my theater photography.

Right up front I'll say that attempting to create a "style" for your photography immediately is like being a non-swimmer and wanting to jump right in and compete in a twelve mile, open water swimming race. We'll be pulling you out of the water in the first few hundred yards....if you make it that far. 

I think a style becomes a subconscious (but routine) part of your approach to photography only after you've gotten comfortable with all the technical stuff and you've got thousands and thousands of photographs under your belt. Then you start to feel an almost magnetic pull to approach visual projects in certain ways that are different from the decisions others would make with the same scenes or encounters. It's a natural evolution that comes from trying and rejecting thousands of choices and then narrowing in on the ones that do work for you. For instance, you may crop your portraits in a certain way (tighter or looser, top of the head closer or further away from the top of the frame, main subject off center a certain way, etc.) that makes you feel "comfortable" with your particular choice. 

Over time you'll find that certain colors, or combinations of colors, are more attractive to you. You'll find that a particular range of skin tones, when rendered in black and white, seem more natural. And you'll come to understand that your style comes in to being a bit like the process of sorting data with a computer; you have a set of sub-conscious parameters (like filters) that make you satisfied with aspects of an image, and as you do your decade or so of trial and error you eliminate the various parts of a photograph that you don't like and emphasize the things you do like. But the process runs continually in the background. 

Trying to force a style is like trying to hear the sound of one brain clapping...

Many times a helpful exercise for me is to pull prints from across several decades that I really, really love and sit with them, trying to understand the common threads that run through each of the images. You do the same thing when you look through photo books by photographers whose work you admire. Their work usually contains many of the same touchstones that also appear in your work. By identifying the work of your peers, and the inspirational artists that you are most attracted to, you are also refining your own vision by, in some way, affirming that your particular point of view works. By acknowledging your attraction to  recurring elements in your work that also appear in the work of other artists you've selected you solidify your approach to interpreting what you see.

One of the nice things about this blog site for me is that I now have a catalog, online, of over 10,000 images that I've uploaded over the past ten years to share with you. Not all of them got shared but a  majority did. Now I can go back through the catalog, looking at large thumbnails, to see what threads run through many of them and in which I can see both a progression in my personal photographic style that comes from constantly photographing as well as a distillation process that seems to be running concurrently. The review process is very energizing to me since it reminds me of the time and resources I've expended to look in earnest. And tells me how I might keep moving along the visual line I've created for myself. The review also tends to kick my butt to keep me working and playing with images. It's hard work but fun work.

Or, I could just try downloading some PhotoShop actions and ......... naw. That's the definition of giving up.

I must have been frightened by rectangles as a small child because I sure do like the square. But again, maybe part of my style is the comfort I feel with the boundaries of the square. YMMV.

Have fun out there. Or not. It's largely up to you.