I rationalized having one of everything; just in case. I felt that we could handle every assignment that came my way because we had the stuff needed to do the process. It's been exhausting. I just didn't recognize the burden of "being equipped."
The pandemic and the lockdown have provided us with ample opportunity to step back from what we've been doing, reflexively, in our lives and to re-evaluate the choices we've made and the paths we travel down. While it may seem that my almost daily walks are all about playing with cameras and making inconsequential images that lead to frivolous discussions about which is best for what kind of work. I consider the walks these days not so much opportunities for exercising the gear but as self-therapy. A way of helping my mind circle back and decide what's important and fulfilling to me instead of how to use photography to assuage my ego, fight off the ravages of time, and let me posture as some sort of expert. I seem to spend more and more of my time walking and thinking about how badly I might have missed the big clues and road signs as I blazed through life without paying much attention to what I really wanted out of photography.
To be self-honest I have to admit that I'll never take the time, or have the burning desire, to excel as a film maker. Video and movies can be incredibly engaging but a little self-knowledge assures me that I'm the furthest thing from a "team player" imaginable and that the core of making good movies is the ability to bring a team together and motivate them all to embrace your vision, ideas and story. I can barely tolerate one person at a time in my collaborations, much less enough of a team to make a worthwhile project. So, I've been casting off redundant gear to younger colleagues who have a sharper, clearer focus about film-making than I ever will.
I've cleared out a few cameras and lenses, a fluid head tripod, some lights and stands, a couple of microphones and a gimbal or two. They've been gifted to people who have a sure desire to make projects in motion and only lacked a few critical pieces of gear to step up their craft. But it's been revelatory for me because it feels like letting go of baggage I've carried around for years but never found a passionate use for.
Now, I walk into the studio/office everyday and my first thoughts are: What can I get rid of? How much of this stuff can get distilled down to one nice set of portrait making tools? Do I really need back-ups of everything I work with?
The answers are: I can get rid of as much as I'm emotionally comfortable letting go of. And that's down to process. I can distill down to two lights, two stands, one tripod and a few modifiers. I can ratchet down the inventory till I get to the point where I have two small systems. One system is for studio portrait work and that's all full frame Lumix stuff. The other system is "walking meditation" cameras and for now that seems to be a set of Fuji X-100V cameras.
If I keep a cabinet full of video gear and audio gear it comes with an implied obligation to do something with it before it all decays from lack of use. My brain knows the stuff is sitting there and as long as it is there my brain thinks we should be doing something with it. That's a sub-routine that takes focus away from other, more primary work desires which circle around making portraits and reducing distraction. You are more apt to drive more often if you own a car. It's the same thing.
One might think that writing a daily blog would be an ultimate distraction but, in fact, it's just part of the ongoing therapy of being a photographer on the cusp of aging out of the commercial game. I'm still fit and competent but I'm not as pretty as I used to be nor as willing to be compliant. That comes from the rich residue of experience. There is also a slight (to me, at any rate) ethical question of when it's time to give up some of the (less fun) work and let a younger generation get their shot at more commercial success. It's harder now than it's ever been for younger photographers to make a living; made harder still by people who refuse to get out of the way. Richard Avedon worked until his death at 84 years old. He loved what he did. And he profited handsomely right up to the end. He was right to keep working because no one was in the wings waiting to take over what he was capable of making.
I'm no Richard Avedon but I know that making portraits is something that I'd love to do...right up to the end. Whenever that is. And I am more and more loathe to spin my wheels and waste my time taking starkly commercial images that have nothing to do with my passion for the craft. Because, I have discovered, it's not the cameras or photography I really love as much as it is a well crafted portrait pulled out of a compelling session with an enchanting person. This is a clarity I wish I'd acquired decades ago.
A former client called last week and wanted to talk about a video project that would require a series of conventional interviews about products and processes that are, frankly, boring. The people I'd be interviewing are boring. And unpracticed in front of a camera. Alien to the interview practice. Halting and unsteady.
The project appealed to my ego. I would have yet more proof that I was still at the top of my game. That I could still pull out a great project from a sack full of mediocre parts. But then I thought of all the time I would spend on it, all the frustrations attached and the fact that I'd probably not even put that kind of project onto my reel, into my portfolio.
I demurred and passed on the offer. And almost instantly I felt lighter and freer and ... happy. Then I looked through a gallery of old portraits I'd done and felt like I was home. It's a strange time. I wonder how my own destiny would have unfolded without the intermission the pandemic forced on us. But I think you can never know the future just as you can never change the past. You can only find the things that make you --- satisfied. And do them. Now.
Cleaning a bit more out of the space every day. Today I'm shredding papers I've kept for some unknown reason. Even invoices from 30+ years ago. Most of the paper has been unexamined since it was created and copies were sent to clients. None of it has meaning anymore. It just takes up space. Better for me to toss it all out now than to burden Ben at some inopportune time in the future with the unpleasant task of figuring out what he should keep or toss. That seems more like the job of cleaning up after one's self that would be my responsibility.
Just some thoughts after a remarkably nice swim practice in the rain today. No thunder or lightning so we got through the workout with no interruptions. Swimming hard in the morning makes the rest of the day feel smooth and productive. Just saying.
Looking forward to the inauguration tomorrow. Hopeful for a new period of calm and success for our country. And, as a bonus, we get to hear Lady Gaga sing the national anthem.