Just for Fun
I had dinner with a friend the other night.
My friend is a photographer but also does other things. I’d been able to spend a fair amount of time with him over the past year, not a lot but some. In all the time we spent hanging out we never spoke about photography. But the other night when my friend sat down he put his wallet and his iPhone on the table.
We ate, we had a drink, we talked about boats, the ocean, travel, friends, food, etc. I mentioned to him that a few weeks before, as I sat in a meeting room in the middle of a major city I had received a text from him, a text that was an image shot from the top of a mountain on Catalina Island. The photo was made at the edge of the cliff, shot down on the deep, smooth water and had the caption of “Get your ass over here.” I had work and couldn’t go, but the photo made me want to abandon my life and start swimming.
So the other night, as dinner wound down, my friend was trying to make a point about something he had seen on one of his trips and he grabbed his phone to show me an image. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m at wits end about this exact occurrence. When someone reaches for their phone or their point and shoot to show me an image, my reaction now is to get away as quickly as possible. First, they have to find the image which means scrolling, scrolling, button pushing, the always present, “Wait, no, that’s not it, hang on.” And then……when they finally find it……I get to look at their work on the back of a tiny screen. I’m over it. Impatient? Yes. Childish? Yes. I have seen great presentations on phones, but they were edited and ready to go. In fact, I had six or so bodies of work on my phone, which was great until suddenly they were all gone. User error I’m sure. I never bothered to put them back on. But this was not what was interesting.
My friend found the image he was looking for and spun the phone around. I never even looked at the image. I just kept staring at my friend. And I stared. And stared.
“I know,” he said.
“I just don’t care anymore,” he added.
He knew that I was shocked to see him showing his work on a phone, work that was unedited, unfocused, unorganized. And this is where things got interesting. We began talking about photography, about what it was like for both of us when we first met. About how we were both shooting color transparency, about how we would go on these trips, do our work, come home and get the film run. We would then edit, gather around a light box and discuss what worked, what didn’t, what images made our cut, etc. Now I’m not saying this was the the best system, or better than today, so all you people just relax. This was just what we did at the time. Relax. And then my friend and I began to talk about photography today.
“I lost interest when every single housewife suddenly had a camera and was telling everyone they were a photographer,” he said. “The mystery and skill were gone.” Now this point is debatable, and for the mom community, digital and the idea of suddenly being a photographer was a great thing, so this is not what peaked my interest in this particular conversation, and not where I want this post to go. It’s irrelevant to me.
“But something else changed for me as well,” my friend said. “I realized I was going to all these places and I wasn’t even really enjoying myself.” “I would land somewhere and all I could think about was what time I had to get up to get the light I needed.” “I was perpetually building shot lists, and building bodies of work and I couldn’t actually experience anywhere because I was so wrapped up in getting images.”
“I realized that ultimately the most important thing was I could close my eyes and remember a place, and for that, I don’t need photography.”
Now my interest was peaked.
“So this last trip,” my friend said.” “All I took was the phone.” “I didn’t have to carry anything, no big bag of gear, no thinking of where it is all the time and what I should be doing.” “I just snapped what I wanted with this crappy phone.”
Hmm, now I’m thinking.
What about doing photography just for fun? What happens when there is no point, or purpose, and we are just doing it because we feel like it. What if we don’t shoot for fame, for respect, for publication, for money, etc, and we just shoot? What happens?
The answer is I don’t have an answer. Yet. I go out with specific purpose, and like my friend, I realize this comes with a price. I don’t take vacations. I’m not fun to travel with. I ignore everyone and everything unless there are photos involved. But I actually want to try to change this. I want to go on vacation. I want to shoot with no target in mind. I want to be casual.
I see people who are doing this and I’m envious. I see home darkrooms and images being made ONLY for the idea of having fun. I see prints being made, slow, methodical, chemical prints being made, laboriously, for no other reason than to have fun and chart the world. For this I’m envious. You see, I made a career out of making pictures, which at times STILL seems strange to me. My dad suggested I be an investment banker, and I think more so than ever before, I get that. I understand it now.
I’m realizing more and more that great art doesn’t come from commerce. It can but it is ever so rare. Great art comes from within. Great art comes from having the time and the freedom to explore not only your world but your thoughts about the world, without ties to anyone else. (If anyone saw my tweet about “Howl” you can hear Ginsberg referring to this in his own words.)
I see photography fading in my life. Not the idea of making pictures, or trying to make the best pictures I can, and enjoying the process, but the industry, the chatter, the race for recognition…it’s all going away. And here is the kicker…it feels great. At least for now. I feel like, at least temporarily, I’ve assumed another identity.
It was almost like hearing my friend admit to all this was permission to do the same. And realize this, my friend shoots a specific kind of image that requires knowledge of the ocean, ability to command a large boat, scuba knowledge and high-exposure, open ocean film work. Not like a lot of people are out there doing it, and it serves a biological purpose, and even he is taking a step back and wondering about the point of it all.
Regardless of what people say, the world is still a very big place. It’s bigger than all of us, and certainly bigger than photography. I think for me, I let things get a little out of perspective when it comes to the power of photography. I realize that the vast majority of people in the world really don’t care about photography, they are simply looking for food and a way to survive.
So looking ahead, I’m anxious to play with the idea of “What if?” I want to see where it takes me. I want to see if just shooting for fun actually opens up more doors or shuts the ones I have worked so hard to open. Again, I don’t know.
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this. Not by a long shot. I began questioning my path back in the late 1990’s. I made changes, found new compass points and flailed about like a dingy cut loose from its mooring. But, I’m still here and I think I love photography more than ever before.
So after I get done making my second book today….both for clients mind you….I’m going to go out in the yard and mess around. My wife will look at me in disgust. The neighbors cat will run away. But I will NOT think. I will just push the button and see where the current takes me.