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.

44 responses to “Just for Fun”

  1. Larry says:

    This is where I’m currently at with my photography. And over the last few weeks it has made a huge difference in my approach. Not sure where it’s headed at the moment but I’ll know in about 10 years.

  2. Neil Holmes says:

    Interesting post as usual Daniel, I think you’ve hit on something here, it’s the same thoughts I’ve been turning over in my mind for quite some time. Photography as we know/knew it is fast evaporating but I sill love taking pictures and I’m pretty sure I always will!

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Neil,

      I think that is it. We all got into this because we loved it. I guess that is all that really matters in the end. For me, I realize I need to spend every waking second trying to work on what I love. Easier said than done.

  3. Another great post. I love reading your thoughts. You really make me think.

  4. Brian Miller says:

    A lovely post, Daniel. Yes! And this often seems to happen to folks that turn their passion into their vocation, and to those that want to.

    Recently I took a trip with my young family (I have two SMALL children) and carted along bunches of gear and itched to get out to shoot for most of the trip; the demands of parenthood are many and constant, so the opportunity to make images that take time and effort are few. I felt burdened, worried, irritable. Blech!

    The other day I was given a hall pass from parenting for the afternoon and went for a hike in the mountains east of town with friends for a few hours. Never one to leave my camera behind I started to reach for my gear. Then I thought better of it. “If photography is getting in the way of enjoying things (like vacations), then perhaps it can wait, or perhaps it need be less serious, ” I thought to myself. So instead I grabbed by old small camera body, with whatever lens was on it, and headed out. Hiking for fun. Shooting for fun. No pressure, no goal other than fun and enjoyment. Ahhhhh, that was nice! AND it recreated the feelings that made me excited about photography in the first place, something that was lacking with all the serious effort.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. It really is good to get reminders about what is important on this little journey on our planet. Here’s to “what if?”
    ~Brian

  5. Aaron says:

    Dan, I had a great conversation with a musician friend of mine at the bar last night about our place in a post-industrial world. This idea of creating as an end instead of the means is both haunting and deeply arousing (creatively). I think for many of us vocational photographers, we have to evolve (or de-evolve) in order to become human again. And living in a post-industrial world gives us room to do so without starving to death, but obviously creation of art with no observable benefit, financial or otherwise, is an alien concept. I find it almost impossible to personally revel in a moment while making pictures in it. What would it be like to be fully involved in a moment and still making pictures? Can it be?

    • Smogranch says:

      Jesus Christo…..I thought musicians were just getting loaded and chasing girls? That is a heavy conversation….

      I think it is about evolving, regardless of what that actually means, or what direction it takes you. It could mean becoming a photographer or it could mean “un-becoming” a photographer.

  6. Pedro Lemos says:

    I’m glad i’ve found this blog.
    From Daniel’s point of view i have nothing to say.
    I don’t do amazing pictures, no one cares about my pictures, but it’s no no big deal, they are good enough to me and an important part of my life.
    I like to walk, i walk a lot and like to shoot while i’m walking.
    Week after week, every saturday or sunday, 3 or 4 hours, it´s what i do, if there is no wind.
    No goal, no nothing.
    Just shoot.
    It’s fun.
    A good vibe and a good feeling.
    Makes me happy.

  7. Eric Jeschke says:

    Good post. It sound like you’ve already started taking the right steps: getting out of weddings, etc.

    I think a lot of photographers have a hard time keeping drive for the personal work up when there is a lot of commercial work alongside. If one has a gift for writing and teaching, and with photography as the vehicle but not the cash cow it could regain that special place as a focus of passion and excitement.

    • Smogranch says:

      Eric,

      Yes, for me it was time to get away from the commercial side of photography. Drive was never an issue, the problem was time. Now I have it.

  8. Gary Kurtz says:

    I’m a big fan of live music, and I love photographing it. I would bring a couple cameras and some film to shows, and end up watching the whole thing through the viewfinder and not remembering anything that happened the next day. So I stopped brining all the excess. Just the iPhone. If I need a picture, or something looks interesting, I take a quick snap and go back to the show. Especially since I most likely paid to be there. Now, I can enjoy, and remember, live music the way I want to.

  9. Sean says:

    I think I’m at the other end of the spectrum at the moment. I’ve spent the last 4 or 5 years shooting landscapes, waterfalls, street portraits, studio portraits, my car, kids, whatever… mostly for fun. But now I want to get more serious. I want to try doing projects, that hopefully people care about and that could potentially make a difference to the world. A tall order I know… I even went to the Reminders Project Showcase in Tokyo at the weekend where, as you know, I met James Whitlow Delano and Shiho Fukada. All in an attempt to learn more about the photojournalism world so I could get some advice. I even swapped business cards with Shiho. Couldn’t believe it! – yes, I was a little starstruck 🙂

    But surely, as with everything, it’s about finding a balance. Fun time, serious time. Last weekend I was photographing pole dancers for a local magazine, and this weekend I’m shooting dog portraits in a studio. It isn’t really fun but it could be a lot worse. And If it pays for me to go out and then shoot a project I care about, or shoot for fun then fine. I can live with that.

    Have you read the Tao of Photography?

    • Smogranch says:

      Yes, it’s about balance, I agree. But “serious” is where I’m finding a new definition or playing field. Even though I’m not shooting for anyone any more, and am not “working” as a photographer, I find the work I’m doing now, even the random stuff, is as important as anything I’ve done before. Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a photographer who has never worked a day in his life as a photographer. He has people who collect his work, a gallery to show it and has been featured in photo/art magazines. He has no intention of working as a photographer.
      Could he have been commissioned by someone to make the work he is doing? Extremely unlikely. He just thinks about it, creates it and does it, AND, does it in a VERY small amount of time, compared to someone like me who was shooting all the time, but not on my own stuff, but for other folks.
      So, “getting serious” can take on many shapes.

  10. Charlene says:

    You know it’s funny, I’m slowly doing this right now, letting go of work I don’t find interesting, to explore what i do find interesting. But I don’t feel like I actually have the right to do so (not that it’s stopping me). You’ve had enormous success shooting commercially and it seems a natural evolution that you would be coming to a point where you would shoot for yourself, for fun. But me? I’d love to go pro one day, like most other aspiring photographers out there, so it seems a bit dumb to be winding down, as it were, when I’ve never really wound up to begin with. But i guess everyone’s creative cycles work differently, and rather than stress about lost opportunities we’ll never know about, enjoy the ride, live it to the fullest, carpe diem, and all that good stuff. Thanks for yet another good muse 🙂

    • Smogranch says:

      I don’t think I would classify myself as an “enormous commercial success.” I dabble. I’ve never been able to commit to one thing with a camera. At my peak, 12 weddings a year. Could I have done a lot more, sure, but I just never wanted to go that route.
      Years ago, I wanted to go pro, and did, but now I realize, for me, the only thing that matter is the work, and I can’t be pro and make the pictures I want. I’m selfish.

  11. Torrey says:

    Great post Daniel. I have jumped in this same boat over the last year. After trying to keep up with all the new rage and doing what others have done just so i can stay in the rat race with others, i lost myself and the reason i enjoyed photography to start with. I always felt like i had to drag a few lights, reflectors and an assortment of lenses out just to do some family photo’s of my own family.
    Now i have decided to just pick up the equipment that feels most comfortable to me. Shoot the way i want to for fun, just to capture the time for no reason other than a simple little print to have. I have even resurrected the old darkroom for fun. In all this i have discovered that i have actually become more creative without so much thinking. I feel that now i can walk out of the house with one camera in my hands and an old flash in my pocket and accomplish what i need to for fun. Doors have closed but on stuff i really didn’t want in the first place and all new doors have open, some in places i never in thought of before but that are so very interesting.
    Thank you so much for continuing to write and sending inspiration to the rest of us.

  12. Randy says:

    Love reading your view on things.
    I think… we’re not photographers. We’re living the present moment to the fullest. Once and while, we capture it. I think i’ll be a happy person, when i get old, to have remembered talking to that lady i have an amazing picture of. Who knows, maybe she’ll remember me.

  13. Robert Boyer says:

    This sentiment is EXACTLY what prompted me to QUIT commercial fashion photography about 5 years ago. I literally got completely out, business left to partner, online images/portfolios gone, prints/tearsheets/marketing materials gone, all evidence of it blown to bits – I still have all the images but they are nowhere, evaporated into the endless stream of new drivel that has become commercial photography (with a very very few notable exceptions).

    I didn’t pickup a camera for two years after that. About two years ago I started again very very slowly – no commitments, no projects – not even self-assigned. Only taking images when I felt like it and NEVER as a primary activity.

    Started a tiny little website – had some fun helping others but discouraged thought processes that killed it for me. Five years or so later I am almost ready, not quite there but closer to having that magic spark back when I shoot – not quite but bit by bit I feel it ever so slightly nagging at me. Maybe 2011 will be the year it burns brightly but I am not going to push it – or “make” it happen. I will continue doing what I have been doing, letting the original magic grow again in it’s own direction.

    I am both happy and sad that you are feeling this way and thinking the way you are thinking. I hope you can find a way back to where you want to be using a path that is different than the one I took. For me it was the only way to actually break out and get back the love of photography ever so slightly from where I started and produce the work that I want to produce. Work that I care about the subject more than the work product itself. For me it is a long hard climb out of a very deep dark hole.

    RB

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Robert,
      That is powerful stuff. You know, the modern commercial world is…is….yes, I get it. When I worked for Kodak, all those years ago, I would go into plenty of studios, and lots of commercial folks. You are not alone. I was amazed at home many photographers weren’t happy, how many had reduced photography to “problem solving” to pay the bills. I always felt sad about this.

      But…..don’t feel bad for me. I feel GREAT. And excited and like I finally snapped out of a fog I should have come out of YEARS ago. I’m salivating with freedom and direction. At last today, right at this moment. Tomorrow, don’t know, too far away.

    • Robert Boyer says:

      One positive trend that I have noticed and I applaud is that a few commercial photographers that I know and know of have done something a little less drastic than the road I took but then again – they were in a different industry. They eliminated EVERYTHING that they didn’t like about what they were doing – most of it being process related and marketing related – went back to what they were doing the last time they remember feeling like it was worthwhile and re-invented from that point. This makes me very very happy and hopeful. I don’t think it is possible in every genre but I know it is in some.
      If you have a sec take a look at number 7 here in a post I put up that was not really related by in hindsight is very related to this discussion and I think you will find an important parallel to the way you are going about your endeavors. Different worlds – same thought processes.
      http://photo.rwboyer.com/2011/02/13/top-reasons-to-shoot-film-2011-edition/

      RB

  14. caroline says:

    I have a vacation rule. I can take the small camera, and I can take one lens.

    Are there times when I see a scene and think “My God, the photo I could make if I just had this body, or that lens, or my tripod, or or or…”, of course. Is that one shot worth taking all that gear for my entire vacation?

    To me, no. Shooting for work is one thing, of course you take whatever you might need to make the shot. The great shot. But I’m on vacation, and part of that means I’m on vacation from being a capital P Photographer, too.

    It’s so easy to get caught up in the work, and I realized that when I did, I wasn’t actively participating in the experience. And that’s a damn shame.

    • Smogranch says:

      I’m lucky because most of the time I use only a small camera. It’s the vacation part I’m having a hard time with…….but, I’m working on it.

  15. Robert Boyer says:

    Ps. I chucked up a link to your site a few days ago in a post – My readers will enjoy.

    RB

    • Smogranch says:

      Yes, it’s odd to think about film and resources working in the favor of film, but I found that to be true for myself. What I’ve never been able to comprehend is the number of photographers that have said, “Oh, I could never afford to shoot film, but will spend three days in post for free.” I just don’t get the idea of giving away your life for free. But, the cat is out of the bag and that is where we find ourselves. It’s not like this for everyone, but it sure seems like there are a lot of people out there working this way.I’m not sure how it will work in the long run.

  16. robert says:

    Nice post Daniel … reading along made me think of the good ole days of wandering the planet with a surfboard and a super 8 video camera … somehow we didn’t even know we were having fun or that we had to ‘become’ anything; we just were, and we didn’t know if it was good enough or not, it was just ‘good’ to be amongst friends ‘just for fun’. It was all we knew — it was living.

  17. erik says:

    Well, I too am at that place. Sure I love images, but would rather my life be about interacting with reality. Constantly trying the put reality into salable imagery will make you crazy and uninteresting! I do love how having a camera with you will help you sometimes to look a little harder and to wander a bit. You cannot get bored at all standing in a parking lot with a Leica!

    I was thinking recently that same as the invention of photography gave painters the freedom to do other things, and avalanche of digital pix might free the true photographer from having to describe everything….

    • Smogranch says:

      Erik,

      I go back and forth. I LOVE getting out and getting IN to something. I mean really in, where everything else in the world falls away. Maybe your Peru stop a while back was like that. But, at the same time, I’m realizing that the casual side, or perhaps the idea of just THINKING about photography is enough sometimes.
      Yesterday I walked around a high school campus with kids, helping them with their photography. I took a Leica, but more out of habit. But, within about 2 mins I saw something, light basically, and said, “Oh man, there is a picture over there,” and bingo I was into it. It felt great. Wasn’t sure anyone, anything, just reacting to the surroundings.
      Dropped film at lab, and I can’t WAIT to see it.
      I guess in essence that is what photography has always been about. I just made it far more complicated than it should have been.

  18. During the past 11 years of teaching (actually “advocating”) the nature of photography, this issue has been of primary concern when in the classroom. When I have students enroll in a class with me the first time, it is truly troubling to see how far away some of them get from their initial interests and curiosities with photography and the medium, particularly now, with all of the technological advancements and wide-spread discourse that is taking place (ie. the “profession,” exhibitions, blogs, websites, on-demand books, etc…).
    .
    In the end this seems to be about unconditional commitment and focus to what brings or has brought us as photographers to the curiosities, ideas and mysteries of the medium that led us to pick up a camera in the first place. It is essential that the photographer allow the pictures that they make serve as a guide in their continued visual exploration. This is why it is so simultaneously easy and difficult. The mediums’ tools, materials, processes and techniques are quite frankly easy to understand and use. It is the steadfast commitment and focus that becomes problematic.
    .
    After all, it’s only photography and you don’t necessarily need to be a “Photographer” to do photography.
    .

    • Smogranch says:

      Not to quote myself, but that “you don’t need to be a photographer to be a photographer,” is something I’ve been saying for a long while. It took me a long while to realize that however. When I tell people I’m not working as a photographer anymore the first reaction is typically, “Oh no, what happened.” They don’t realize for me it is a good thing. They just assume that “being” a photographer means you are shooting all the time and making great imagery. In my case, I didn’t always feel like that was the reality.

      In terms of getting away from what got us started. I would say that describes a HUGE percentage of the industry, and I’m basing this on my years of going into studios and hearing photographers tell me this. “I started doing such and such, and really love such and such, but now, gotta pay the bills so I shoot such and such.”
      I was amazed at how many photographers were…let’s just say….not as happy as I thought they would be.
      Commercial success filled a certain void, a practical one in many cases, but that other void….the void in the head….that void was deeper than ever.
      I think for each person, it’s different. And….we change.

  19. Jani Balani says:

    Just stumbled upon your blog today, and this piece is truly inspiring. I can relate. It seems I took better pictures when I was just starting out: simple gear, less fiddling with settings. That was fun.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Jani,

      I hear ya. I’ve been working as a photographer for a while now and the best work I’ve done was when I wasn’t working as a photographer. Odd but true.

  20. David says:

    I’m lucky (in some ways) to have a decently-well-paying, full-time day job that’s completely orthogonal to my photography habit. So for me, photography has always been personal. (It’s only recently I’ve realized just how personal I prefer it to be, e.g. I have very little desire to photograph places I don’t actually live in)

    Like many though I’m starting to feel the itch to ‘do’ something ‘serious’ with it (I’m starting to pine for a more creative career instead of my current technical one). For me I think it might take the form of teaching, but haven’t completely decided yet or ready to start down that road.

    • Smogranch says:

      David,

      That “something serious” is where things can get confusing. At this point in my life, the definition of that might surprise you. I’m not sure the industry provides that anymore. For me, the best work we do is on our own.

  21. Matthew says:

    Daniel – I’m a beginning photographer, reading books, shooting all the time, etc. One of my friends shared this post with me. This is the first thing I’ve ever read by you, and I’m extremely pleased to be introduced. This was great to read because it tempered my newbie gusto, reminding me why I initially wanted to take up photography in the first place. Thank you.

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