Thursday, July 5, 2012

Change and Being a Photographer

Tomorrow is my birthday...woohoo...but seriously, I'm wondering how I ended up all the way down this road. I was sure that by twenty-seven I would feel like a grown-up and have it all figured out. Yeah... Right... Hmmmmmm. 

I got into photography in a very strange way. It was at the University of Chicago, Billings Hospital. I'd been hired as a projectionist because Billings was a teaching hospital and they showed a lot of slides. It could often be pretty dry stuff - and occasionally, I'd hear "next ... next ... NEXT" because I'd dozed off to slumberland amidst slides of rare bone disease. Eventually, this grew boring and the only way to get a pay raise was to move to a different job - and the only opening was as a photographer. What a cool gig! I did everything from process film (E2 line) to photograph architecture. It was the first time I realized that you could have a job that wasn't boring - hell, it was completely different almost every day. 

Shortly after this job I ended up returning to school and studying photography. At that time, the process of becoming a good photographer involved studying with the best you could find, and then spending the next several decades perfecting those skills. Now, it's a much different gig, much more like surfing. You grab a wave and ride it for a while...then you've got to work to get back out to the next one, ride it in...and so on. It's not too bad for me, I really get bored quickly, and like learning new things. 

The question is often asked, what's next for photography? In some part, that's why I'm doing this blog, it's part of my search for new ways to define what I'm doing (and what I should be teaching). I think the biggest change is that we're not going to be narrow anymore. The new creature that calls themselves a photographer will be a "jack of many trades." They will have to embrace change, and spend more time looking forward than back. 

In my interview with Dan Shepherd, he mentioned an interesting quote on conservation. "Conservation is the process of managing change." There's more to it, of course, but I think it applies to photography as well. A big part of being a photographer used to be as a gatekeeper for technology - but  in many ways that was because being a photographer was about the camera. Our energies must shift and I believe photography is now about managing the changing visual world around us. Yes, this will involve integrating various technologies, but how we tell our stories, where we focus our energies - that will still remain our most important role. Consider it a given that the method in which those activities happen will change, and continue to change, so there's no point in worrying about it. 

On the wall in my studio I've taped up the last Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. They've woken up and found that it had snowed the previous night.  
Hobbes: "Everything familiar has disappeared! The world looks brand new!
Calvin: "A New Year! A fresh clean start!
Hobbes: "It's like having a big white sheet of paper to draw on!"
Calvin: "A day full of possibilities!"
Calvin: "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy...let's go exploring!"

Frankly, that's how I intend to experience this next year...let's go exploring!

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