On the bus, and some thoughts on being a photographer

I’ve been neglecting bus pictures of late. I got frustrated for a while there, as I kept taking the same sort of pictures over and over again, constrained by where I could sit to actually get these pictures, and the fact that I do take the same bus every day and its route doesn’t deviate.

I’m not sure why I get quite so annoyed with myself for doing the same thing over again, as there are plenty of repetitive things I do on a daily basis that remain constant. I think it’s something to do with the fact that this is photography, that this supposed to be my Thing, and that I badly want to make Something of it.

I was having a conversation with the boy one day when he said “I could have married a ________, but went and married a photographer instead.” He’s never been one to be supportive on bias of association, and not so secretly wishes I’d just decide to give the whole photography thing up, so that by-way acknowledgement kind of did my head in.


It started me mulling over the label of “photographer.” I’ve never felt comfortable calling myself a photographer in earnest. When I have to make reference to myself as a keen picture taker, it always comes with a disclaimer of sorts attached, like the one on this blog’s subheading: aspiring photographer; there’s also amateur photographer, photography enthusiast, dork with camera, takes pictures for fun etc etc and etc.

I can’t call myself a photographer, point blank, without feeling like a fraud. And it’s largely because I don’t know much about the business of being a photographer. I’m not talking about account keeping, marketing, SEO and actual running-business stuff (although, that is one aspect). I’m talking about the business of being a photographer that comes from within, from this thing about visual narratives, which I am still trying to get my head around, to the experience driven one that calls for one knowing exactly what to do, the way I would do it, when thrown an assignment instead of faffing around getting into gear and finally, in the last 5 minutes of allocated time, finding my way and then going “I wish I’d gotten to this point sooner.”

A lot of the above comes with study, exposure, experience and etc. All of which I do have – in limited quantities, and there lies the heart of my problem. I don’t know about the business of being a photographer because I haven’t been exposed to much by way of the craft (nevermind the industry). I know what I don’t know, from other kind photographers who spare my questions a moment or two, and all of this are points I’ve stored away mentally as “stuff to work on.”

However, there is also a gaping void in my knowledge, the bit called “what I don’t know, I don’t know.” How do I know this exists? It’s pretty simple – there are certain roadblocks I come to at times where I’ve exhausted all my available knowledge and technique and mental exercises to get me out of. And I’m left with the thought “there HAS to be another way around this.” Most of the time this sort of roadblock is creative/approach related, some of the time it’s to do with technique/craft, and some of the time it’s that mysterious other I will pin to experience for lack of a better explanation.

Yes I am aware working professionals do go through this sort of thing from time to time, but I’m going to guess that most of them have enough confidence to get their work done, hook or crook. And here is where the lines start to blur.

I have come to a stage where I deliver on my jobs. Every single frame won’t be a winner, but I usually am value for money (so to speak). I have enough confidence in the subjects I often shoot, be they portraits or tugboats or weddings or whatever, to pull something out of the proverbial that does it, and sometimes a bit more. I often learn something new on every job, small or large, that can be applied to the next one. Granted, what I have been doing is fairly simple and straightforward, unlikely to get me on a page of National Geographic, but it gets me paid without dispute. Ask me to ape something Joe McNally does now and I’ll whimper and run away, but I do feel it’s possible to produce that quality of work somewhere down the track.

See this photography being my Thing business, it’s a lot to do with the fact that I have never felt discouraged by anything I don’t know, just frustrated every now and then, because it’s all so insanely possible, limited only by willingness to plug away at it, imagination, and available internet connection. I still don’t know a lot about visual essays, portfolio building or marketing myself, but I can/will learn it.

And maybe that’s what the business of being a photographer is about? That your work and education is never really done? The road is shorter for some than it is people like me, but I remember every now and then that I’m on it, and on days where I wonder what the hell I’m doing, it’s always what counts. Maybe i can call myself a photographer, simply because i’m working towards being one.

So after all of that, I leave you with some images taken with my very plebian camera phone. From the bus, as always, my muse of sorts.

* Typos and odd grammar attributed to the 20 minute window I had to put this down. I may or may not edit it later.

Read Part II here



  1. sabrina says:

    To me, you are a photographer. Pure and simple.

    1. charlene says:

      It’s not that simple though. It can’t be anyway, after I’ve just blathered on… ;)

  2. Emotions can be incredible things, and not always for the good. But i think the strongest emotions come from things where raw passion is involved, and you are a very passionate photographer. From this no doubt from time to time you will have doubt, but you just need to look back, see how far you’ve come, and all of the enjoyment you’ve got from it along the way.

    I too find that taking too many photographs, can sometimes burn you out. But taking a step back, clear your mind for a week or so and then go and put yourself in a situation where it will excite you again works I find. For me that’s easy as I go to a landscape somewhere and it’s all back.

    It’s tough these day’s especially due to the ease to access other photographers work. But don’t dwell on what you know or what you don’t know. Personally, I know nothing technical at all, i’ve never done a course, I don’t know how a lens works, the hyperfocal equations etc etc (boring!!!) all i’ve picked up is the basics from some books i’ve flicked through briefly, and other photographers.
    Most of what I’ve learned is from looking at other images and breaking it down and working out why it works. On top of this I have had people like Flem who are open with their knowledge, and definitely have got a lot from him. But mostly, trial and error is what has pushed me. Business wise, and photography wise. I’m still learning so much in both fields, and still know I have so much further to go to get to where I want. Daunting- YES! But exciting and challenging at the same time.

    To me, you are a great photographer. I’m not a fan of wedding photography, street photography…. tugboats…. haha. Yet you get me interested through your photographs. I love your style, and when asked if I knew any wedding photographers a while back recommended you without thought. When it gets to the day I get hitched, i’d be trying to get you there too lol.

    Not sure if you’ll make it through that, but I hope it add’s some ways of thinking. Putting your thoughts out there is probably the best thing you could have done though. If i’ve misunderstood your post, and as a result ranted on way off the mark- delete this and save my dignity haha.

    ps…. your bus pictures isn’t the only thing you’ve been neglecting lately…. there’s a lonely blog out there somewhere… patiently awaiting your presence :-P lol

    1. charlene says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence Stephen, it’s heartening.

      Thinking about it, there are very few vocations out there that someone could say they knew everything about. I guess with creative industries that deal in art, the line between enough and not so, is also pretty blur. It’s a moving target depending on who you talk to.

      I think you’ve said it for me though: “I’m still learning so much in both fields, and still know I have so much further to go to get to where I want. Daunting- YES! But exciting and challenging at the same time.”

      I agree with that completely. I think we’ll never stop learning, and when we do, it might be time to give it up because it could signal a lack of interest.

      If you get married in some wide open, outback scape, I’ll shoot your wedding. Keep me posted willya?

      Also re blog neglect, consider it saving the best for last ;) Seriously though, I’m juggling about 72 things at the moment so it’s not deliberate. Google Reader tells me I’m neglecting quite a few people lately! I’ll get there and spam you with rubbish comments soon, and then you’ll be wondering why you brought it to my attention :D

  3. Very good thoughts here and I understand completely what you mean. It was very easy for me to say I was “head of an IT department” when I did that for a living around the clock years ago. That was easy. It’s a fulltime job, I’m employed by an employer who pays me a salary so that in turn makes me into that role. Someone employs me full time as a cowboy I would say “I’m a cowboy” easy (would love that hehe).

    It took me a while to say “I am a photographer” and feel like this is what I am, what I do, what I love and how I try and make my living. It is hard, everyone with a camera is a photographer in a way. And working freelance, well I have no employee contract to prove someone hired me full time as cowboy / photographer / spaceship captain.

    I could tell you, “you’re a photographer” but really, only you know how you feel when you say it. So it’s different…and it takes time…but once it feels right, once you say “I am a photographer” and feel like this is really me it is so very cool and satisfying. To really feel like an artist, a photographer, then the label makes no difference. Do not need no fulltime contract to validate what I am. You will know when it happes, when you’re a jedi, sorry, photographer :D to yourself I mean! For us, you definitely already are a photographer!

    (Flemming….wondering if any of this made any sense)

    1. charlene says:

      Exactly right. When the title is conferred by an institution, it’s a no brainer. But when we’re trying to give it to ourselves, we try and get the legitimisation in the same way… which doesn’t really work.

      I dunno, I can’t say “I’m a photographer” with a serious face, but I definitely can’t say “I’m not a photographer” either because it’s definitely a part of me now. So i’m “kind of a photographer” at this stage I guess. Getting there. I think when I have actually produced something I have really laboured over, rather than this here-and-there business, i’ll be ready to call myself that. When F2 kicks off perhaps? ;)

  4. Eileen says:

    Over the past three years I’ve been ‘I used to be a teacher’ to ‘I’m a film photographer’ to ‘I’m a writer’ to ‘I write short fiction’ then ‘I write short fiction, screenplays and poetry’… Only this year could I say with any certainty ‘I’m a poet’. I think it came with getting published and the fellowship, but mostly along with slow confidence that this is what I’m meant to do, what makes me happy.

    Of course I get devastated when I read Eliot, Frost, Levine, Duffy, J Bev, and feeling like I’ve so much to learn in terms of form and structure and consistency can he very daunting. But it doesn’t make me any less a poet. I’m always learning – and that is in itself a gift.

    1. charlene says:

      I bet it feels way different saying “I’m a poet” before the fellowship and after it (with the abundance of things that have happened since) :)

  5. Nice series. These are just so alive, and that’s what I admire most in your photography, Charlene. (I think you’re qualified to call yourself a photographer…)

    1. charlene says:

      Thank you Andrew! I’m calling myself one now, whether I am or not, so fingers crossed from here :)

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