On being a photographer, part II

Thank you everyone for all your thought provoking responses on the last post. It’s given me a lot to chew on, amidst the fifty unrelated things I’ve been inundated with. So of course, I go nightwalking to give my head some room to breathe.

Flemming’s comment hit on the reason that prompted me to write that post in the first place – that one needs to feel like a photographer from within, to own that identity.

I am a lot of things – woman, colleague, wife, office monkey, walker, designer, internet addict etc. Some of these facets are consciously performed, some are bestowed on my by profession, status in society, and others I am compelled to do so by forces beyond my willing control. Photography fits into none of those categories fully, but dips into all of them simultaneously. I’ll go into some detail on this one.

I am not addicted to taking pictures, nor compelled to doing it for its own sake any longer. It is rapidly ceasing to become about the photo at all. I find these days that if I can’t take a bit of time to play with a situation or subject in my head, I don’t shoot it at all. It has become a great conduit to service my curiosity about random things, and often is an entry pass into places I’d never otherwise get near. There is a reason that tug boats, race cars, random roadside scenes and moving people make multiple appearances here.

I’d like to be a professional photographer one day, but it kind of feels like cheating given I generally shoot for myself. It’s all about me, this: my curiosity, my mind, my perspective, my satisfaction. Exchanging photographs for money and exclamations of approval/pleasure still often feels like it’s more about luck than a solid provision of service. I know this is part of a creative profession, but right now, I live in the world of an office chimp, so this sort of thing is still pleasantly surprising when I stop to think about it.

Another reason why I still feel like i’m “kind of” a photographer is output related. I haven’t created a solid body of work that I sweated and teared for yet. I’m one of those people who needs to suffer in some way to feel ownership. And by suffer I don’t mean bleed, I just mean allowing it to get under my skin so it shoves me right out of my comfort zone and mucks with my head. It means I’m really experiencing/exploring something rather than just skimming over it, which is what I have done with most of these things so far. It’s the only way I know to that I am creating something intense, involved and wholly owned. The proverbial pound of flesh. Tug boats are the closest I’ve come to this, but the logistics of getting to them means I don’t get to engage with them half as much as I’d like to, to my continuing dismay.

The last of these “why i am not a real photographer” reasons is that it’s never just been about the photography. I’ll take/make imagery in whatever suitable form I get can my hands on.

I first started this blog to showcase the odd shot or two and remove the wordiness factor of former blogs (says she, 500 words later). But if there’s one thing I can say with certainty it’s this: I like to write. You can tell, i’m sure. Writing is part of imagery. As is video, another outlet I’m dying to take for a spin. In my idler youth I spent a lot of time with pencils/pens and sketchpads. More probably, than I’ll ever spend with a camera by ratio. That was a truly meditative activity, but it requires long, long spans of single-task-only time I can’t commit to anymore.

I guess at the end of the day the reason I have problems saying “I am a photographer” with a straight face, is first, I’m not really giving my all to this presently, and also that I don’t believe it’s the end of the road. I’d like to go pro eventually (and have a sweet, simple bio statement like Stephen Alvarez on his Vimeo or Twitter pages… whoa!), but I’d also like to tell stories in other mediums – still images, moving ones, audio, text, hologram (if only!), or a combination of several. Don’t know if I’ll be any good at any of them, but that’s the aspiration. I return to still images for my creative process though, so maybe that’s what defines the inner identity.

And so after all of that, I can and will say that I am a photographer because the still image is what feeds my imagination. And as Jamie Paterson pointed out, “if you enjoy and participate in photography, then you are by definition a photographer.”

And sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

So today, I’m taking the “aspiring” out of my blog’s byline.

Read Part I here


  1. ‘taking the aspiring out of my blogs byline’…awesome post, well written, well done. Wish I could comment in detail but my brain is in a million places and packing and preparing. I agree that it makes a difference to have a body of work that one can present and stand behind. A portfolio, a website. Also I am similar in not being addicted to clicking the shutter. I am addicted to creating art. If the time or light is not there, I don’t feel the need to click the shutter. I wait. How the hell can I be that patient with my art when I am so impatient in all other aspects of life. I am babbling, back to packing :)

    PS. Holograms…whoa…F2 holograms!

    1. Hehehehe, F2 holograms would be awesome. We could get ourselves a little R2D2 projector unit too.

      I can’t believe you’re out there now while I’m stuck here! Have a great time, and will see you soon.

  2. I think it is as simple as “if you enjoy and participate in photography, then you are by definition a photographer.”

    But it’s also complicated by the assumption that if you define yourself as something, it’s because that is your profession. Many, many photographer are not professional photographers..but are very good photographers nonetheless. (and sometimes vice versa, I guess).

    Anyway, there’s no easy answer for this one. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and yes…good on you for taking ‘aspiring’ out of your byline.

    1. Yeah, for me the profession factor has always been a big one. It’s helped along by the fact that most of the stuff that interests me has to do with profession or working function as well, hence tug boats, not leisure craft, and so on. It’s hard to get out of the idea that we are defined so when we are paid a goodly amount of money for what we do, because that insinuates that we’re actually good at it. And also because working at something shapes us differently than something done for leisure.

      I’m getting there though. Slowly, slowly.

  3. A nice double post on this subject. A lot of what you’ve voiced I too am struggling with. If you haven’t read the book “Art & Fear” I recommend it. It is very topical to these posts and also voices many of my thoughts I have been working through (eerily so).

    When asked, I stutter and give an apologetic shrug when trying to tell people I’m a photographer. I hate doing it and I am working out why it is that I even do. Overall, I agree with you: don’t get hung up on labels, enjoy yourself.

    1. I hate having to say it too! I almost expect people to shrug, roll their eyes and go “oh, another one of those.” Hah. But I think a lot of this is also a mental hurdle that we have to resolve within ourselves. Just gotta keep pushing!

      1. David Bayles and Ted Orlando. Funny, I literally (in the true sense of the word) just finished it. Now to go back and think over my underlining. I’ll reissue my recommendation on owning it.

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