Someone once called me "a creative" and I wanted to punch them in the nose. It's a phrase on a short list of things that make me angry. The way I hear it, it's a way of saying "lesser person who is employed for their impractical, foolish tendencies, which are—regrettably—needed for projects they would be too 'pure' to hold in esteem." Wow, I guess I'm reading a lot into this. I was at a commencement yesterday for teen photographers at a well-known photo school, and all the speakers conspicuously clung to the word "image-makers" any time a normal person would say "photographers." It was peppered into almost every sentence they spoke. I was seriously grossed out. It felt as if the faculty or administration had adopted a conscious policy of distancing themselves from the "photographers" label in order to make it seem like there's something much bigger going on, something more advanced and separate from the onslaught of photographs being taken by the growing field of amateurs, selfie-shooters, and hobbyists. What's revealed in this though is their hidden fear that maybe there isn't that much to photography, and that maybe there never was. Embedded in their overuse of this new term, "image-makers" is an aspiration to superiority, but superiority comes from realizing that terms are meaningless, and the only thing that counts is great work. I've seen other schools cling to calling photographers "storytellers," which is almost as annoying. In recent years the overvaluation of story has come to be crippling to photographs at best, and at worst causes painfully mediocre work to be championed for the story in the captions or the photographer's background. Neither situation helps the medium grow. Both imply that photographs by themselves are somehow inadequate without enhancement. This age of branding and shameless marketing feels terribly alien to me, and I hope the next generation after the current young one comes out swinging with flaming fists at the new culture of conformist narcissism.
I remember how shocking it was to me when a therapist of mine a while back suggested to me that the responses I evolved as a survival mechanism in the abusive home I grew up in were not only understandable, but actually commendable. Really? As I have moved through adulthood, no longer ruled by the threatening environment or people I was subject to as a child, I often found myself feeling ruled by my outdated responses and reactions.
But let's face it, a lot of the very skills and intuitive abilities I rely on to take photographs in public come very much from that time in my life. I have an ingrained tendency to read the mood of those around me, and am always trying to gauge how to harmonize with that energy. This may have originally come from trying prevent my father get angry enough to hit me, but it may also have led to my being a good improvising musician, intuitively finding a place for myself in any music, even that which unfolds spontaneously. As a street photographer, I feel I'm using the same set of senses or sensors, to find the flow of life and not just observe it, but to meld with it and be a part of it. In that endeavor I find my struggles end, and I lose all self-consciousness. The best pictures come from this place.
It's been a very long time since I wrote anything for this blog, but I'm rededicating to it, starting today. Rededicating myself is something I do every day, really. Today it feels like all the photos I've made before are in the past, and today I need more photos. I don't know why that is. Sometimes I wonder, when do I get to enjoy the fact that I have a huge backlog of images, projects, portfolios...more than I will ever represent on this website. But, somehow the only work that feels important to me is the work I have yet to make. That's probably good for my productivity, but I don't know that this point of view offers the greatest chance at happiness.
As of this writing I'm halfway through my MFA degree at Goddard College. Unlike the photography schools I might have gone to, the interdisciplinary prograpm I'm in encourages me to look beyond orthodoxies, trends, or conventional concepts of cerrectness to find the real purpose and meaning of my work. For me, that means exploring more fully who I really am, not just as an artist, but as a man. When one clears away the conformist questions of the past, and strips the inquiry back to the most primal level, I'm left with these clues about myself, in the form of values:
My highest value = authenticity
Great defiance against mendacity, facades, and heirarchies
The deep need to feel connected
A desire for immersion (living in the work)
The urge to transform liability into advantage
Value of the psychological/emotional experience above data/facts
All of these values or core aspects of my identity are rooted in my childhood, and the problems I faced. I tried to solve them by looking away from the established conventional wisdom of how one should live their life, how they should speak, how they should dream. I did not dream of a world where I was changed, but rather that some greatness I could display as an artist would make my negative aspects into features. In my mind there was a "they" out there, which I was determined to prove wrong, and once proven wrong, "they" would look at me and see greatness, not a fat, sad, different, or disheveled kid. They would see the same me in a new light, and I would finally see me in a new light. Along the way I lost conscious touch with many of these parts of my primal urge to make art over the years, distracted by attention to careerism and craft, but I feel fully reconnected to the source now, the source of who I am and why I'm a photographer.