I believe that when my son grows up to become the photographer that I aspire to be, we will both look back at this photo I took of him in the park the other day and we’ll laugh. He is awkwardly holding the camera in his little hands and one of his fingers is even blocking the lens as he’s taking a picture of his daddy, who is taking a picture of him. My laughter won’t be a mocking laughter, though. I’ll be pondering the innocence of children and the innocence of “taking pictures” and my inner smile will turn to laughter. My son Colin is 3 years old. He is part scientist, part wrestler, all boy, and a true work of art. He has grown up with a camera in his face, flashes firing in his eyes from inches away, and a dad constantly hollering at him to “look at the camera!” After all these years of seeing me, with cameras and lights, taking pictures of the world around us, it’s finally dawned on him that a camera is not just another device with cool buttons that he can push, it’s actually a way of connecting with the world around us.
In the last few months, I’ve seen this awareness turn on like a light bulb. He’ll say, “dad, that’s a cool picture”, as he’s looking at a sky with bright white clouds, or a sunset with rich colors. Colin chases our dog around the house taking blurry photos of paws, books, carpet, etc. The connection is slowly being made from his head to his heart that a picture is a way to preserve a moment in time and create a memory. When gold is being smelt from the ore that it’s housed in, the chunk of ore is taken through a rigorous process to draw out what is valuable, the gold, from what is not valuable. In it’s purest form, the “gold” of photography, is the joy of taking pictures. Children are closer to what is precious about photography: they are not self-conscious about their pictures compared to others’ pictures, they aren’t obsessed with bigger and better gear, and they certainly don’t wrestle with the feeling that they must chronically self-promote to stand out. They just love pushing the button and looking at what they captured.
As photographers, do we ever just sit back and look at our pictures and enjoy them? I know I don’t do that often enough. I’m always obsessed with criticizing my own work. And even that word “work” is so self-important, isn’t it? It’s like we feel that we have to add gravitas to our pictures by calling it our “work”. Hey, I do it too! I spend hours looking back at early pictures I took, ripping my self to shreds…if only I’d framed that differently…. look at that horrible HDR, what was I thinking?…if only I’d had a better lens when I shot that. No doubt that self-evaluation is what makes us better, but it can bit-by-bit steal away the “gold” of photography. Are we having fun? Are we feeding that child inside of all us, who longs to capture a moment that captures our imagination, and to proudly hold the camera up and say, “dad, look at my picture”?
Everything in life is subject to competition. Photography is highly competitive. Many of my fellow photographers are competing with other photographers for actual food on the table. I feel for them. I truly do. How difficult it must be to be magnanimous and gracious to other photographers who are competing for the clothes off your childrens’ backs. I believe that with anything in life, though, the world favors those who favor others and those who pursue their imagination. How do you define success as a photographer? Is it the money you make? The awards and recognitions you rack up? I don’t judge anyone for their personal criteria for defining photography success, but I do believe that most of our definition of success in photography is inversely proportional to the fun we’re having. If you’re a full-time photographer, are you carving out enough personal time for projects that inspire you? For all of us, are we printing our images out and hanging them on the wall so we can enjoy the fruits of our labor?
I want to be more like Colin, grab whatever camera I can get my hands on and take a picture when I see something that interests me. If my big fat finger is in the way, so be it. To respond to what is in front of me, whatever nature presents, or whatever captures my imagination. For you beginning photographers, don’t take this as a charge to not spend your time learning and striving to be better, just don’t lose your love for taking a picture, as you become more and more technically proficient. Be like Colin…as God speaks to you through his wonderful creation, tell him you’re listening and that you appreciate what he’s given you enough to capture that moment in time and show others. Never lose sight of the gold…take pictures that inspire you and enjoy the moments you’ve captured along the way.