When the Muse is on vacation, and my work fails to meet my own expectations, or at least my hopes, the nice thing about photography is that one can set the shooting aside, and practice the printing, or read and ponder, or study the work of others. In some ways, more than the other art form, photography is an act of faith.
I’m at the place (after 50+ years of on-and-off photography) where I’m ready to be “the anonymous artist.” I have images in museums; I know I can take good photos, but a collection of “good” photos isn’t enough for me. I live for the thrill of that one photo that sings to me… that makes me wonder (looking at my own work) “who took that?”
Every now and then I’ll surprise myself with a wonderful piece. The image, the art, is so strong that the photographer isn’t important – the print is all there is, and all there needs to be. And that is liberating, encouraging, invigorating, exciting. That propels me forward; puts the camera back in my hand, and shoves me out the door yet again.
That “anonymous photographer” feeling frees me to pursue art where ever it leads.
Consider the musician who is so good he or she no longer considers her instrument. The music simply flows through her. In that state the music is perfect, rushing over the listener like the waves of an ocean. It is transporting. How would that performance differ if she was wondering if the conductor or audience liked her or if her technique on the last passage was correct?
I don’t much care any more about fame and reknown. I’m 67 and have been around long enough to see the extra burdens that fame imposes; the constrictions it places; the pursuits it hinders. Frankly, I don’t have enough time left to milk that; to suffer that; for the sake of money or ego. That is a young man’s game.
But more importantly, in chasing fame and fortune I’d not be true to myself; true to my life-long promise to God (in exchange for being alive) to be the best I can possibly be. I want, even need, the freedom to walk down a hundred wrong paths for the sake of finding a new one that inspires me. The art must flow through me, like the musician, without restriction, if I am to be true to the pursuit.
So I cringe a bit when some of my friends (many of whom have achieved a degree of photographic fame and success) council me (with all the best of intent) to “create a body of work on a single subject – car doors; old buildings; flowers; or using some photographic technique.” I’d ask “why?” and the two responses were “to show that you’ve mastered the subject” and “it’s easier to sell in galleries.”
Well, no one cares if I have “mastered the subject” except me… and the subject, art itself, is what I’m trying to master, not flowers. The second is perfectly legit – it’s easier for people to understand a single subject; easier to hang; easier to “pick your favorite”… all of which presupposes that getting into a gallery and/or selling my images (ie “fame and fortune”) are my goal.
They are not – it is the art itself that matters, not me. I want to leave something behind when I go. Fame and fortune leave nothing; having works in a few museums does. So I’ve already reached part of my goal – a few pieces to leave behind. I’d like there to be a few more.
There are an infinity of mind-blowing, museum-quality, photographic masterpieces waiting to be taken out there in the world, and I don’t want to risk missing them because my gaze has been directed to only the port side of the ship. Certainly, I may not be ready to see many, or even most, of those waiting opportunities for dozens of reasons and shortcomings of my own, but willfully placing blinders on myself should not be one of them.
Like every artist who has ever lived, some days the Muse beckons and some days I am left alone. But when she calls, it is always “Push forward; there are no discoveries behind you – everything lies ahead. Push forward.”