We all need a fresh start now and then. A reboot.
That’s what’s happening here. I’m retooling my professional life.
Part of that process is a realignment of my photography. I should point out straightaway that I’m not abandoning documentary work. Far from it. Instead, I’m giving it a clearer direction.
It’s probably the time of life that I’ve arrived at (mid-40s), but my thoughts are turning towards the end. I’ve lived half my life, very likely more than that, and I need to knuckle down if I want to leave a lasting mark as a photographer, however small.
Leaving a mark is going to take more than producing pretty photographs. Truly significant photographers influence photography itself. Their impact is felt wider as well. In some way, their work impresses itself on to society as a whole. In most cases, the best we can hope for is that we leave a small nick. Some, the greats, leave honking dents. I’d be happy with the former.
Even achieving a miniscule impact isn’t easy. But if we don’t try, we won’t succeed.
Some people will scoff. They will ask who I am to have such a lofty ambition.
I’d reply with another question. Why not?
As photographers, we should all ask ourselves what we want our legacy to be, and then work towards it. We can choose an invisible legacy and succeed, or a monumental one and fail. I think a life pursing the latter is far more rewarding. Besides, failure isn’t guaranteed. What if … ?
Significance isn’t easy
I’ve come to realize two things through brutal experience and by listening to others, not least the photographers I’ve had conversations with for The Documentary Photographer Podcast.
1. Becoming a significant photographer requires a deep, long-term dedication to a genre and subject of the photographer’s own choosing.
2. Being dependent solely on photography for an income undermines your ability to achieve 1. Business pollutes creative intent.
While they may be obvious, almost to the point of being commandments, few photographers act upon them. Those that do have a chance of achieving significance. Those who don’t, don’t. A very few manage to balance the two: earning a good long-term income by only producing and selling work based exclusively on their own vision and voice. But many never even develop their own vision and voice. That is why so much photography is the same, regardless of who took it.
If I want to achieve significance as a documentary photographer, I need to latch on to a single, overarching story and stick with it for a while. A while being a decade or longer.
The story needs to big enough and diverse enough that it can sustain such a long-term effort. It also has to be something I really care about. Ideally something that resonates or impacts a large group of people.
Food fits that description for me.
So I’ve chosen to tell the story of food. Photography will be part of that. Video and audio too. Writing as well, of course.
Paying the bills
It would be great if I could make a good living telling this story. Maybe I will, but I’m not counting on it. The second commandment applies.
So I’m taking the commercial out of it. If I get paying documentary food assignments, I’ll be as happy as a pig in swill. In fact, I’m in pre-production for one right now. Nevertheless, I’m not insisting that it be my main revenue stream. I’m taking that pressure off my photography.
It does mean that I need to earn money from other sources. Fortunately, my career so far has laid the foundations. I’ve been picking up writing and editing work. The Digital Storyteller is taking off. And I’m doing an increasing amount of video work for clients.
Then there’s food photography as the mainstream understands it: recipe still lifes. I get commissions here and there, and I really enjoy them. My big challenge at the moment is developing my own style. I’m back to square one, feeling my way around what is already being done by others, what is the norm. My mission now is to develop a distinct style of food still life.
As part this course adjustment, some changes needed to be made to my online presence.
This blog is linked to my portfolio website. That is why The Documentary Photographer Podcast has been moved to a new home. It isn’t part of the story that I’m going to be telling here through my photography.
The podcast is still part of my life, though. Like my photography, it is part of my broader legacy plans.
From now on, you’ll find only food-related stories here. They’ll include the sort of thing I was doing on the short-lived Cork Foodie blog, but in a much more expansive way. We’ll go deeper into the story of food – more global and bigger. I’ll also post some of the better stories from Cork Foodie.
Inevitably, there will be personal stuff here too.
Thank you for bearing with me.