Ruminations - Part 6: The Conundrum of Craft Classification

David Taylor on tundra I’m trying a new, long form, blogging style in this post. I’ll be revisiting it often. I’m going to use it as a mental dump, a place to share some inner thoughts and discoveries. Although the topics that I’ll discuss here may not be purely or strictly ‘photographic’, they are deeper parts of me than I haven’t shared with the general public before. They do make me who I am today, as well as guide how I act in the future. Perhaps you will find some common ground with them, or something will resonate with you. If so, I hope you’ll chime in and leave a comment. 

Perhaps it is all TMI for you. That’s fine, I’ll have plenty of other blog posts with pictures of Alaska, tips, tricks, travel factoids, etc. that I think you’ll find fascinating. 
To each their own. 
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What we call ourselves matters.
I don't mean your name. What is it that you do?
When I was a child, I dreamed of being an astronaut. Who didn't have that dream? Then, after watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, with my father (who's celebrating a birthday today! Happy Birthday, Dad!) - I dreamed of growing up to become an archeologist. One who, of course, battles Nazis and always gets the girl.
There's something about being an astronaut though, or a doctor. You kind of have to be one, to be called one.
Luckily, that's not how it is for photography.
For over 15 years, when people have asked what I do, I've responded with:

I'm a photographer

Which is inevitably followed by:

Oh, that's cool!

Of course, I see the gears turning in their minds. How does he make money at that?

For a long time, I didn't. Not enough to really matter anyway. I probably didn't even acknowledge it as income on my tax forms for a couple of years.

Two reasons for that:

  1. I didn't know that I was supposed to (honest!)
  2. I didn't make enough for the IRS to even snicker at, let alone raid my bank account over

Like most people, I spent a lot more money on my hobby than I made from it. A lot more. That's all it could be considered, at the time.

But I still introduced myself as a photographer.

Was that my occupation? No, it was my avocation.

When I first started calling myself a photographer, I was selling cameras at a 1-hour photo lab and camera store. I took photos on the weekends, and made several, extended-weekend trips throughout the year. Then I began working for a local portrait photographer, as an assistant. I was taking very few photographs at the studio, and I learned how not to treat people (mainly coworkers & employees). I continued with my weekend photographic journeys & I sold prints out of a local gallery. I moved on to work in a busy retina doctor's office, where I learned how to treat people - not only the patients, but also coworkers and employees.

Throughout that time, I introduced myself as a photographer.

Was that my occupation? No, at the time, it was (what I consider) my education.

After a few years, I moved to Alaska. I did it entirely thinking of my photography. I wanted to push myself, and my craft.

I wanted to turn it into a profession.

Since then, my goal has been to work full time for myself. I lead small group photo tours, sell fine art prints, I write every day, and license stock photography. My wife and I have a new printing business, making beautiful prints for other photographers. I take photographs whenever I can, and as much as I can. As many photographers can attest, the time we spend behind the camera is dwarfed by 'office work'.

Throughout this time, I have introduced myself as a photographer.

Is it my occupation? No. I still work at an eye clinic, although it is becoming seasonal employment (so I can devote more time to my business). Photography is my vocation.

It is what I dream of. A part of that is the other work I do, in the quest to make that dream a reality. I am a website & graphic designer, marketer, and writer. Oh, and I create images too. If anything, I am a creative. Even in the 'off-season', with my clinic job, I put far more time into my own business.

I battle with the concept of the 'professional' photographer title. How many people do you know that call themselves "professional mechanics", "professional accountants", or "professional doctors"? Odd, that our 'profession' has so many people hell bent on calling themselves "professional" photographers.

'Any man who says I am king, is no true king' - Tywin Lanister, Game of Thrones. (sorry, had to geek out there for a second...)

Secretly, I have called myself an amateur photographer for a very long time. I justified this by over-thinking the meaning of the word:

An amateur (French amateur "lover of", from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, "lover") is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science in a non-professional or unpaid manner. Amateurs often have little or no formal training in their pursuits, and many are autodidacts (self-taught).

Because I loved photography so much, because I am self-taught (an autodidact, as it were), and because I believed that being a professional would somehow taint my artistic soul. I didn't want money to be my over-arching basis for creation. Meaning, I didn't want to take photographs to survive. I worried that would force me to make art more sought after by the public, and less fulfilling to me. I thought my motivation would change me, and my craft.

But the reality is, I used this label to obscure my fear. If I called myself a professional, I could fail. I reasoned that amateurs, by their nature, couldn't fail.

I am a creative. I create. It's what I do, and who I am. I'm passionate about creating. After all this time, I'm starting to realize that 'photographer' isn't what defines me.

It is what justifies me.

I don't think I will ever consider myself a professional photographer. Not because I wear too many hats, but because 'professional' isn't a title that belongs adjacent to an art. It is not a surname or a preface to a craft. It is how you handle yourself. How you conduct business. How you approach your craft. It is an attitude and a respect given to your art.

The fear of failure in this profession no longer holds me back. It challenges me every day, but it doesn't stifle my creative spirit. I accept it, and try harder.

Professionals are so passionate about their art, that they forego the ease of a 'regular job'. You know, the ones with a steady paycheck and retirement benefits?

We chose the hard way, because the easy way would never satisfy us. We choose it because we are so passionate, there never really was a choice at all. We choose it for the same reason a fisherman picks up his pole when others tell him "the fish aren't biting" and "the weather is nasty outside" - a bad day in the field is always better than a good day in the office.

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. – Thoreau

We choose it, understanding that, as a professional we'll actually get to spend less time in the field taking our photographs than we would as an amateur. We understand that we need to do the necessary work in the office to get that work 'out there'. But we'll cherish that field time, when we are blessed with it, because it makes the thought of a 9-5 job even that more unbearable. It's a sacred gift and a damned curse, with an unrelenting, asshole of a boss, who rarely let's you take a lunch break - let alone a vacation. But let's be honest, our days in the field kick the crap out of most people's vacations, 'work' as it may be.

The biggest retirement benefit of being a photographer is never actually wanting to retire. I'll do this till the day I die.

 Do not die with your music still in you. - Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

Here are links to Ruminations – Part 1Ruminations – Part 2Ruminations – Part 3Ruminations – Part 4, and Ruminations - Part 5.