Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Lonely Pursuit

7th Avenue Aerie, 2005

I can’t speak for other people. I don’t know how it is for painters, sculptors, illustrators, lyricists and choreographers. I find I have to be alone to do thoughtful photography. I have to move at my own schedule, without encumbrance from others. I have to be on my own to really see well.

Don’t get me wrong. I love traveling with my family and with friends. But that’s a different kind of travel. The priorities are different. Photographic observation has to fit into the group’s schedule and expectations, and those three things don’t always complement each other well.

I have to be able to walk instead of drive. Or if I’m driving, I have to be able stop the car when I see something, or stop the car and turn around and go back three miles and jump over a fence and dodge a “No Trespassing” sign to get the shot I want. Getting from Point A to Point B with me can take a while if something catches my eye along the way.

I have to go into bad neighborhoods that recreational travelers probably don’t want to see. I have to wait for trees or animals to get lined up right. I have to wait for the light or the shadow. As someone who works almost exclusively with available light, there’s no rushing light, no matter how hard you try.

Although the act of taking pictures takes seconds and some days I realize I’ve done my best work of the day in the first fifteen minutes, I still have to spend several hours at it. I have to stand in one place long enough to have a feel for it, to notice the sights and hear the sounds that are easily overlooked. I have to get past the mindless shots to get to something better.

One of our good friends is what I call a “speed traveler.” He says he “takes things in quickly.” I think he’s just got a short attention span. Once in New York we saw almost every inch of the Museum of Natural History, The Whitney and The Guggenheim museums in just over three hours, including walking to each museum and lunch.

The downside of this lonely photographic pursuit is that it is, well, lonely. A very successful day, photographically speaking, can be a very lonely day, socially speaking. You may encounter or meet new people in the course of making photographs. But it’s not the same as being among familiar faces. Two days of this in a row can reduce me to a babbling maniac, eager to talk to flight attendants, rental car return agents, newspaper stand cashiers, animals and trees. If I did it for a whole week I’d probably come out of the woods or off the street with a long beard, wearing the same clothes I started out with and be totally incoherent.

But I keep at it, ping ponging between being a total recluse and being a voluble companion, hoping that something productive will come of it.


  1. I was reading that smiling--I can well imagine that. It does sound like your job affords you plenty of opportunity to interact with lots of folks, too, so at least you get that in spades. But it's healthy to have that back and forth, I think: time to explore on your own, time to share what you've experienced later on, with others.

  2. ps
    Neat photo here! Love the lone figure there...

  3. Oh, thank God! I saw "The Lonely Pursuit", and thought...uhmmm...look, I can't have been the only one to think it! I'm sure there are other icky little minds out there besides mine! Loads of 'em! High-school kids for start and...um...dozens more!