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Why I’m Not A Real Photographer

Back in the early 1990’s I lived in Berkeley, California, right near St Joseph The Worker, a magnificent Catholic church down on Addison (you can see its spires from the university). I remember one day hearing live Mariachi music floating in through my windows. I wandered out and discovered it was coming from St Joseph’s, so I walked the block or so to the church and saw this wonderful Mexican wedding celebration in progress on the steps of the church. Beautiful people, beautiful colours, beautiful sounds, beautiful clothes, continuous movement, the drama of St Joey’s in the background, a friendly, inviting atmosphere … everything.

I kept thinking I should rush back and get my camera — such a photogenic event, such a photo opportunity — but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to do it — I just wanted to hang around and experience it all, directly; I didn’t want to spend the time looking at things as potential photos, I didn’t want to spend the time experiencing it all through a viewfinder. So I just stayed there and watched, and later joined in. A few hours later I mildly regretted not getting any photos, but in the grand scheme of things, I really enjoyed myself, and really enjoyed not having a camera. But I’ve been haunted ever since by the thought that any real photographer would have sacrificed the immediate experience of the event for getting photos of the event. Not me.

And that’s been the dirty little secret of my photographic life, really. With few exceptions, I’m more motivated and interested in the immediate experience than in the (later) images. I’m quite comfortable just letting potentially great sights go unrecorded; I can spend days on the road in the desert just looking, watching, thinking — but not taking any photos. I often even leave my cameras at home (except my iPhone, of course — there’ll be another posting about that sometime) just so I don’t spend my time haunted by the need to get a photo or two. For me a trip to (say) the desert is about experiencing the desert itself, as immediately as it’s possible on a hurried week’s drive; it’s almost never about taking photos, which are at best a side-effect of that trip.

I’ve known a bunch of real photographers, professional and otherwise, and, to a person, they’re not like me: for them the photos are the whole point of a trip or an event. So after the St Joseph The Worker event, I resigned myself to not being a real photographer. I can live with that (and with the perception that I’m kinda lazy), but I do sneakily admire and envy those who can dedicate themselves to photography like that.

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