I’ve been looking for an answer for over thirty years, ever since I picked up a camera and decided to make it my career. I remember all too clearly leaving a night college class and thinking out loud, “What’s the answer?” And here’s the problem. I don’t know the question. Seriously, I know the answer is out there, the one that will make it all work, make it all right, the one that solves all the problems and put everything in its right place. But if there is an answer, shouldn’t there be a question?
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All too often when folks join me on a workshop, at some point during the week the statement comes out, “I don’t know the question to ask to get the answer I need.” Ever had that problem? Don’t know the question to ask to get the answer we need, I get stuck on that one a lot. I think I have for a long, long time. Of course this answer centers around the one thing I eat and sleep, that’s photography. It’s not that I go out seeking just the one answer because in my thirty year search so far I know it’s not out there. Hell, I do look for answers everyday for simple things like what f/stop or what lens or which software, those are the easy questions to ask and answers to find. It’s what we do as photographers and perhaps that’s my problem, the answer goes beyond a mere photographic click. And the fun thing is these simple questions keep changing so the rewards in finding their answers come nearly on a daily basis. I often say I’m proud I don’t have all the answers, but I do seek this one. But what about the big answer, where does one find that?
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Once I thought I was on to it. When I started out, most photographers looked for that one thing that when they came up with “it,” “it” would keep generating income without nursing it along. It was a constant source of a small amount of income that would permit you to pursue your art without the daily grind of looking for work or selling an image (what would be a true luxury). I looked for years for just such a goose that laid us that golden egg and then I thought I found it. But like all such things that seem to be too good to be true, it was too good to be true. There is no such thing. The only long ranging security in this business is simply constantly putting the right foot in front of the left foot and staying vertical as you push yourself and your craft forward.
In the long winded career, the answer seems even more challenging to find. Every day one wakes up to turn empty space and pixels into photographs and not just photographs but at some point, a paycheck. But the answer has to be greater than just a photograph, just a paycheck. Perhaps the question might center around what are your goals for your photography and what you want your photography to bring you. Goals are a good thing and for someone like myself they are essential to provide some direction. Someone as weak minded as myself, going off on tangents that takes me down a path to nowhere is all too easy. I know, I’ve done it too many times, it’s embarrassing! Defining goals isn’t the answer I seek either, that’s just a part of life.
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I find myself when my passion for wildlife photography being foiled by weather or timing or something, always looking back and just saying to myself, “there has to be an answer, I know there is an answer” though it and its question elude me. When I get questions from other photographers, some with obvious answers and some with no answer I know of, I go looking for the answer and yet, at times none comes. I ponder if I’m the only one looking for this answer. So I read a lot, words and thoughts by those I respect and those I don’t even know, wondering if someone else found the answer I seek. Perhaps I read in search of just someone else looking for an answer as I do to find solace in that I’m not alone in my search.
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What do I think this answer might do for me or my photography? One possibility is permit me to just shoot, shoot with reckless abandon and not worrying about the outcome. Not worry that it pays the bills, not worry it makes anyone else happy, just make myself happy with my results. But that ain’t going to happen. The answer might just permit folks to accept what I have to put forth with no conditions, just that it is what it is without reading between the lines. Which of course means they just look at the images and not try to read between the lines. That would mean I could stop writing, that ain’t going to happen anytime soon either. So the answer won’t solve that. Then just what the hell is the answer I’ve been looking for all these years?
Ever heard Garth Brooks Unanswered Prayers? I kinda wonder if this answer I seek is along the same lines. I sometimes entertain the thought that just looking for the answer is the answer. Is the mere act of constantly looking for something, does that keep one going through tough times and good, could that be an answer? Is it that simple? Why does my gut doubt that, things never come that easily in photography. I hate to disappoint you thinking that after reading these ramblings of a mad man that I have the answer, I don’t have the answer for you or me. Whatever that greater question that keeps us creatives going, that keeps some of us old photographers still clicking after the decades of defeat and triumph I have the feeling will always be just beyond our grasps. The only thing I do know for sure, I will wake up tomorrow with the same feeling, out there somewhere is an answer!