Three years ago, I decided to quit photography. People thought I was crazy because, they said, “You are so good.” I don’t think most people understand how stressful it is to photograph portraits/weddings. Sometimes I felt expected to please all the people all the time and falling short of either their expectations or mine.
This was the biggest stress of all: I was never completely satisfied with all my work. Some photo sessions would be great and my love for working in the industry would be renewed and others would fall flat plunging me into a cauldron of stress. Most my clients were more forgiving of me than I was of myself, but some were worse. I was left with this nagging uncertainty being helpless to control the outcome.
It was all I thought about. I hoped film was the solution because I don’t have to edit the images. I can send them to a lab and they come back looking amazing. Once again, I got mixed results. Sometimes they would come back amazing and sometimes I would still have to edit them to make them presentable. My anxiety returned and I quit.
Since those days of frustration and resentment, I have had 3 years to hibernate and disconnect from the pressures of running my own small business. I told myself and everyone else that I would still do my own personal work and shoot film. I sold my digital cameras so that I only had a film camera. When friends and family wanted me to shoot for them, I always agreed and told them that if they would pay for my film costs, I would be happy to do it; which was true because I enjoyed practicing my film skills for fun.
I ended up doing a lot of personal work as promised, but not like you would think and none of it was film. For example, I went back to school for a while, I read deep and thought-provoking books, and developed a love for genealogy thus reconnecting with the service oriented-tradition of my faith.
While doing genealogy, I got a hold of pictures from my grandparents. LOTS of pictures. My cousin and I spent a couple of days scanning them into digital format so that we could share them with other family members. Some of the pictures were not very meaningful to me such as the huge group shots that make it difficult to find my relatives, but some bubbled-over with personality and I felt a deep connection with people I had never met and a deeper connection with the ones I already know and love.
Here is one of my favorite images. My Great-grandpa Oakes is playing the harmonica for my mom, who is a baby. It looks like my grandparents visited my Grandma’s parents at Christmas time in a very small house that my Great Grandpa built himself. My Grandpa took the picture and he probably directed the composition a little. He was a photographer by profession and knew what he was doing, but he wasn’t telling everyone to look at the camera. He embraced the imperfections and editorial nature of the scene and that makes me cherish the image even more.
Here is my grandpa, the photographer, as a little boy (he was the oldest) with his brothers and his dad.
Here is his mother, a free spirit if I ever met one.
The pictures my Grandpa took, which were mostly of his family are very high quality, but none look posed rather editorial. Here are some images that he took of his family while they grew up.
As a child, I regularly saw pictures similar to these. My mom took a lot of pictures of her kids and she embraced the imperfections as well, never fussing over how we looked in them very much. This must have transferred into me. We didn’t have very many portraits taken of our family, but we had multitudes of good quality pictures of our life. We liked to look at them while growing up. It helped us remember things about ourselves and what we liked to do together.
When I was shooting before I quit, I wanted the pictures to have meaning and tell a story, but I wasn’t sure how to do it. I got distracted, caught up in trying to figure out what other people wanted. Sometimes I would create pictures that had an editorial or commercial feel and that told a story, but the story wasn’t meaningful to their family history, it was just something I saw in a magazine and wanted to recreate because it looked good. I knew that it didn’t have a soul.
When taking a portrait, most people seem highly concerned about having it look perfect with everyone looking at the camera and smiling. Why are they worried about how the picture will look? Because it’s hung on the wall of their house for the world to see. It’s kind of a big deal. Thinking about going back to that makes me feel a little panic stricken and anxiety oozes toward me from behind.
What I don’t think people contemplate as often when they think of professional photography is having pictures to pass on to future generations; treasures because they epitomize the family. Maybe this is because professional photographers are so expensive.
I thought, “If I were to do photography again, it wouldn’t be for portraits, it would be for memories.” Even so, this was still not enough to get me interested in entering that world again. I am not sure there is even a market for the things I would want to do, and it doesn’t solve the issue with my perfectionist attitude about the resulting pictures. I still had absolutely no interest in getting involved. Zero.
Then one day, I was browsing on Facebook and saw a link for an article about film vs. digital. I have read many articles like this before, and it wasn’t anything attention grabbing, but I read it. It let me to discover VSCO presets.
My heart started beating faster as I looked through the before and after images. It was incredible. The look of film with the control of digital. It seems perfect. Maybe it is too good to be true.
And so, for the last few days I have thought about getting back into it. Jeff is extremely supportive, which is shocking to me because he had to pick me up many times when I repeatedly fell off the stress wagon during my last tryst with photography.
If this works out, my philosophy and approach will be very different. Maybe there is no market for this work and only serves to get me taking pictures for myself again, that’s okay.
Here are a few more favorites:
The image above has a fun story. My great-grandparents thought it would be funny to take a picture of their 4 year-old son behind the plow. People thought they were really making him do that kind of work. They had to explain that it was only for humors sake.