What does it mean to lead a photographic life? Lots of books, magazines and podcasts purport that we photogs should strive to lead one but what do they really mean?
It's probably something of a cop-out to say that a photographic life means different things to different people but it's such a personal and subjective concept I can only describe what it means to me. Even my personal definition isn't a static touch-stone I can anchor my ideas to but it is a fluid and evolving thing (another cop-out I know). I used to think that leading a photographic life only required that I be involved in photography every day. To this end, 4 years, 3 months ago I started a photo-a-day project. Surely if I was taking a picture a day and posting it publicly I was living a photographic life?
For a while it was enough. Sometimes it was a burden and chore, other times it felt like a joy and celebration. But if it has taught me one thing it is that just making pictures is not enough to be truly be leading a creative, photographic life. I've been making pictures so long that I can make photographs and be totally checked out. I can fool the photog muggles out there that today's picture was some profound artistic endeavor but I can't fool myself. I know that I took today's picture with my iPhone while I was waiting in the lunch line and then I applied enough actions to it to hide it's mundane origins. Or I know that I took today's picture in the hope of selling it to Getty without a shred of genuine artistic integrity.
I guess this is how some of the professional photographers I know feel. I am not a professional although I have made a little money from photography: some stock, some commissioned, and the occasional job for a travel magazine when they need someone cheap. I have had a taste of what it means to be a jobbing photographer but it was a sour flavor. I'm not sure that, even if I could make 100% of my income from photography, I would do it. As a programmer it is OK to be emotionally detached from my work; beneficial even. The same attitude applied to photography would destroy my artistic ideals.
So, it seems that before you can answer the question 'what is a photographic life?', you have to know what kind of photographer you want to be. I know the answer to this one; I want to be Martin Parr. I want to pursue artistic projects that interest me. I want to have a distinct, identifiable style and voice. I want to work on side projects when the mood strikes. I want to encourage young photographers in a practical way. I don't want to make pretty pictures but pictures that say something. I want viewers to have a strong emotional reaction to my work (be that positive or negative). I'll be totally honest, my ego demands some recognition - it doesn't need to be financial profit but if my work isn't seen and considered I may as well be keeping my pictures in a box in the closet.
Suddenly I have a blueprint of what a photographic life may mean to me. Now how do I pursue that? That's a question I'll have to consider a little more before I have a clear answer. Until then I'll sign off and wish you a fulfilling, artistic life.