The burnout has been bad this year.
Like… crawl-under-the-bed bad; cry-in-the-car (I mean, yeah, I’m sad, but I got places to be) bad; quit-eating bad; binge-eating bad; failing-at-basic-self-care bad; isolating-myself-from-friends-and-family bad;
Call it quits. It had crossed my mind quite a bit, and late this summer I finally invited the ugly feeling in and had a solid discussion about what I could— what I should— be eliminating from my life in attempt to feel more, you know… present. We, the CallItQuits and I, decided that weddings had to go. We— I— was (were?) over it. The demands, the time (oh gatos the tiiiiimeee), the tired, the texts, the emails, the phone calls (*shudder*), the inevitable burnt out.
My gatos, I deserve a break, I thought.
And then? I got an email:
“Thank you for doing what you do. It’s encouraging beyond words to find someone celebrating diversity so beautifully, unapologetically, and not as a sales gimmick. Whether available for our day or not, I feel as if I need to tell you that you’re a gem. Finding your website has been the highlight of our pretty extensive Colorado photographer search. So, again, thank you for what you do.”
I was floored. Their sincere, unsolicited gratitude burrowed into my sad, sleepy heart and lit a fire under it’s pointy red butt (give me a break, I was an english major not an anatomy major); they reminded me of exactly WHY I do this, why I love to make the art I do.
“Art is lunging forward without certainty about where you are going or how to get there, being open and dependent on what luck, the paint, the typo, the dissonance, give you. Without art you’re stuck with yourself as you are and life as you think life is.” -Mark Vonnegut
But that’s the problem, isn’t it?
I think that, for a lot of people, photography is a way to showcase our lives and the lives of people we love and/or admire in still frames that we can print and put on our walls or in our wallets. But, just as all things that bring us great joy and pleasure do, photography exposed a truly human vulnerability: our sweet-yet-also-sort-of-grotesque fascination with imagery that resonates with our own identities— that mirrors back to us who we remember we were, who we think we are, or who we want to be. Which is sweet on it’s own, but also an opportunity for exploitation— an opportunity that did not go unnoticed.
*que suspenseful music*
Consumerism saw the way we deeply treasured and internalized photographic images and saw opportunity for profit (yay predatory capitalism!). Absconding with the tools and the understanding of what elements make a photograph coded as appealing or meaningful, the cruel and merciless marketing gods have manipulated commercial photography in such a way that their heavily edited garbage is still interpreted in a way that feels like real life. Like we’re looking at real humans, real events, real products with real results. Our insecurities are bought and sold back to us on covers of beauty magazines and energy drinks.
I’m digressing a bit, probably.
If you’re also a photographer, I imagine you’re reading this you’re saying to yourself, “but I don’t do that! I photograph and showcase regular people!” and I hear you but I want to push back and ask you: but do you really?
As photographers we have a lot of control in terms of what sorts of people get admired or featured or held up as beautiful. Just skimming through the Knot’s website shows the majority of the women featured are fair skinned and blonde and thin. We need to see this— on wedding websites or photography forums or our own portfolios— and ask ourselves, “Who isn’t represented at all? How do we hold ourselves accountable for that?”
Look at your portfolio. Is your website entirely populated with images of normatively beautiful, able-bodied, thin, (mostly) white people? Shouldn’t the photography we make be more than reinforcing the status quo?
Let’s build a community of artists, not business owners. Let’s strive to give our clients the opportunity to see other people with bodies or relationships or perceived imperfections like their own depicted in a photograph or series of photographs that was/were executed with the same care, technique, and quality as those photos of normatively pretty people. I truly believe— and I’m admittedly borrowing from an EXCELLENT article I read the other day— that through photography we can work to make it possible for “all sorts of different bodies, looks, and identities to be represented and understood as lovable, desirable…”
To do this, though, we’ve gotta rework the way we commune with each other. And I’m not talking about tagging your shit with #communityOverCompetition— this tag gets under my skin every time because it’s become a sort of photographer’s maxim over the last couple of years, especially in internet forums and social media posts. But this appropriation of concepts of community purely for marketing purposes is exploitive and grossly disingenuous.
“hipsters and entrepreneurs were complicated locusts. they ate up everything in sight, but they meant well.” – Walidah Imarisha
To crib heavily from adrienne marie brown’s book, “Emergent Strategy” (and perhaps also from Octavia Butler’s literary work in general), hierarchy is ultimately detrimental and compassion and love and community create the strongest environment for *everyone* to prosper. brown explains that “when we are engaged in love, we humans are at our best and most resilient. The love in romance that makes us want to be better people, the love of children that makes us change our whole lives to meet their needs, the love of family that makes us drop everything to take care of them, the love of community that makes us work tirelessly with broken hearts.” What does the love of money make us other than hierarchal, cutthroat, and self-serving?
True community is a continuous effort, not something you can just proclaim “is”, take a selfie about, slap a hashtag on and strut away; you can’t dress the idea of community up in a flower crown or dog-face filter and parade it around as some sort of admirable achievement.
I guess what I’m saying is this: I have gained so much more from the relationships I’ve fostered through photography (vendors, other photographers, and clients alike) than I ever have (or will) from the money I am given in exchange for my work. I have chanced upon and cultivated so many relationships with people I would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet without photography. And, I think, in recognizing this, I have become very aware of the ways in which representation is so so so important to maintaining inclusivity and community-vibes in my work.
I think that being intentional about curating a portfolio/social media presence that showcases bodies and relationships that aren’t necessarily mainstream (i.e. all bodies on a boudoir blog, queer couples of any combination, polyamorous relationships, queer/poly families) is a really revolutionary way to create a sense of inclusivity where there so typically isn’t.
I don’t want to be stuck with life the way I think life is— I want to make art that pushes back, art that acts as a megaphone— a visual voice— a tool to help empower people with confidence and worthiness and validation in the form of a photograph.
In the words of my late friend Chris Haney, “Bad things are gonna happen. I know this from what I know about the history of our world. Truth is they have always happened and I surmise they will keep happening. Which SUCKS because deep inside everyone knows how all of this is gonna end. Love wins. Love will always win. Remember the everyday heroes who only know to help. Forgive those who do harm. They are adrift and will know love soon enough. Rejoice in the good that happens whenever, wherever and see the worst as only a means to that end. Now go do some good.”
So, see ya later CallItQuits.
I’ve got people to meet, communities to serve, love to foster, and good to do.