A little over a week ago my recent period of unemployment ended. I’m back to work, in banking where I have been for 30+ years, doing work I enjoy for people I respect and for which I am well paid. With that change comes the end of a period of time where I had the luxury of being able to work on my photography full time, while looking for work and “getting paid” by collecting unemployment compensation. It was not a bad gig, but it was never permanent. I knew that, and although I hoped and to some extent still wish it could have been different I knew it would eventually be time to go back to reality. As it turns out reality isn’t all that bad.
Photography had been my Plan B for a number of years. I had regarded it as something to do if my employment situation changed involuntarily, or as something to pursue full time once I hit the lottery or was able to retire of my own volition. I knew from day one of my unemployment that no matter how much I wished it was otherwise my ultimate destiny was to get back into banking as soon as the right opportunity came along. While I’m sure that I eventually could have made a steady income from photography it is unrealistic to expect that I would ever earn the kind of income I had – and now have again – in banking. No matter what my heart told me about how much I wanted to do photography full time and all the rationalization about whether it was “meant to be” I remained focused on what had been my goal from the time I started working full time and saving for retirement: to be able to retire on my terms. It’s not time yet!
The great thing about the period I had off was that I was able to devote almost 100% of my time and effort into the numerous projects and tasks that I had been trying to cram into a part-time hobby that had been busting at the seams. Processing old files, organizing and keywording images, preparing images for submission to a stock agency, submitting images to galleries for sale as prints, filing copyright registrations – the list goes on. Looking back I accomplished a lot. I assisted Nanine Hartzenbusch at The Light Factory’s Shootout, sold a number of prints, donated a print that sold for an exorbitant price at The Light Factory’s Auction, became an assistant for Kevin Adams on his return to the photo tour business, taught a couple of Lightroom classes, did some one-on-one Lightroom tutoring and am on the schedule to teach some classes at The Light Factory this winter. Wow! That’s stuff that it might have taken me 5 years of part time effort to achieve, and I did it in nine months!
Now I get to look forward, and I am doing it optimistically. One of my friends remarked that now I will be able to afford some new gear. That may be true. Ironic isn’t it that we need to have a job doing something other than photography to afford “professional” photography equipment? The great thing is that everything I have accomplished is something I wanted to accomplish, and while I have made a little money from it they are things I wanted to do anyway. Going forward, I only have to do the things that make me happy. If I want to shoot I wedding I can, but if I choose not to I won’t have to worry about paying the mortgage. If I sell a print I’ll use the money to buy more ink and paper. Next time I teach a class for the CNPA I can let them keep all the money instead of keeping a bit for me. The best thing is that going back to being a part-time photographer doesn’t make me any less a photographer. It will allow me to be an even better photographer because I do best those things that make me happiest, and I’ll do them better without the pressure of having to make money from them. Who knows, I may decide to sell my prints for $20 each. Some people may scoff, but if I derive the most pleasure from sharing my work and if selling prints for $20 means I can share my work with more people and that more people can enjoy it, so what? I won’t of course, but I could.
I just bought a new printer, the Canon iPF5100. It’s a fine printer that is capable of making real good prints. My goal this year is to master it and to master fine art printing. Not to become the next John Paul Caponigro, but to become good enough that I can print my own work and be proud of the results. Now I’ll be able to do it for me, and I can do it with the confidence that I’m doing something I want to do because I want to do it. I can take as much time as I need to get it right and know that once I am happy with the results that’s as far as it needs to go. If other people are happy enough to buy some prints that will be a bonus, but it doesn’t have to be a goal.
While I work on my printing I am going to be less focused on taking new pictures. I don’t feel like I need to be running all over the countryside chasing flowers and bugs and sunsets and water just to take more pictures. I’ve got plenty now and I know I’ll take a lot of new ones this year, but if I never take a new one I have enough to work on that it will take me years to go through them! The great thing is that as I continue to develop my vision my photography will improve, and as I learn more about printing I’ll learn to take pictures in a way that I will be able to make better prints. It’s all part of the process. It sounds like a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a new adventure!
Photo is from our recent trip to Barbados, at a beach called Beachy Head. I’m going back there. Soon!