A great way to start off the year! We got a check for the use of one of my pictures, evidently a photo of a “man using laptop computer.” Awesome! With funds like this coming almost every once in a while, we are set.
I don’t know who bought it, and I don’t know who sold it. The check came from a big publishing house which is known to consort with Getty Pictures, so I have to imagine Getty, the omnipresent octopus of picture sales, is involved in some way.
I have this imagination, I guess you’d call it, about my pictures now, given Getty’s dominating presence in the field, and that family name’s history in the oil business. I conjure that my snaps now run in pipelines around the world, just like crude, but a lot less valuable, and get sloshed onto ocean going freighters, flying the Libyan flag, crewed by a vivid collection of multi-national sailors, insured out of the Netherlands and financed through the Bank of the Caymans. They get transported here and there, and get sold at colorfully vibrant outdoor markets in port cities, say, on the west coast of Africa, pictures by the pound, auctioned off somewhere in between the livestock sales and bull semen futures. The sale gets rung up and then chopped, sliced, diverted, rounded off and otherwise divvied up among unknown but certainly necessary parties, and what makes its way back to my studio through routes apparently as circuitous as the Silk Road, is a remuneration, a sum, a check….for $1.32.
The actual arrival of such an amount usually snaps me out of my admittedly nonsensical reverie, and refocuses me on the question facing us every year: How do we do this?
January is always interesting. Once again, I feel like a weary, overweight Wallenda, stepping out on the wire once more, balance pole firmly in hand, studio staff perched precariously like railbirds on either side of the pole, looking at me nervously. I tell them it’ll be okay, fun, even. I don’t think they completely believe me.
If I were an airplane pilot, I would simply get on the intercom and tell everybody to expect “turbulence for the whole year.”
What is the goal? To make it to 2015? That’s worthwhile to be sure, but hardly an inspired rallying cry. I mean, you wouldn’t imagine a legendary commander, grasping a blood soaked saber in one hand, tattered regimental banner in the other, standing on the smoking ruins of a battlefield, outcome teetering on the brink, urging the lads to follow him into the breach of fire with a cry of, “Let’s make it to 2015!”
I have to admit the uncertainty of it all, not knowing where we’re going, and unsure if we’ll make it, is, for me, part of the fun. (I have a very stretchable definition of “fun.”) I have occasionally closed slide shows with a text frame that, referring to the notion of being a photog, says, “This is a journey without a destination,” which is something a colleague said to me long ago, and has proved true.
The young guys in the studio give me shit about this all the time, of course. On particularly confused days here at the shop, when none of us can find our ass with both hands, and we just lost a job we were bidding on, and someone else canceled some dates we had been holding, and we are definitely feeling like the statue and not the pigeon, it has happened that one of the staff exclaims, “It’s okay, guys. Remember, this is a journey without a destination!” Chuckles all around.
In riposte, I generally offer two words back, and they ain’t “Happy Birthday.”
Everyone seeks survival in this business in many ways shapes and forms, now that many of the tried and true channels of assigning, selling and shipping pictures have morphed into something else or disappeared. For our part, we do pretty much what everybody else does. We shoot, teach, blog, sell fine art prints, lecture, send out proposals, have meetings, chat things up on social media, send out promos, talk with clients, send in estimates, and then re-shape those estimates, sometimes endlessly. Nothing about it is rocket science. After all that, we peer into the mailbox and see if anybody sent a check, and the perpetually imperfect calculus of this business is upon us once again.
But it’s also a miraculous calculus, at the same time. I am still tickled by the fact that I have made a career, gotten paid, put food on the table and a roof overhead by….shooting pictures. It’s still quite thrilling, actually, even at the above rates. So once again, here at the studio, we will shoulder the cameras and resolve to:
Try to do some good work this year. Be straight up with all concerned. Be fair and decent to all the folks around us. For my part, I’ll continue to attempt to be at peace with the absolute certainty that some of my pictures this year will be good, and others will outright suck. I’ll continue to let the ever blessed Lynn pick up the phone, as her good nature, inherent decency, wonderful demeanor, and absolute, fair minded precision with clients is the only way we stay in business. Lord knows where we’d be if I picked up the line even some of the time.
I understand fully at this point the Sisyphean task at hand. I will never shoot my “best” picture. That will always be in the future, out there, like a mirage, receding continuously, even as I stumble towards it, parched and half delirious at the prospect of that potentially momentous click. In the meantime, I will attempt to avoid shooting my worst picture.
Most of all, I will remain in love with making pictures, still or moving, and consequently, in love with the whole idea of being asked to go out into the world and hopefully see it in a good, interesting, vibrant, refreshing, quirky, or daresay even a memorable way. What an inconclusive, open ended, impossibly wonderful task.
I’ll continue to do this because I love doing it, and because, truthfully, I really don’t know how to do anything else. There are bound to be pictures out there in the year of 2014, and hopefully, I’ll shoot a few of them.