January 24, 2015

Daily Practice

 For twenty-five years I was a photographer*. Eighteen years actively and for seven years after I stopped exhibiting and after I stopped making photographic projects, I still thought of myself as a photographer. Often, I would introduce myself as a non-practicing photographer. Along the lines of raised a Catholic, always a Catholic, even when non-practicing.

During the first eighteen of those 25 years of defining myself by my passion, I nearly always practiced my art daily. Whether it was shooting negatives, printing in the darkroom, matting and framing, researching new projects, it was inseparable from daily living. Indeed, it was my daily living. When I stopped taking photos - not a conscious decision, the desire to do so just seemed to wind down - I continued to do research on topics that I thought at the time I would turn into photo projects. 

But, really, these ideas and research had no creative outlet. For years I had blamed my growing indifference to making photographs on the loss of color darkroom access and my reluctance to embrace digital printing methods. I berated myself for not learning how to translate my beloved film and darkroom printing processes into their digital equivalents. Instead of pressuring myself to do what I clearly had no interest in doing, I should have listened to the underlying message: I am no longer a photographer. Yes I still take photos and enjoy doing so, but photography is no longer my art, my life's work.

This is a scary place to be. If I'm not a photographer, what am I? What am I doing? Why do I get out of bed in the morning? Where have I gone? Is there any coming back? Who am I? 

This uncertainty of identity and lack of a voice is why, I think, I held so stubbornly to the notion that I am (was) a photographer. The research I did this past year, ostensibly to be made into a photo project, all centered on women and identity. How women's lives - contemporary Western women, that is - are continually uprooted, often beyond our control or choosing, and we are forced to reinvent ourselves. For a time I thought this is what happened to me. I moved, by my own choice mind you, from my established home and arts community and color darkroom, with the man who is now my husband, to a new town (without color darkrooms) to follow his career. I was unhappy there for four years. And then we moved to where we live now. Still, no color darkrooms. And I continued to think of myself as a photographer unable to practice my art because of circumstances of geography rather than as a consequence of internal change.

Somehow, at the birth of this new year, looking back on my research into identity, voice, sense of self - call it animating spirit or soul if that suits your way of thinking - it dawned on me: I am not a photographer. The release of negativity and self-blame was tremendous. Talk about lighten-ing. This was the lighten of all lightens. Especially because I realize this change in myself is part of myself, not a result of external changes. There is no blame. This is the natural course of my life.

What a relief. Now that I have let go of my outdated and uncomfortable identity, I can focus on finding my new spark. I can wholeheartedly follow my current passions and see where they lead, if anywhere. I still find it a little scary to not know WHO I AM with certainty, but it's also exciting. Oh, the possibilities. I have a couple of creative outlets that I've been trying on for size, putting into daily practice to test if the fit is right. For now, even though I am uncertain above all else, this daily practice feels good. It feels right.

* About the term "photographer." I have never been satisfied with this moniker. Tell people you are a photographer and they think you take portraits. Or maybe that you're a photojournalist. Tell people you are a fine art photographer and they think you shoot nudes, tasteful nudes. Tell people you are an artist who uses photography, they're mostly just confused. But this last description is the one I usually chose to put forth. I was an artist who created photographic series that each explored a specific concept or topic, most often centered on feminist issues. (And that is the most succinctly I have ever been able to put it. Ah, the clarity of hindsight.)

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful revelation, Laurie! I'm so happy for you that you've been able to lighten your life. Enjoy the beautiful journey of self (re)discovery!
    Thanks for sharing.