I have been asking myself that question a lot lately – especially when people quiz me, “So, what do you do?” I used to answer first that I am a writer and photographer who also paints and then I would add, “But for a living I am a fundraiser and marketing specialist.” Now I hem and haw on the answer and sometimes land on, “I have no idea. Lots of things, I guess.” Oh well, I always hated that question anyway and receiving the sideways looks of confused strangers kind of humors me. I know I am supposed to know the answer to that question - and I do; I just don’t know how to deliver it in a tidy sentence.
This career uncertainty leads me back to launching this blog. I kept hearing from my creative friends that it should be all about my art, my photography or my writing. My business-minded friends suggested I use it to communicate about fundraising or marketing in emerging media. When I said, “How about all of those things?” to any one of them the responses were always, “Just focus on one thing you’re really good at!”
Hmm… what if I am really good at lots of different things?
I don’t think that most people believe that having talents for lots of different things is truly possible but, being both a left and right-brained thinker, I know that it is. Several brain tests I have taken demonstrated the same results: I am both analytical and creative, a realist and a dreamer (oh, and I am a true Libra).
I think the fact that my brain function is fairly evenly balanced between the two hemispheres is also the reason why I manage to shoot some good photos. I understand the technical wizardry required to capture a low light, high-speed shot and I can see the final image in my head before I even engage the button. Friends who go out shooting with me laugh that, even with digital photography and the ability to get off a hundred shots of the same subject (allowing you to hedge your bets that at least one shot will be great), I still shoot only a few frames and then I am off to the next subject. I usually know if the lighting is right, subject placement works and if the picture tells a story or will have visual appeal.
My first camera was a vintage Hasselblad rangefinder that an elderly neighbor gave to me when I was 8 years old. He bought it in Germany after WWII, before he returned to the states as an Army captain. It was heavy and shot incredibly clear and detailed images. My poor mother spent a small fortune developing film at the local drugstore every week. It was then – at the ripe old age of eight – that I decided I was going to be a photographer and a writer when I grew up.
Over the years I owned a few Canons SLRs and then finally a DSLR. My first film Canon was stolen in the Yukon and, more recently, my DSLR Canon was stolen abroad when I loaned it to friends for their vacation. They offered to replace it, but both were recently out of work and struggling financially. I could not ask them to buy me a new camera. Unfortunately, I had also let the insurance lapse because I knew I would be buying a new DSLR soon. That was a year ago.
After having my DSLR stolen, it struck me oddly that my new camera of choice was my iPhone. Nevertheless, I got off some great shots with it and at least felt like I was still living in the world of photography – even if only on the outside of town. Then I dropped my iPhone on a cement floor one evening and that was the end of my photo-shooting adventures.
Most people who know me would tell you that I am the friend who is almost never without a camera. I knew from experience that it was agonizing for me to have to say, “Oh, I wish I had my camera so I could take a picture of that!” So, I made sure that I always had a camera in my car, purse, backpack, or slung around my neck. Now, I am completely cameraless and have had to get used to life without one.
I never write about the divorce I am going through – not on Twitter, Facebook or here. It is a painful, difficult and very personal experience that I am sure many of you can relate to. Frankly, I get so tired of talking about it with close friends and family that I am thrilled to have a “virtual circle ” of friends who are oblivious and therefore ask me nothing of it. Because of the dissolution of both my marriage and the nonprofit agency I once ran, I am using all of my wits (both left and right-brained ones) to keep afloat economically and emotionally. It has been quite a valuable learning process. I have had to adapt to doing more with less and to simplify, simplify, simplify. Still, despite the difficulties, I am so much happier and healthier as a person now that I am in control of my life again. I have also noticed that my art, my writing and – most especially – my photography have become more enriched and colorful (the same is true of my friendships).
Friends sympathetically ask me how I can still be a photographer without owning a camera. To me, that is like asking a blind person how they can still be a human. I still “see” the photos I would shoot and in my mind (sometimes even out loud, which earns me a few odd looks) I observe something I would ordinarily shoot with my camera and I say “click!” Now it is stored in my brain – I just regret that I cannot share those images with others.
Once this challenging cycle in my life is over and the bloom emerges again from the thorns, I will have a good camera and be able to share those images with my friends and family, as I have been doing since I was eight years old. You can take the camera away from the photographer, but the photographer remains – and this too shall pass.