Confessions of a Self-Taught Photomaker: Epilogue

There’s a crushingly unique olfactory signature exuded from a pit toilet in the boiling months of summer…no matter where you are; a completely indiscriminate assault on every bodily sensitivity. Somehow this makes me think of Eddie Adams and his bulletproof utterance on how every photograph is a half truth. He said that back in 2001 and I doubt Ed knew at the time that what he said about that picture of a man blowing out another’s brains would become more conspicuously spot on in our present times. For every big burst of early morning sunlight spilling over…wherever…there is a musty hotel room in Oklahoma City. For every glimpse into an unseen corner of nature there was a night spent in the back of a car. Those truths aren’t beautiful. Those truths aren’t told. All these truths are carefully omitted from the greasy underbelly of modern photography. As half truths, photographs must also be half lies.

As I stew in my own juices here in the ball-numbing furnace that is Tennessee in July I find myself clawing at hazy memories of the not so distant past. Back when I first began to broach the idea of “buying the ticket” as the good Doctor Thompson once said. Of course there was no way I could have known then where the ride would take me or who I would become once I got there. 

It’s difficult to tally the years to any exact certainty. All I have to go on are old ramblings and even older photographs that spark a gentle jogging of cognition. Has it been seven years? Nine? Reaching back I have to wonder whether or not it’s the year count that adds up or instead the miles trod. In any case there are words to be typed and wisdom to induct from these past ____ years spent plying myself to the trade of making pictures. Still self taught and still rolling. Still riding out that weird torpedo spinning into that void of blue. 

Ah yes. Self taught. That’s what brought all this about; a blog post I manufactured so that I could at least throw my name into the hat for consideration as a writer for a popular photographic publication for which I’m still employed. It was something about the fear that comes from being the oddball in the room, the monkey in the wrench, the unlikliest of the unlikely, the needle in the stack of needles. And yet, here we are with me being grotesquely behooved to grind out an update. There’s no real way to explain in this short of a space all the steps it took to go from “hobbyist” to “respected photographer”, “author” and “educator”. Still, if we find it within ourselves to peel back that strange onion we will be left with, if nothing else, some idea of what has happened in at least some abbreviatory echo.

The Confession:

None of us know what we’re doing. None of us! Not one. If any man, woman or obnoxiously baked child attempts to tell you they have any idea what they’ve done or how they’ve done it, your duty as a citizen of the world is to slap that person with the nearest weighty object. Don’t worry. I’ve checked with the UN and apparently there is only a $10 fine (United States currency) for battering such a vile and contemptuous swine. The point is, and you can believe me, every photograph you make or want to make is just as good or bad as every photograph that has ever been made, famous or otherwise. Why? The true differentiation between what is “good” and what is “bad” is a LIE. Merit is the sum of an assigned worth. But who assigns this worth? You? The experts? The ‘likes’ on Instagram? Who indeed….

The point…oh yes I do have one, is that the racket of photo making today has seemingly lost it’s true North. This loss of direction has sent many of us railing off into the unknown with only uncertain signposts left to guide our way. We are all reaching for something through the lens. Some of us can reach a little further. At the same time, we’re not all reaching for the same thing. Never allow anyone to sell you on the notion that there is a correct way to grope into the darkness for your photographs. If they do..well, then they’re selling something. 

So where’s it going? What comes next? As someone who has “made it” as a camera jockey I can say for certain that you can make it, too. This confession, so many years removed from the start of the last one, will hopefully serve to nudge you to locate your own half truths. As it turns out, half the truth isn’t so bad as long as you see it for what it is and for what it’s not.

It’s a weird time to be making pictures and it gets even weirder when you try to leverage those pictures into a living.

So, be self-taught.

Be the one that doesn’t belong and then do it anyway.

And always, for the love of sweet God, never find yourself without a $10 bill. 

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