Like Tears, Like Rain, Like Love

This piece originally appeared on the Inspire Photo Retreats blog. I’ll be leading a talk at Inspire in February 2015. If you’re there, come say hi!



“I am not an artist,” I told my friend.

I believed this because I shoot for profit. I believed this because I am not a purist. I believed this because I’ve been known to phone it in, because I don’t always have a vision, because I hesitate.

Another photographer argued with me a few weeks later over cocktails and fried pickles. “Of course you’re an artist,” he said. “Getting paid doesn’t make you any less of an artist. Even Michelangelo had benefactors – and he was blessed by the Pope.”

Of course. How logical.

But still.

So I’ve been trying on the words, like a cashmere sweater or delicate lingerie. “I am an artist.” And it’s alarming, how awkwardly they rest on my shoulders. It’s enthralling, how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to their weight.

Before every shoot and every meeting: “I am an artist.” Before every dreary sit-down at my computer: “I am an artist.”

Before I have my coffee, before I sling my camera strap around my neck, before I tediously, tentatively select my next shoot location: “I am an artist.”

The more I say it, the more I believe. As I practice the lines, art wells up in me, like tears, like rain. Like love.

I suppose I’d simply forgotten why I took this path in the first place. I forgot about the Cartier-Bresson posters on my dorm-room wall; my first portfolio, thick with drugstore prints; my hands drenched in toxic darkroom chemicals; my soul rattling with inspiration like so many puzzle pieces tossed in a box.

I believe, with enough practice, I can remember how to fit it all together again, the necessity and the creativity and the uncertainty. I believe I can break my bad, boring habits, and rediscover the freedom of curiosity and creation.

I am an artist. I am an artist. I am an artist. Anything less is a sacrilege.

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  1. Two feet speaking with one another in the front seat of the car. A nativity scene with all of our favorite stuffed animals dressed as shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and even Barney as the heralding angel. Drawings (on the margins of schoolwork or on applications), paintings revealing your view of your life, original plays and play props. And then there was that camera. I remember there was always a camera from the time you were 10. Or 11. Or maybe 12. “Photo shoots” of your sisters, your brother, Dad and me, toys, bushes, friends, strangers. Me believing this was your highest expression, but watching and wondering where it would take you. Kentucky, Massachusetts. New York. Home again. Cheap wedding shoots. (“Should I charge them anything?”) New cameras and lenses. (“Can I charge it to your credit card? I can pay you back once I do the job!”) You are 33 years old – when were you not an artist?

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