Thursday, August 7, 2014

Talking About Nothing (Is Hard)

As much as I've had on my mind as of late (in the realm of photography related thing), I've spoken remarkably little about them. This is to say I've been silent both online (obviously, my web presence is non-existent sometimes) and in person, even among my closest of confidants. In a step away from the usual I would like to expel some of these assorted ruminations from my brain via this forum, not necessarily in the search for input of supportive opinion as much as general release.

Thoughts can be burdensome at times.

I haven't been photographing for myself, for the art, nearly enough in the past 2, maybe close to 3 months. Consciously I'm aware of this and aware of the why - it was touched upon in my previous entry. Too much work, photographic and otherwise, culminating in a gross lack of time in which to do much else other than unwind at home and retreat from a machine gun pace of activity. It's been showing in my Flickr presence, for sure. The web expects constant regurgitation of content, and when that content is spaced out by weeks and months it relegates one to obscurity no matter how pervasive or prevalent that presence may have been in the past. I see fellow photographers managing to keep the pace still, maintaining their pervasive web presence in the social media sphere and am admittedly jealous of the impact, however I am also aware of the time investment and how deplorable a thing that investment is to me. Forever stubborn. Web 2.0 be damned. Good on them, of course.

The chasm of a divide between the immediate personal, financial impact, is something I became keenly aware of today in a strange way. Some nebulous mechanism of motivation possessed me to plot the metrics of my photography business, perhaps to discern some seasonal trend or at the very least a general upward trend since the inception of the business little over 2 years ago. I even put my mathematician/statistician cap on and took outlying data points into consideration and adjusted trend lines on a scatter plot accordingly. Perhaps 2 years isn't enough data, as there is no clear trend from a seasonal standpoint whatsoever. There is, however, a general upward trend, possibly better referred to as an upward rocket. For the first 2 years of data, monthly income earned through my photographic work largely stayed the same, on a gentle wave with a small hump followed by a small dip. All until the last 8 months, the year of 2014 thus far. For no reason, the trend line, the points of data, they double, then triple. Perhaps I hit some sort of breaking point in which word of mouth becomes so unstoppable and powerful it's impossible to further remain obscure in the market? The outlying points of data, the high paying side jobs, increased in frequency, but even when omitted from the plotted trend line it remained on a wicked upswing. At the very least, I feel I've dispelled the effectiveness of social media as a tool to acquire new business (at this stage in the game, anyway), but now I feel I'm on this uncomfortable cusp of transition wherein I can no longer sustain the pursuit of two diametrically opposed career paths and must choose one or the other. That struggle in and of itself is the heart of the beast of my current dilemmas. But enough about business for now, clearly it's going well, the reason I forced myself into this incoherent broadcast of mental rambling was a lack of shooting for myself.

I've been spending the occasional weekend in Shenandoah, on Skyline Drive. And on weekdays I will hike through Patapsco River Valley and randomly snap a few. But these ventures are always mired by the presence of stresses that have remained static for so long it would take days of retreat to effectively rid my mind of immediate awareness of them. This ever present static of thought even manages to invade the post-process - nights spent toying with new and older photos have become utterly joyless. And as a result I share very little. My Lightroom catalog has become a thing defined by my real estate work of the month, no longer swollen with memories of hikes and parties, explorations and camping. I am deprived of tired, maybe lonely, nights sitting at my screen and smiling over various acts of youthful shenanigans, processing images anew and sharing their charm with an avid (albeit ravenous) crowd of internet denizens. I'm simply not ready to be this grown up, this resigned to a miserable future of all work, no play. Unfortunately I'm also not ready to stop working for myself or, of course, give up the bolstered income, the only realistic options to reacquire that past lifestyle.

Whoops, got sidetracked again.

I want to spend days camping in the mountains of the Appalachians off Skyline Drive. That region simply calls to me, which is particularly odd given its distance from the aesthetic of decay and abandonment which otherwise defined my work not even a year ago. Much of the transition in appealing subjects can be sourced to my time lapse work, in which time spent focused on the slow and subtle transitions of nature bred a strong appreciation for nature in general. The mountains especially, and the almost magical contrast in weather patterns they can bring about.

The end of this month will see me spending time in Deep Creek with old high school friends in an admittedly party-type atmosphere. I made the same trip last year, followed up by a week-long road trip with a friend out to Colorado. I would like to say I'll be able to repeat both events this year, although the Colorado prospects are already questionable (seeing as I've yet to acquire a ticket with not even a month of time leading September). It will be the first string of days spent on vacation in quite some time (actual vacation, not "I'm taking the day off because I'm sick" vacation). And I want to photograph everything. Borrow a friend and drive up to the edge of the mountains around the bowl of Deep Creek and photograph the stars. Photograph... not time lapse.

Which is arguably another topic entirely. I enjoy producing time lapse work, but I absolutely despise the production of compiled video. I detest it to the point of having written it off as a desired skill set entirely, and can only hope one day I will encounter someone who is more capable of producing aforementioned video and interested in doing so utilizing my work. For some time I am pretty confident my pursuit of time lapse overtook my focus on strong photography work, and the power struggle of the two at the forefront of my efforts was a thing of internal contention. Today I can comfortably say I am quite simply a photographer, but retain my interest in time lapse work as a side hobby to that... side... hobby (... well, one I earn half-a-living on). Unfortunately with the relentless pace of work I haven't had the time to patiently wait for a segment to complete. Some days it has been miraculous to have 15 minutes to sit and eat a meal. The limitations of my editing platform has also played a strong part in discouraging my formerly dedicated pursuit of time lapse, especially given the rate at which its production destroys hard drives. More than a better time lapse capturing camera, a hardier computer on which to edit time lapse work is necessary, but that is low on the priority totem pole.

Highest on that totem pole, however, is acquisition of a new camera body. With well over 100,000 images captured on my PEN E-P3, I fear imminent shutter death. Curiously, reviewing my photography business records, I've spent remarkably little of my business income on new photography equipment. A flash, a backdrop, a couple umbrellas with CFL lights, and one lens. Not even $800 in equipment expenses in 2 years. So this year I aim to purchase an OMD E-M1, with a well paired battery grip and 12-40mm f/2.8 pro zoom to boot. And it's probably the hardest equipment purchase I'll ever make because I honestly don't feel passionate about it at all. Personally, I'd rather sit happy with an E-P5, a format and style of camera I'm already comfortable and familiar with. It appeals to me, whereas the OMD line's SLR styling offends me in the way pre-torn jeans inspire me to spit nails. I'm making my chosen equipment purchase because it is undoubtedly the smarter choice for work, for the business of photography. It's unfortunate coincidence that I'm also in a position of internally raging about the demands of that very business, my victimization at the hands of my own success. I want to choose the camera that inspires me, not the workhorse. Luckily, however, both use the same battery, and if my trend of exhausting success continues I may very well be in a position to acquire both before the year ends, which is honestly the more optimal route anyway (how many working photographers ever settled for just one camera body, after all).

An eternal issue needing resolution will be the management of my web presence, but the introduction of Square Space to my periphery lends me hope that there actually is an easy and catered option available for the display of a portfolio. And like a snowballing machine, with a published online portfolio I would produce revised business cards and ideally carry on with more business I don't have the time to accommodate. Or perhaps a gallery show should the viewer find appeal in the art, the work that I care about beyond the paycheck leading the (faux) muse? On the cusp of great changes, I simply need to tip the ball over the edge of the hill. I may not be able to keep up, but I'm fairly good at being dragged along for the ride... I am so completely out of control of my own life, it's great.