Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Dog Chasing Cars

Or perhaps a dog chasing squirrels, or rabbits. When I was young, my dog at the time, Buddy, chased a rabbit down and actually caught the thing. Broke its leg in his teeth, eliciting a glass-shattering scream from the little ball of fluff. Buddy carried it to the door and started whining - he'd accomplished what he'd sought out to do for so long, but now didn't know what to do next and was clearly upset by the consequences of his pursuits' success.

Who knew that analogy was ever so applicable to successes in general.

This year has been ridiculous. Some time in June, for reasons unknown to me, it seemed the big firm I'm on contract to do real estate photography for had let go of all its staff from Baltimore to DC and dropped all pending work in those business areas in my queue. A no-joke quadrupling of photo work.

Here in December, there doesn't appear to be a relaxing of that burden of work in sight. I refer to it as a burden, which may stir up negative connotations, but my regard for it is more complex. Success and notoriety in my local communities as a photographer has always been an end-game goal, and without question, both with the influx of contract work and my adoption by the communities in which I've worked for private photo work, I've become something of a household name for anyone in need of a reliable and skilled photographer.

Despite that, however, I don't entirely feel as if my goal is at all accomplished. My notoriety is, at best, that of a trusted barber, or reliable plumping service. My desire to become known was based on the pursuit of the arts, which are all but unnoticed through my dealings. Given that my function is akin to a service industry role, my notoriety has only come through reliable, respected results of many hundreds of jobs worked, and the time spent on those many hundreds of jobs has precluded any and all personal, artistic pursuits of photography. Essentially, I've traded in my aspirations of artistic renown for the blue-collar-ization of the photographic medium. And I'm simply not sure how I feel about that.

I enjoy the income. I'm in the position to indulge a lifestyle that is nearer to idyllic in its lack of need for concern over money. And I appreciate the compliments and immense respect received from clients, both new and repeat, who find my offerings a boon to their own quest for success in local sharing economies. But I do feel compromised. Compromised, ragged and worn out. I work a 9-to-5 day job every week, matched by 9-to-5 weekends spent shooting photos for people in my contract queue. Every time I complete a job, my contracted company has 2 or 3 more ready to chase it up. I don't travel anymore, venture out on holiday weekends to see friends and family. I work holiday weekends, cramming in more photo work. Sometimes I use accrued PTO from my day job to sneak out and do more photo work, and so my time off available for vacations (were I to ever try to take one) is largely unavailable to begin with. Like wage slavery, only voluntary self-abuse. It is completely within my power to refuse further photo work, or to reserve a weekend for myself, but the bug in my ear whispers that letting up on the machine gun pace will invite the work elsewhere and thus end my perception of success altogether.

I feel my only option is to conjure non-existent stamina and enthusiasm, march onward and keep up the pace because the work will subside eventually, give me room to breath, eventually. But if it doesn't, I will continue the pace until an unrelated personal tragedy breaks my stride, because I want this success. Even if it's not quite the same success I had envisioned when this pursuit first started.

Call me an optimist, but I'm hoping this is simply a brutal early first step to the "real thing". I have a very limited concept of what a rational next step is in my position, especially given my propensity for only riding waves passively. If this phase in my career as a photographer requires an active effort to dictate my own direction henceforth, I fear I may sit in this relentless quagmire of rinse-repeat activity for too long and ruin what aspiration I may have left. Nobody wants to become the beleaguered, weary, broken artist, who came so close to realizing dreams but was never able to get out of his own way.

I must ruminate on how to retake command of my life gone completely out of control.