Earlier this year, my first public photography exhibition at Washington University wrapped up and home came all my prints. There are in the basement now, propped up against walls. I may yet put them out in the house.
For that show, and the work that went into it, felt like the final culmination of a particular phase of my photographic endeavours. One I might call my public phase. That’s a loose definition that involved exhibitions, entering competitions, attending photography club meetings and critiques, and going on photography group outings.
I’m not going to say these things won’t happen again, but I feel no desire to get involved right now. For none of them hold any particular pleasures and, at this stage, convey a sense of obligation that I find to be more inhibiting than stimulating.
Retirement has taught me two things. The value of time and the value of freedom from obligation. These are qualities that are under-appreciated in a society that often appears to value productivity more highly than the development of personal insight and perspective. The world of work is all about doing things, making money and doing things with the money. Remove yourself from that world and a very different set of priorities establishes itself.
It’s hard to really quantify the change, but it has shifted my creative focus. Rather than photographing, I’m now writing. Very little here, but for myself and with pen and paper. Copious amounts too. Notebook after notebook has been filled over the past months.
I haven’t completely abandoned the camera. I still carry one with me most of the time, but the photographs I take are more casual and less planned. I no longer think of the result in terms of what I might bring to a critique or enter into a competition. This has been remarkably liberating. Without that sense of, again that word, obligation, I find myself enjoying the moment more and caring far less about just how I might render it for others through a photograph.
The results please me – but would they please anyone else? At this point, that question doesn’t really enter the matter at all. Quite a change from how I used to regard my work.
As I said, a very liberating change.
One surprising – and very welcome to my bank account – result has been an almost complete loss of interest in new camera equipment. I have more than enough cameras and lenses to get all the photographs I want right now. Why add to that? Just to chase up a new toy? For that’s really all that it’s about. It’s something of a relief to step off the upgrade ladder, one that is so involving when you care about the latest marginal improvement to some or other technology.
Photography is becoming fun again. Fun as it used to be in the early days when I really paid no mind to what camera I was using or how good or bad my technique was. I haven’t lost all I’ve learned in the meantime. Those qualities just don’t dominate anymore, as they seemed to do not so long ago.
Best of both worlds. Long may it continue.