Have you ever stopped being a photographer? Is it possible in practice?

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by karljohnston, Apr 17, 2016.

  1. I wonder if anyone has ever quit photographing, completely, for a long period of time. Why did that happen? Did you come back to it any time later? Or never again ? What reasons? For myself, personally. I quit photography around about last year when University took over my life; I was spending about 16 hour days at the school working on 2 degrees and finishing a diploma full time. I just recently finished all the course work, now just patching up a handful of courses and getting higher grades in them before walking up on stage to collect my slips of paper.
    During this time I didn't really do anything at all and found my own interests changing, my muse changing. I was typically just a nature photographer, with a focus on astrophotography. I felt that I couldn't do it justice anymore, so I sold 2/3 of my gear and let it go. Then, a couple of months later I had a serious spinal injury, and I wasn't able to do much of anything at all for myself for a very long time (10 months). I remember thinking, on my back most of the time in bed, that I was "never going to be able to do things the way I used to any more" and it got me thinking: 'i really wish I could photograph again' - my mind spun back to all the times I had in the past. Long hikes in the wilderness, bike rides. None of that, even now I can't handle the way I used to walk all day, for dozens of miles.
    But today is the first day in a long time that I will go on a hike, with a friend, and do photography again. It's only half a kilometer along the river but I'm looking forward to it.. It's been near a year since I even touched the camera, but I feel like I can handle it now. For someone who did not go a day without a camera in my hand since 2007, this is something that made me wonder if anyone ever fully quits photographing, never to take a frame again. Or do you just fall out of it and come back another time?
    (edit: weird, forum post copied itself and repeated for some reason.. think i fixed it)
  2. Karl, I'm just glad you've recovered enough to go back on your first hike. It may just be an opportunity for you to newly and perhaps differently appreciate photographing.
  3. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Interesting question! Actually from my early teens until we had children when I was in my late 30's I was a serious photographer. Once we had the kids, I somehow transformed into being largely a snap shooter. One reason, of course was the fact I had not reestablished a darkroom, another the onslaught of digital. I don't think either accounts for all of it. Once both "kids" were off to college, I started again, with increasing intensity. I think to an extent, at least using cameras, you can be either a photographer / observer or a participant. With children, you must participate, and a camera kit can quickly become excess baggage.
    I first had that thought as a young single man on holiday in England -- my photographic "mission" in conflict with dating English women. The camera bag usually checked in the hotel in the evenings.
  4. SCL


    After a serious heart attack, open heart surgery, and a stroke, years ago, I put all hobbies aside to concentrate on recovery to see where thing lead. After a year I was back into the swing of photography and took a two week hiking trip to Bryce Canyon and Zion to test my reinvigorated mettle.
  5. I have sold all cameras and quit, several times, for spans of as long as 10 years. During these periods I didn't even own a camera worth talking about. The one thing I learned from that was never sell equipment you don't think you'll want to use again.
  6. Great question. Like Fred, I'm glad that you've recovered enough to be able to hike.
    I started photography when I was twelve. I stopped several times, when I was disappointed that darkroom fumes made me sick, when (as a college student) I couldn't afford the cost of film and processing, and most decidedly when the "disappearance" of members of my family in Argentina made me put all my free time into what was happening there.
    Recently, I've reduced how much shooting I do. I'm due for knee replacement surgery this summer, and it's become difficult to carry my tripod, and sometimes painful to stand steadily enough to hand-hold. For bad days I have a cane, but sometimes use a monopod instead and carry and small camera bag. As an amateur, I have the luxury, which I appreciate very much, of stopping sometimes.
  7. It may just be an opportunity for you to newly and perhaps differently appreciate photographing.​
    I know this is true for me.

    I think many of us here started photography as a single young person with lots of free time (there are others who started later in life). Then when life took a different turn with responsibilities for others, there was less and less time for photography, and any other hobby for that matter. I am no exception to this. When I first started, photography was about traveling to interesting places (including tourist places) lugging large camera gear. Later on when I no longer had the time to do that, photography suffered and almost came to an end for 3-4 years. During that time, I always missed photography, but this period also transformed me as a photographer. First I realized that I cannot travel to spectacular places for photography, and then I realized I don't need to.
    Now I no longer go to touristy places with camera gear, in fact I hardly go anywhere just for the sake of taking pictures. I have switched to a small camera which stays with me most of the time. Other times, I use my phone for camera. I imagine this is how it will be for the foreseeable future.
    To answer your question, whether someone can quit photography for good, I think it is possible if that person finds another medium which expresses what he wishes to express in a better way. However in the modern world, photography is so interconnected with digital art, that there is no clear boundary between the two. I have seen artists who started with photography, then moved into pure digital art. For them, I think the passion for the greater visual art always remains, but the medium changes.
  8. I got my first camera when I was about eight years old and took photographs until I was 62 years old. Photography was the only thing I did as it was the greatest challenge I could find. Five years ago I had open heart surgery. It was extremely lengthy procedure with several unanticipated problems that required a second surgeon to be called in. I spent nearly 20 hours in an induced coma so that I could not move and damage the work that had been done.
    A week later, I had a second surgery to implant a pacemaker. Over the next nine months I was on a regimen of drugs that are part of the protocol developed for aiding in recovering from heart surgery. A year later the pacemaker was removed and replaced with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). Over the next two years I had a series of related problems that required three additional cardiac surgeries.
    I have no idea whether it was the extended time on the heart / lung machine, the drugs used and time in an induced coma, the drug protocol during the surgery recovery period - but, I can find no reason to make a photograph.
    Photography is now the last thing I'm interested in. Part of that comes from the fact that I can no longer see a photograph, which was the reason I took them to begin with. I would see a confluence of events happening in front of me and a photograph would appear and I had to take it.
    I constantly had ideas about something to work on related to photography. Whether that was reading or trying new techniques or inventing things to do with photographs - it didn't matter - I had to do it.
    Now? I don't care. Photography just doesn't matter to me anymore. I've sold most of my cameras and I have no idea whether I will ever take another photograph. But, at this point, after making photography my sole serious pursuit for over 50 years - I can find no reasons to continue.
  9. Sometimes I think of hanging up the cameras for awhile. No particular reason why, but I think it may just be whenever I'm not pleased with whatever my recent work is like. Likewise I often think about continuing to shoot and not uploading any pictures online anymore. It just seems like such a chore sometimes.
  10. Interesting, Mark. It makes me wonder if anyone ever hangs up the camera when they're on a high. That's probably harder to do, but might ultimately be pretty fulfilling. A little like the stock market. Harder to buy when low and sell when high, but it's the thing to do, if you can.
  11. Well Fred, Robert frank pretty much did that after "The Americans." Other then some smaller projects like the pictures he took on the Coney Island beach on a 4th of July and his bus series he abandoned photography for film making. He said to continue would just be him repeating himself. I have read that he's gotten back into photography and he's entering contests using a different name but until I hear something from him directly it's just an unsubstantiated rumor to me.
    For me it's just that I've been photographing in LA for so long that at times I wonder how I can get anything unique and original. I end up at the same places often because I know I can get there with minimal stress of sitting in God awful traffic and I know I will get at least something I'm happy with. I wish I had the means and time to travel. This is why I like to shoot in San Francisco whenever I get the chance. It's a whole new city to explore.
  12. As did the great Henri Cartier-Bresson, in his 60s. To take up painting. His stated reason, in so many words in his exquisitely spoken French, was that he believed he had reached the point in life of having done all he could with the visual medium of film. For him, it was time to paint. Which he did, for almost 30 years.
    I am far from close to the creative genius of the Franks and CBs, but at times in my 55 year relationship with the medium, I have had to put down the camera(s), walk away, and focus my time, attention and mental forces on other projects. To rejig my creative instincts, refresh my tired mind, or as happened at one point in my early 50s, save myself from a complete physical and emotional breakdown... Like everything else, photography can get to be too much, and when we reach this point, we need to move laterally, give the cameras and one's trigger finger a rest, and concentrate on other aspects of the varied interests that life throws as those who keep open minds and stay receptive to the real world and its (not always pleasant) ways.
    This year I am now finishing a five year project involving much (digital) photography of old architecture in several Asian countries. Three or four months to go. I am also bidding on a new project for 2017, which will involve 3-4 months of intensive photography in about 30 locations, on medium format black-and-white film.
    If I am successful with this project, in-between the two a break from shooting will be a Must Do for me. Time to read, reflect, make notes, plan layouts, go hiking and take in the natural beauties of my world in Tasmania, Australia (where, oddly, I have never done any photogaphy for income, preferring to shoot only for my own satisfaction and pleasure), drink some of the fine pinots our local wineries produce, eat fresh oysters, and just coast along. For a time. However long is needed. Then I will order film, check the cameras, stock up on batteries, clean filters and lens hoods, and set off again, refreshed and reinvigorated, for my new challenge. If I fail to get the project, something else will come along, and I will just have more time to indulge in yet more pinot. A win-win for me, in every way.
    Likewise, when I turn 70 (not so far down the track), I have long pondered the possibility of giving away the game of photography, hanging up the cameras, changing the entire direction of my image making. Unlike HCB, I will never be even a competent painter. I crave fewer and finer images, late cold winter evenings in the darkroom, more time for scanning (even with a cat's nine lives I will never, ever make it to the end of my film negative archives). Then I sit back and think, well, why not clean out, sell everything, keep a Rolleiflex TLR or one film camera and a small set of lenses, and shoot only B&W what time I have left? It's very tempting, and not at all limiting. To me digital photography, with all its convenience, is a craft. The creativity, the artistry, the true challenges, the testing of my limits, the anticipation and expectation and not the immediate gratification, lie entirely with film.
    JD somewhere in Sarawak.
  13. In some ways giving up photography may have been the smartest move career wise for Frank and HCB. They will always be known for the high caliber of their work. Winogrand meanwhile continued shooting up to his untimely death and many people feel his work took a drop in quality in his later years.
  14. And yet Winogrand probably loved what he was doing enough not to care what others thought about the quality of his work in his later years. I think Winogrand's way worked for him and HCB's and Frank's ways worked for them.
  15. Karl, glad you are mobile again. There are many light cameras and optics (primes) that are easier to carry and use. You may have to change a little how you perceive and capture subjects and maybe even ignore some (such as telephotography). I once sold my expensive Nikon RF film camera and a few lenses to my brother after 4 or 5 years of teenage photography, to gather enough funds to study abroad (he still uses it) and returned to photography much later, as if I had never really left it. Now when I don't have my camera with me and see a subject and viewpoint I like I make the image in my mind and wish I had not left it at home. No point in worrying about the fish that got away. We have to leave time in our lives for other things, so I do not regret not being in photography all the time. In fact, it is good to step away frequently from it for very short periods, if only to renew our interest to return.
  16. Hello all, thanks for the replies and suggestions. I haven't re-visited this since that walk. It was a successful one, a milestone for me to cross.
    Ironically, I ended up taking a portrait of a friend instead of any landscape imagery. It was a bit of a partially cloudy day with the sun peaking intermittently, had a melancholy tone to the feel of the day.

    About a week later, I decided to challenge myself further and go off on holiday for a week, in the mountains of BC, to visit family i hadn't seen in a few years. While staying there I went on another hike - only about 1 kilometer long but it had me on a cane for a few days after. While on this walk, I was having a lot of trouble carrying a camera bag, even with only two lenses in it it was just too heavy for my spine to support. I had to go back to the car and leave it behind. For a few minutes I was hanging out, I decided that I would do the walk just for the sake of doing it - no photography, just taking pictures with my mind (and my phone).
    At the end of the hike, there was a big waterfall and a river branching out, going around the bend and into the sunset. Pure photography gold. But at the end of it, I was just happy to be there and be able to watch it, even though I was hurting. I think this is an important point that Arthur Plumpton made, which I'll answer here:

    Arthur, thanks for your reply and suggestions - i have only a couple of primes and a telephoto now. The telephoto is way too hard to lift, even if it only weighs a few lbs. It was mad expensive, I don't think I would part with it and is useful to have. But I do agree with you. I think I am not able to carry around anything longer than 200, so that definitely is something to consider. I am surprised by all of the small camera tech around, it has been a few years since I bought any gear and wow it really has some a long way. I agree with you, it is important to step away. Get a new perspective.
  17. Stephen, that is a very hopeful and inspiring read. I would love to see your images. Having seen heart attacks and strokes when I was involved in volunteer EMS - I am always in awe of anyone who comes away from the traumatic event and revitalizes their life.
  18. As a long term sufferer from ME (in the US you may know it better as CFS) I have lost the use of that part of my brain which defines me as a photographer for two periods of a year in length. Both began following traumatic family events relating to my autistic son.
    It seems that the photographer in me is now beginning to emerge again. However, compared to the first event back in 2011 my cognitive problems are now much greater. Also I am physically much weaker. So whether a re-start is realistic, only time will tell.
    Recent research indicates that in ME/CFS there are abnormalities in the white matter of the brain. These regions are responsible for connecting different parts of the brain. It appears that intense stress can interfere with my (already sick) brain, causing breakdown of the communication required for me to be a photographer.
    Tomorrow, 12th May is International ME/CFS Awareness day. I will try to post something relevant.
  19. Antony, I'm looking forward to your post.
    I hope this isn't rude, but I curious whether each time your 'return' to photography, how or whether things look different in a revelatory way that can be gotten in your pictures. Can you compare and notice concrete details of prior versus current mindset in a picture-able way? Or is there simply loss/less? That last probably is rude, so I apologize in advance, if so.
  20. Julie, thanks for that. I think I will start by clearing the backlog. I'm encouraged so far of how well I can remember what to do processing wise. When cognitively challenged one lives with the fear of forgetting and with ME the fear of not having the energy to re-learn.
    That's not rude at all, in fact very interesting questions.
    The first time back in 2011, started following trauma when my autistic son (then living away in a care home) tried to self-harm with power tools in the middle of the night. So changes happened very rapidly there. Photography was gone. I was not depressed, overnight it was as though this was no longer of interest, no longer part of who I was . No connection with a camera at all. Strangely it was a year to the day that I simply picked up a camera and continued as though nothing had ever happened. The same drive was back, the same way of looking at the world, same photographic interests, just a continuation of where I left off a year before.
    The second time is similar but different. By the start of 2015 my ME had progressed to a point where my commitment to photography was causing more harm than good. Photography was my coping strategy but wasn't sustainable in terms of stabilising the ME. Then out of the blue my autistic son returned to live with us and this seems to have triggered my return to that earlier 2011 status. It wasn't until a couple of months ago that I started to have brief glimpses I suppose you might say of desire, pleasure I had gained from photography. This time a gradual return. This time I begin in a very different place. Cognitive problems much greater and physically weaker. So although that photographer part of me has returned there are real challenges in terms of actually doing the business. Although I have not really tested myself out yet in the field, processing of old RAW images tells me I have the same interests and express them in the same way.
    I know that trauma/anxiety interact to exacerbate my ME symptoms. Recent research indicates that in ME there is a change in the white matter of the brain which is the information highway where different parts of the brain are connected. There is also growing evidence for inflammatory disease in the brain (not like dementia though-thankfully). So it seems possible that exacerbation of ME in my brain causes temporary loss of the neural connection needed for me to be a photographer but thankfully these function again as the effects of trauma dissipate. Thats my theory anyway!
    So the answer is no , I think. My changes seem to be reversible. So the memories are there but not always accessible unlike brain damage through accident or dementia where they are destroyed.
  21. Very interesting. This: "This time I begin in a very different place," is what makes me curious. I wonder if you feel like you adapt to a relatively stable photography-as-you-know-it, or does your photography adapt to the different you.
    It really is wonderful to hear that abilities and memory remain accessible to you. Thanks, Antony.
  22. I would not say that I quit out right. Unfortunately, life has a way of messing with you. Things happen that may take away your drive. Those my age will get this. I had a period of of about 8 years where I shot nothing. I lost a young son and all my ambitions and drive disappeared. Then, some of us have health issues we have to deal with. Most of the time, it's nothing that will prevent you from pursuing your passion. It just makes it more of an overt effort to get out and shoot... most of the time. It is very difficult to arrange your life in such a way that you never loose focus, never deviate from your chosen path. Unless you take that path alone.

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