It happened in the middle of my rental home kitchen last year. The moment I became a photographer. I mean, I’d taken photos for the last 5 years, nonstop, every day. I’d taken classes and been on photowalks to learn the ropes. I’d watched every tutorial on youtube under the search “how to shoot in manual mode”. I’d even licensed some photos to Getty Images and was making some pocket change every month. Photography wasn’t just something I did, it became how I saw the world..real truth. Not the fake shit everyone pretends or wishes was real. You can’t hide anything in a photo. The look in the eye, the mess on the floor, the people who are there, the unkempt hair, the place where you stand…it’s all there. A blur of shifting moments, light, connection, pattern, emotion, and truth.
I think that is what hooked me on photography. But taking pictures and calling yourself a photographer are two different things, and I hesitated to make that leap on account of being self conscious about not being classically schooly trained in the fine art of photography. So it remained something that I thought of as a somewhat obsessive hobby. I took pictures not to sell pictures, but to get to the truth of the matter. I took pictures to share with other people what I saw…because usually it was something subtle that they’d missed. I took pictures because if I put my camera away for even 10 minutes, my fingers would get antsy and my mind would get obnoxious with the thought, “There’s your shot. Take the shot! That’s the shot right there! FOR GODSAKES PICK UP YOUR CAMERA AND GET THE SHOT!”
And then, there I was, standing in the middle of the kitchen with my kids throwing eggs at me. It was for a photo idea that I’d been kicking around in my head ever since reading the quote “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs!” At that point in my life I had an imploded marriage, changing friendships, discarded religion, and traumatized kids; and the imagery of broken eggs wouldn’t leave my mental space. The only way to make it go away was to capture it for real…that’s just how my mind works. In my year of letting go and breaking down, I turned my camera on myself. I was having to find my own truth, and the only real way I knew how to do that was to photograph it.
So I gave my two daughters a dozen eggs each and told them to throw ’em at me and at the kitchen cabinets while I took pictures using my remote setting. My son was in the other room skyping with a friend. “What’s going on over there? It sounds crazy!” his friend asked. My son responded with, “oh, nothing. They’re just throwing eggs around the kitchen.” After a pause, his friend asked, “Why?! That doesn’t make any sense!” And my son said 6 words that changed everything.
“Because my mom is a photographer.”
I’d never ever call myself that. But when he said it, everything clicked into place. I’m not a photographer because I only use film instead of digital (I don’t). Or because I am a technical genius with my DSLR (I’m not). Or because I have clients calling me every day (nope!). Or because I charge a bijillion dollars for an hour of my time (ha! not!).
I am a photographer because the only other option is to be a crazy lady. A crazy lady obsessed with trashing her kitchen.
“Hey kids, throw eggs at the cupboards for me! Why? Because I’m a photographer! It’s what I do!” sounds so much better than “We gonna throw eggs all up in this house! Why? Because the voices in my head told me to!”
“Hey, oldest daughter, I’m going to need your help pouring gravy on me once I get myself into this oven. Why? Because I’m a photographer! It’s what I do!” is much less of an express ticket for her to go right to a therapist than “honey, will you put some extra gravy on my back, I’m stuck in the oven. Why? Cuz I’m a crazy mo fo, fo sho!”
When my youngest daughter walks in and I’ve emptied the contents of the freezer onto the ground so I can fit inside, and then she observes, “Mom, I don’t think freezers are for people…” it’s more comforting to say “Photographers look at things in a different way. It’s what we do!” than it is to say, “I know honey, but mama’s having a little mental breakdown over the state of her frozen emotions that are now thawing out so why don’t you eat some of this nicely chilled out pizza and when mama is done and all dried off and dressed, I’ll join you for lunch!”
My goal is to find a locally owned record store or coffee shop somewhere that will put up a few of the better photos from my series I will call “self portraits: divorce edition!” for a day or two until the locals are sufficiently freaked out and the images are taken down. Just long enough for me to take my kids and say, “See! A gallery show! This is what I was working so hard for! Doesn’t it make perfect sense?!” Then the next time I crawl into a metal bin and they tell me that normal people don’t do stuff like that, I’ll remind them of my gallery show and say “I’m not normal. I’m a photographer!”
It’s sad that in our society you can’t just be spectacularly unique and own that shit, instead you have to justify it by getting a respectable income for it and/or the accolades of lots of other people. Usually I rage against such restrictive societal norms. But, my kids are involved in this, and so I’ll do what it takes to play by the rules if it means they won’t have to come up with a sensible explanation to their friends about why the kitchen is covered in spaghetti sauce other than “because my mom is a photographer.” Therapy bills averted all the way around! At least in the short term!
Since my son claimed the title for me, I’ve found that the experiences followed. When I saw myself as a photographer, other people did too. I have freelanced my way all around a bunch of different countries, being paid to use my camera to capture my vision.
I am photographer! Hear me roar/scream/throw food around/wrap myself in bubble wrap!
Do you have anything in your life that you find cathartic and enjoyable? Do you work at it and make it a part of what you “do”?