Photographers: You Have Impact

Douggie, Hantsport, Nova Scotia

RE: Why We Do What We Do (note: I originally wrote this in May, 2017)

In addition to creating photographs of penguins, swirly green particles in northern skies, diamonds, filter-blurred oceans, and random rocks, I take photographs of people. Lots and lots of portraits of people.  

Young people, old people, beautiful people, interesting people, heavy people, black people, awkward people, middle-aged people, sexy people, long-haired people, creative people, sleep people, baby people, boring people, pregnant people, and everything in between.

I’ve gotten paid for many of these photographs of people, but many - if not most -  of the photographs I shoot of people…I don’t.  I just do them.  Photographs, I mean.  Of the people I find interesting.  Because…I have to.

Much of it, I admit, is selfish.  I love the thrill of the chase.  The unknown.  Taking a random face that the universe has aligned to put in front of me, scoping out the surroundings around me, and trying to fit them together.  Like a puzzle.  With a bunch of tiny, impossibly hard pieces like emotion and angles and light and contrast and colour and structure and storytelling. 

I photograph to come up with a photograph.  That seems obvious, but it should be stated.  It’s my purpose.  To come up with an image that impacts me and hopefully impacts others.  If it doesn’t impact me, I don’t have a hope in hell of impacting others. So I shoot until I feel something.  And then repeat.

In the blind self-centred world of a photographer creating for themselves, it’s easy to forget that what we do impacts others.  Of course it does - how could it not?  But that’s often not the primary reason we pick up the camera, as much as we would like to think it is.  We pick up the camera to satisfy the voice in side, primarily, or to try to make a paycheque, or to try to convince ourselves that somewhere and sometime, we might be considered artists.

However - whether we know it, strive for it, or like it…we have impact.  Our photos create reactions in people.  They look at them and they feel either boredom, intrigue, excitement, repulsion, love, and so on.  We’re bombarded by images in our current day with the abundance of social media, but yet…we still love looking at images.  By “we” I don’t just mean photographers.

Once again - it’s easy to forgot in this bombardment, and in our own internal artistic processes (and sometime selfishness) that our images have impact.  If not always on an “audience”, sometimes profoundly on our subjects.

Twice in the last two months I’ve gotten notes from subjects that have surprised me.  And inspired me.  And reminded me why we do what we do.  For they’ve both come from people that (I would have thought) confident.  Two beautiful, strong people.  People that on the exterior have that special look.  Special abilities.  But their notes have reminded me that people aren’t always as strong and confident as their exteriors betray.  I should know better, myself.  My own confidence isn’t nearly what I would have social media project.  But yet I expect others to pick up my own slack.

The first note is from the man in this photo.  Douggie.  I think he said he was 6’ 6”.  Cut.  Built.  Brick shithouse.  Nice.  Good-looking.  Has everything going.  Seemingly.

A note that caught me surprise.  On Facebook.  After a day of portrait modelling for a group of photographers just trying to do better.

I never like how I look in photos.

Like ever.

But you….

I have dealt with self esteem issues all my life... and I actually broke down a bit at the very end in the basement. No one saw it cause it was dark. 

Anyway I'm just proud to see that for once in my life I have self worth, and all the shit I've been going through has come with a positive outcome. 

Thank you so much. You don't even know how much it means to me.

WHAT?  This guy…this guy?  Wow.  But, how?  Yet….it is what it is.  We judge many books by their covers, and their covers don’t always show what’s inside.  Far from “always”.  I would venture to say rarely.  

Another note, about six months earlier.  A few details have been changed for identity protection:

Hey Dave, 

I just wanted to send you a quick note to say thank you! 

You have no idea what working with you has done for me and my self esteem. I was always such a shy and slightly awkward kid and this is something that I've carried with me into adulthood, I didn't grow up with great self-esteem or confidence.

I didn't ever think that I was overly pretty, I was just always 'average'. 

Before meeting *****, I was in a really bad relationship that totally rocked my self image and self esteem, it's taken me a really long time to build this back up (***** has been a huge part of this and has worked wonders with his damaged wife!) but I also thank you for helping me. 

As you and I work together more and more, it gives my self esteem and self image such a huge boost!  I never in a bagillion (yup, that's a word!) years that I would be asked to model for a magazine, then ********* contacted me because one of their designers had seen a shoot that you and I had done, the designer told me that she had wanted to work with me since she saw our first shoot!! 

After our last shoot this past weekend, I was contacted by ***** asking if I would model for the catwalk show...they asked me because they saw the last photos that you took of me. I never would have imagined being asked to do that...ever!! 

Thank you so much Dave, you have no idea how life changing working with you has been for me. I look forward to working with you in the years to come! 

Reading both these notes…well, they made me cry.  Like hide-in-case-someone-sees-me-tears.   

Because I myself forget at time that images have impact (even though I know deep down they do).  I just create.  Because it means something to me.  But again and again and again examples like these spring up….and they always manage to surprise me, even though they shouldn’t.

Because we, as photographers, have impact.

Repeat that.

Aloud.

Because we, as photographers, have impact.

It’s up to us to follow the path of inspiration that each of us feel, individually.  And we’re all drawn to different things.  But the next time you’re feeling down about yourself, your images, your path….

Remember that.

We, as photographers, have impact.

Whether it’s a photograph that makes someone feel good about themselves, a beautiful image of a far-off mountaintop that gives someone hope, or a photograph of a moment in time that can’t ever possibly be replicated (but somehow you, as a photographer, have captured)….

You have impact.