Dorothy Parker is enshrined in literary apocrypha as saying, after being asked if she liked to write, “No, but I like to have written.” It turns out that, if she ever said it at all, several lesser-known writers beat her to the punch.
Last week I got to thinking about how I’m spending my time. Three things became apparent:
I love programming computers, but, except to the brief ecstatic flush of having the program work after a long struggle (a feeling that a friend once compared to an orgasm), I draw little satisfaction from having written a program. I hate to document code, to the level that it takes me an hour or so to understand the ins and outs of something I wrote a year ago because the documentation is so lousy.
I love to discover new things about cameras and photo gear. I love to run the first test and see how thing turn out. I tolerate running a few more tests. Executing a test protocol that I’ve thoroughly debugged for the 10th time on the off chance that something interesting might result bores me to tears. It’s fun to write up a new discovery in the heat of the moment. It’s a chore to document a project after it’s over. I find many of my interactions with fellow photographers who read my stuff — and almost all those with the folks with whom I collaborate – but the frequently-received Internet attacks on my methods and conclusions are tiresome and often unpleasant.
When I was working in the street or in the landscape, I used to love the capture part of photography. In the studio, messing around with lights offers less satisfaction. I found 90% of my time spent in the darkroom completely uncreative, and something you had to go through to get to do the creative part and get the prints. Now, without the use of two fully-functional legs, I’m not doing landscape or street work (in the modern era, street photography is much more difficult and less satisfying than it used to be anyway), and I’m working increasingly in the studio. The lighting and fiddling part has not become any more enjoyable. I do like the time spent in postproduction far more than the darkroom work in the old days. When the photo is done, just like always, I feel really good about having done the work. You know how sometimes you wake up happy and don’t know why? I do that when I’m in the middle of a photographic project.
My takeaway is that I should spend more time doing the things that bring me long-term satisfaction, and less with the ones that provide mostly evanescent pleasure. No, I’m not going to stop tearing into the technical minutia of photo gear. I’ll still be writing code to simulate, analyze, and test equipment. But I’ll be making time for more real photography.