Fellow Travelers

| May 8, 2015

In the arching immensity of the night, each tells the story of his life, each offers the other the burden of memories in which the human bond is discovered. –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

With the experiences of the recent Moab Photography Symposium still fresh in my mind, and with my thinking still a little fuzzy as I’m working my way through a bad cold, I returned to a backlog of work and correspondence.  Among the unread messages in my inbox this time, I found a particularly well-considered inquiry about the prospects of earning a living in photography. I receive these every so often and generally find them to fall into one of two categories, prompting very different responses; some are along the lines of “how can I make money taking pictures?,” while others, directly or indirectly, seek to establish whether photography as a profession may lead to a more rewarding and meaningful life. The former I generally refer to those more business savvy than I am, but the latter generally compel me to share something of my own experience, and why I believe that the answer is that it is, indeed, possible, albeit with some caveats.

With some pundits boldly promoting the idea that photography is best practiced as a hobby, I think that a counterbalance may be in order. To be clear, I have no interest in challenging the calculated considerations of potential income, competition, fluctuating business models or the many other pragmatic things that may make art, in any incarnation, seem less desirable as a profession than other means of earning a living. Indeed, if one places a very high value on such things as stability, material comforts, raising a family or similar things considered by some to be indispensable ingredients to a “good” life, I concede that being a professional artist may not necessarily be the right choice. Still, often missing from such simplistic advice is an acknowledgment of the many intangible benefits that ensue for those who do take the road less traveled by.

Much of my writing to date has been about the personal rewards that come from the practice of creative art, from the transformative powers of mindfulness and the pursuit of meaningful experiences, and related topics. Suffice to say that in my experience such things become yet deeper and more profound when practiced professionally, if only by virtue of the fact that the stakes are higher and that one has to evolve and invest even greater personal discipline in order to accomplish them in spite of the added challenges and anxieties of having to earn an income. The mere knowledge that you have it in you to be this person, to have this courage, is as great a gift as any compliment that anyone else may bestow on you. As suggested by Goethe, “This is the highest wisdom that I own: freedom and life are earned by those alone who conquer them each day anew.”

But there is more to it. Setting art and its rewards aside for a moment, there is also the human factor. This may seem curious coming from an introvert and one who greatly values solitude, self-sufficiency and independence of thought, but there is no arguing with proof. With the exception of my wife, the people I met along my journey as an artist are, without exaggeration, my closest friends; the kind of people I will go out of my way to help and overcome my own pride and inhibitions to seek help from. They are the people I turn to when life bears down, not because I can’t hack it without them, but because I do far better with them; and trust me, this is a difficult admission for someone like me. They are the people I look forward to spending time alone with, to engage in deep conversations with, and to share some of my most sacred experiences with.

It is the nature of what we do that it requires prolonged time away from home. One would think that it may not be a big deal for someone who, as a young child, planned his deliberate shipwrecking on the smallest island he could find on a world map, in order to pursue the life of a hermit with just the natural world for company. Those who know me likely also know that the adult version is not very far off in that respect. But, when you are away, without the usual people and inspirations around you, and in the company of fellow travelers you respect and who have made their own courageous choices and understand what it takes; the bond of friendship goes far beyond connections made simply with people you like or share a hobby with, enjoy a beer with or watch the game with or commiserate about work with. It is the nature of this profession and the people drawn to it to be inconsistent. We are professional bipolars. And as the years unravel, you sometimes look back and realize just how much you’ve been through together, how time and again you help prop each other up, and how grateful you are to have such people in your life.

Meaningful relationships, whether friendly, professional or romantic, may ensue out of particular circumstances. But such relationships, deep and powerful as they may become, are almost doomed to be short-lived, because it is the nature of circumstances to change. In order to be long-lasting, relationships must be based on an immutable foundation that is independent of circumstances – one of mutual respect, common personality traits and shared interests. Grounded in such a foundation, a relationship will persist through any circumstances. Sometimes you help the other, and sometimes they help you, and sometimes you find yourself sharing a moment sitting on a rock in the middle of nowhere, sipping tequila and pondering the meaning of life… but I digress.

My point is that certain professions, by their nature, are more conducive to engaging with people in ways that may be difficult or impossible otherwise. And so, when considering a career, and if depth of life and friendships are important enough to you to be worth the sacrifice in material rewards, consider it yet another factor in favor of becoming a professional artist.

Dignity of Light

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Category: All Posts, Featured, Thoughts and Musings

About the Author ()

Guy Tal is an author and photographic artist. He resides in a remote part of Utah, in a high desert region known as the Colorado Plateau—a place that inspired him deeply for much of his life and that continues to feature in his images and writing. In his photographic work, Guy seeks to articulate a reverence for the wild. He writes about, and teaches, the values of living a creative life and finding fulfillment through one’s art.

Comments (4)

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  1. Guy – Your article comes a day after someone shared the following African proverb with me… “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Much tequila could be sipped discussing your article and that proverb.

  2. Dave Benson says:

    a wonderful proverb Peter Carroll… and suggestion that follows too… although I have a glass of red wine as I read the blog and your response…

  3. Chris Kayler says:

    It’s so refreshing to hear a different take on becoming a professional artist. Thanks, Guy.

  4. Steve says:

    As with all things that are experienced deeply between humans a bond is forged in the heat of passion.