Last spring I went to see my favorite band in Brussels, Belgium. It was a great experience to see an American band perform in a different continent at a very strange venue with a whole crowd of Europeans. It was easily the best concert I’ve been to, and one of my best experiences while studying abroad.
When I returned to Florence shared my weekend adventure with my photography class, my professor asked, “Did you bring your camera?”
Photographers can’t enjoy anything. We train ourselves to obsess over light and colors, over lines and shapes. We watch from shadows, silent and invisible, tracking like spies with our viewfinders. We think in shutter speed and f-stops, always balancing exposures in our heads, metering too loud to hear ourselves think.
Had I brought my camera to the concert, I would not have felt the bass, the drum beat, the rhythm and the flow of the guitar pulsing through the blue and green lights. I would not have felt the sweat from the wave of strangers all dancing together. I would not have lost my voice from screaming the words I used to sing out my car window on sticky July evenings.
Had I brought my camera, I might have snagged a shot of fog washed in green light, a greasy haired singer open-mouthed behind a microphone, energy in a single moment. I might have gotten that shot, but instead, I got to live it.
The problem with all art is that we make it our single identity. We dedicate our lives to learning the skill, perfecting the craft, and we give ourselves nothing in return. So many photographers live their entire lives loving nothing else besides their cameras.
My problem is not that I hate photography: I hate singularity. I hate being only one thing, having only one identity. Sure, I have spent my fair share of golden hours clicking away at subjects and ignoring the warmth on my skin, the breeze through my hair. I have stealthed through shadows at parties capturing laughter rather than sharing it. I have made sacrifices for my photos, and I have never regretted it. But I also know when it is time to put down the camera and just simply enjoy.
Photography is a language, an art form, and a virus. It has a nasty way of gripping at your core, of washing over you and never letting go. Those chosen ones blessed by the sickness get to see beauty everywhere they go, but they never get the chance to feel it. They are always on the edge of the moments, never in them.
When I talk to so many of my photographer peers, I feel bored. I so rarely hear them talk about hobbies or interests or even friends. Of course I admire their dedication, but so many photographers are cold, unfeeling robots programmed to click and capture.
My favorite photographer is Patrick Joust, a Baltimore-based film-photographer who is a librarian first and a photographer second. Because he splits his time between two professions, because he has multiple identities, because he sees the world as a human first and a photographer second, his work is honest and subtle. It is simple and emotional. Joust knows how to live, not just how to record.
I think of myself as a woman. A bisexual feminist who loves fire and hates dust. I am a poet, a daughter, a sister, a scholar, an artist, a cat-lover, and a coffee-drinker. I am all of these things, and all of these things combine to make me a human who happens to love making photographs.