As I start to write this, I have no clue what the title will be or how long this will be. But isn’t that true of almost everything I write? The title is the last thing to be written and I write until I am done. One thing I do know is the subject of this article. Photography. No, this is not going to be a technical manual. It is not going to be a how-to guide. This article is going to be deeply personal, for that is the only way I know how to write. For those of you who don’t want to read the whole article, I will put a TL;DR at the end.
Any of you who know me and have been following me on the different forms of social media over the years will know that I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have never been scared to reveal little bits of myself through my writing. I have never shied away from sharing the different paths I, along with my family, have been on. Cancer, depression...those are two of the longer paths. What does this have to do with photography? Hopefully that will become more clear as I write and you read.
Roughly 6 months ago (that would have been the summer of 2019), I took a step into the world of fashion photography. Along with that came editorial photography, lifestyle photography and a bunch of other sub-genres that I am probably forgetting. What these all have in common is people. I started to take photographs of people. Specifically, I started having photoshoots with models. As of this writing, I have only shot female models but my first male model photoshoot is tomorrow.
As I got into this genre of photography, I discovered that I had some talent. Maybe not much, but it was there. I also unlocked a passion for something of which I have never felt before with any hobby I have tried. Talent and passion...what could possibly go wrong? So through different methodologies I studied to improve my craft. Composition, lighting, camera settings...you name it, I studied it. I learned from a lot of different people, models and photographers alike. And continued all the way up until this very day. I am just as passionate about it today as I was 6 months ago. Maybe even more so.
Photoshoot after photoshoot, I created art. Along with the models I worked with, I created something magical for both them and myself. Not every picture was as good as I wanted, but I learned from the mistakes more than I learned from the successes. We created art. The whole process was an adrenaline rush. From coming up with a concept, to finding a model, to planning the shoot and all that it entails, to post production...what a rush. I felt so alive. I dare say that the past 6 months have transformed me into who I really am, who I want to be. I want to be happy, positive. I want to use the talents God has given me and celebrate the beauty he created. My brain has a creative side to it, and this was an amazing way to use that creativity and keep my brain healthy.
Two days ago, I made the decision to walk away from it all.
WHAT? But...you just said all this stuff. It was positive…and, well, positive! .I can hear you all saying this and asking me Why?
What I discovered over the past few days is that it is seemingly impossible for a Christian to work in this field. It is seemingly futile for a Christian to take pictures of models. I have run into what seems to be an insurmountable hill. Please, do read on.
(Disclaimer: I am NOT pointing fingers. I do not blame anyone for anything.)
People have opinions. Beliefs. Convictions. And I will always respect those, especially when they are different than mine. When I started into this world of photography, I set boundaries. Personal boundaries that I would not cross. I know what I am comfortable shooting, I know what I am comfortable sharing, and I will never be ashamed of the work I did. Never. I have nothing to apologize for, no one to apologize to. I will defend my work until my dying breath.
There is always a but. But how can I continue to shoot if I have to constantly look over my shoulder, wondering who is going to be offended by my work? How can I work within my own comfort zone while also trying to fit everyone else’s in? How can I create my art when I have to wonder who is going to judge and condemn? Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand that my work is not for everybody. Many will not like the pictures I take. And that is fine. All art forms are subjective. I personally loved the banana duct taped to the wall. Brilliant!! One definition of ‘subjective’ is placing excessive emphasis on one’s own moods, attitudes, opinions, etc. There are no facts, only beliefs and opinions.
Let’s be perfectly clear: I do not care if you like my work or not. That is your right, and I respect that 100%.
Let’s be perfectly clear once again: Just because you do not like my work, does not make it wrong. Read that again.
As I said, I set my boundaries of what I would and wouldn’t shoot. My criteria for these boundaries was based on my personal belief system, and what I think is acceptable in my life as a Christian. That is fair, is it not? I thought so, until it was pointed out to me that I cannot do something. I have been told on different occasions (not many, but still…) that I cannot take pictures of women. I cannot take ‘sexy’ pictures of women. I cannot take pictures of ‘sexy’ women. So I’m confused. Can I only take pictures of the ugly ones? That seems harsh and judgy. Who determines beauty? You? Me? Interesting. Or is the point that I cannot take pictures of women (or men I suppose) in certain clothing? How much skin can be seen? Knees down, elbows down and neck up? Who determines this? And is it different for male models than for female models?
My point is that we all have different boundaries, different comfort levels. I agree that, as a Christian, there are certain boundaries I cannot cross. I am sure we would even agree on some of those boundaries. But I ask you this, dear reader: who draws that line between right and wrong? I struggle with this. Christians will say to use the Bible as our moral compass. And I agree with that 100%. And I have no problem whatsoever defending my work according to that compass. Others will have no problem condemning my work according to that compass. Do you see where my dilemma is? Who is right? Who gets to decide if my work is right or wrong?
Let me ask another question: who is the decision maker as to what clothing is appropriate for a model to wear, and what is inappropriate? Or better yet...who decides what is appropriate for me to shoot and share? After all, the model may be comfortable in something others would condemn as being not modest enough. I may be comfortable shooting it and sharing it. But you may be uncomfortable looking at it. Who decides if what I did was wrong? Your level of uncomfortability? My comfort level? This is tough, isn’t it? After all, none of us are the judge. We don’t sit on the jury. And we certainly don’t fill the role of executioner.
Dear reader, this is why I have walked away from photography. There are too many dilemmas that make it impossible for me to continue. For I cannot be me, I cannot use my creativity to create my art if I have to be held to someone else’s moral compass. It has been suggested to me that I start over under a pseudonym and not share my work. I suppose I could, and I have not totally discounted it. But to me it seems I would be hiding what I do. This is a personal struggle I have to work out.
So this is my heart on my sleeve. I am heartbroken that I have to walk away from something that has done me so much good mentally. I could write a lot more about my mental health and all of that, but I won’t. If I can find a way to come back to the work I was doing, I will. But it will be on my terms, and nobody else’s (aside from my wife). Right now, I do not see a way of coming back. Maybe that will change. I told my wife during one of our many discussions on this that IF I do come back, the only people who will know are those I choose. And I will have to be extremely picky. I will need to protect myself from another heartbreak. I don’t want to have to go through this again. I do not expect you to understand. A few people have seen what effect this has had on me. I don’t think they like what they see. And frankly, neither do I.
TL;DR Stepping away from photography because I can’t work when I have to be confined to moral compasses that are not my own.