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by S

What turns avocation into aversion? How did my trusty D40 morph from feather-light to too-heavy-to-handle? Where did my four-year passion for photography go?

For months I was in denial. I even succumbed to the lust-for-gear trap that seduces so many amateurs. The D40ís agreeable mount made it so easy. Now I have a score of vintage lenses, won in bidding wars on FM and eBay. Idle, they glare at me from the shelf.

Used to be that I went out shooting five or six days a week. Iíd set myself the task of capturing the easy-to-overlook treasures of my Midwestern village. Itís all there to see on my Pbase galleries: county fairs, village festivals, antique car shows, playgrounds, shop windows and an abiding fondness for the local petting zoo. People, structures, vehicles, flora, faunaÖeven a kinky fondness for gas meters and electric installations.

As well as a fascination for table-top shooting. I loved the way household objects, drawing models, cut flowers and fruits could be arranged into meaningful scenarios. Chicken feet gave me endless hours of fun as I dabbled in the grotesque.

Hereís the downhill sequence, as well as I can remember it. I had been a great photo fan, regularly visiting the photo galleries of online friends. I looked closely at their pictures and composed careful commentaries. Then, about a year ago, stopped wanting to see other peopleís work. My delight in their accomplishments dwindled, and it became prohibitively difficult to find things to say. One by one, I stopped visiting my faithful forum haunts. At the same time I was drawn to get a better macro lens, a telephoto with longer reach. Hours on gear sites replace the time I had spent looking a photos---and taking them. Eventually I amassed all the lenses I could reasonably afford. But I had lost the appetite to use them.

When I started with digital photography, it was without excessive expectations. I was thrilled to be learning a new way of seeing things, greater appreciation of space, light, form, and movement. In the beginning there was minimal frustration because it was easy to improve. As time went by, improvement increments narrowed sharply, and frustration did creep in. Going from automatic settings to the greater demands of manual lenses was an added chore. Ultimately, taking pictures became work instead of fun. I had lost touch with all but a very few photo buddies. It was difficult to try to explain my loss of motivation, so I let myself disappear from the scene. Now itís just a study in avoidance.

So. Can the flame be rekindled? Is the passion extinguished, or only dormant? Am I at last a serial hobbyist, without what it takes to get beyond advanced beginner-dom? I would love to regain that lust for creating images. Unfortunately, the tipping point eludes me.



S. has lost The Way, but there are no easy answers. There was one self-declaration made by S. that sheds some light on part of the problem and hints at least at some minimal self-awareness of the problem:

".....I even succumbed to the lust-for-gear trap that seduces so many amateurs...."

While this does not address the lack of motivation issue, this does enlighten as to how driving off on a tangential side road can and does divert a developing photographer from the main highway that leads to ultimate satisfaction as an artistic photographer. Obsessing about gear sidelines many, and you see this everyday in the photography forums that dot the internet landscape. On those forums, there is a dearth of aesthetic value, while a premium is placed on gear consumerism. Consumerism as an end to itself, stoked by the peer pressure of other consumers on these forums, leads photographers astray as they strive to make something significant regarding their art.

In advice I would offer to S. I would point to my own approach, which has always made me an anomaly among those at photography forums. I would point out that my street photography has been pared down to the bare essence of what an artist needs to produce meaningful art. I use but one camera back---an old generation Nikon D1x digital body, along with one lens that suits my needs perfectly---a 32 year old 20mm Nikon lens. I would suggest to S. that this approach leaves analogously, one single brush and a palette with but a limited number of paint colors. Analogously, this limitation of equipment forces the artist to concentrate on developing one's choice of favorite subject matter, and subsquently, the development of one's aesthetic vision within that subject sphere. I can't stress the importance of getting away from gear obsession if one is driven to attain true gratification.

Something else S. struck me as important:
"....Ultimately, taking pictures became work instead of fun...." To this, allow me to point to my experience as a martial arts teacher. For every fifty students who walked through the doors of my dojo to study with me, perhaps one stayed. Those other 49 stated that it wasn't "fun." I just told the truth to be accepted by whomever was willing to do so.....

"Real training isn't fun, it's work."

Striving to become good at anything in life isn't fun in the usual sense. The "fun" results from a deep satisfaction after toiling to develop in whatever endeavor one is performing. One must persevere to become good, and only then will true satisfaction result. True training is not fun. The recognition of this truth and the acceptance of it in a photographer's life, forces the photographer to change the perception of the endeavor from the fun-filled "hobby" to something more substantial. Once the photographer sees that endeavor as an "art" and not merely an "avocation", half the battle is won mentally. Seeing one's photographic art seriously, grows one's aesthetic ego---which allows further and better production.

Gear obsession is destructive in two ways. First, it produces a temporary but shallow emotional sugar-like high that replaces the gratification one would receive from real aesthetic achievement. Let's face it. Most of us do things in life to find happiness. Finding short-term happiness in a shiny new lens is just that: short-term. Having some easy cash around to buy more diversified equipment offers an easy fix for happiness, but it is deceptive in the end. Instead of fostering more capability, it actually results in less capability, because it does not force the artistic photographer to strive toward obtaining and developing the most important tool of all: Aesthetic sense. Secondly, gear obsession is dangerous because in the peer-pressure fueled consumerism of the internet, this end in itself of buying new equipment in the pursuit of happiness, ultimately blunts any drive that srives toward excellence in photographic composition. My advice to S. is to choose but one camera and lens combination, and challenge herself to make this work in whatever photographic genre appeals to her. Concentrate on your artistic mind, not the equipment, for the gear is just an extension of your mind. I believe that S. is asking the wrong question by asking herself if the flame can be rekindled. I feel that she needs to ask herself if she can stop seeing her photography as a hobby for fun, and if she can continue to take pictures in spite of the lack of fun in her photography. Can she perceive it as something she must do, to add meaning in her life? That is the critical question.