I like taking photos … and writing
Billy Joel was once on Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton and dropped this great phrase on songwriting: I don’t like writing. I like having written.
Often, I can identify with that. When the words are on the page, have flow, make sense, and illuminate a subject, I am supremely happy. When I am staring at that blinking cursor, going to get my fifth cup of coffee and calling it thinking, navigating through a few details to find a space for creative freedom, putting my shoulder up against my profession’s infamous block … I am not always the best of company.
Don’t get me wrong. I adore writing and being a writer. I read writers I admire for inspiration to move my own prose to the proverbial next level, thrill at the prospect of penning a big piece, and I can get giddy bringing a phrase into a turn.
But since seriously picking up a camera again a few years ago, I have made an important discovery: I love taking pictures. Yes, I am privileged to have a forum where my work appears in the Lexington Herald-Leader and LexGo.com, and it is fun to see my work there alongside shooters I deeply admire. But I enjoy everything from selecting the proper lens and ISO to refining those measurements by looking in the LCD screen and working through the process to find an image that is satisfying to me and hopefully a viewer. I love reading about and looking at the work of favorite shooters, from national figures like Joe McNally and Todd Owyoung to local artists such as Andrew Kung and Matt Goins to see how their style can inform my craft.
In 20 years as an arts journalist, I have learned there are product people, who take their greatest satisfaction in what they ultimately produce, and process people, who delight in the steps it takes to create that product. Recently, I have learned there is a little of both in me when it comes to writing and photography.
I really discovered this over the early summer in a few days off the clock. In late June, I went to Washington D.C. as one of four chaperons on a middle school mission trip with my church. Later, I went to my wife’s home in rural Georgia for the Fourth of July Weekend.
Of course, my camera accompanied me, and in short order, I was sucked into trying to visually tell stories – stories like the speed with which our kids were preparing meals for D.C.’s less fortunate or my brother in-laws’ competitiveness at horse shoes. Shutter speeds, angles, lighting, the unique quality of Metro station illumination and the unique character of my son all came in to play. Viva le process!
But in D.C., I made another illuminating discovery. Our youth pastor made a mere mention of a trip blog at a rest stop. Before we were out of the parking lot, I was on WordPress setting it up, and in subsequent days I was contemplating how to tell the story of this trip. How do I both use the tools 20 years of journalism have given me, and enjoy the freedom from some of those constraints too? While photography has been my new flame, I found a I still carry a torch for my old beau, écriture. It was fun telling parents of kids on the trip – who the blog was primarily aimed at – everything from the stories of the groups we were working with to hilarious moments like the story a few kids desperate for a bathroom break after went spent some time in stalled traffic on the interstate.
I didn’t blog the trip to Georgia – that would have extremely limited appeal. But watching Uncle Jim and Uncle Mack – two of my three older brothers-in-law, so just think about the intimidation of that first dinner with the family – I could definitely imagine how to describe it while trying to get a perfect camera angle that left me with several ant bites on my leg.
Years ago, I was persuaded I needed to choose between writing or photography, that both couldn’t be done well. Today, I am not so sure. Certainly, there are moments you must pick one or the other – time simply does not allow for both in some situations. But I have also covered plenty of people who do more than one thing well. Right now, I enjoy exploring whether I am one of those people.