Thursday, January 04, 2007

Life is a journey, not a destination

The only constant is change.

I have been taking photographs for over twenty years now. For the first decade and more it was just a hobby. Something that I did on holiday trips. Then I accidentally became a professional photographer. And it slowly became a consuming passion. After twenty years I finally feel that I am creating photographs that I can truly be proud of, but it is just the beginning. No sooner have I reached a certain level than am I searching for the path to the next one.

The other day Eadwine seemed kind of jaded. The journey seems like a long an arduous one. But this is the truth of the matter, even if we are drawn to photography, or some other activity, it does not mean that we do not have to work hard or that all obstacles to our growth would miraculously fade away. The endeavour of a top photographer is no different from that of a top sportsman, musician or even businessman. The dominance of Tiger Woods in golf is awe-inspiring. But it is his example of humility and constant strife that is so important to the rest of us. The BBC and the United Kingdom are stunned by the utter defeat of their cricket team by the Australians in the ashes tournament. The English team won the last ashes and were praised, but commentators wonder if they became complacent. Tiger Woods will not rest on his laurels. That is what makes him so frightening. Even at the top of golf game, he is aware of the weaknesses of his game, and he is working on it.

My photographic heroes include Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Paul Elledge and Albert Watson. Every one of them are hard working people, even workaholics. They are all known in their lifetimes, but none of them stopped working on their photography. Avedon, after a successful career as a fashion photographer, went on to shoot amazing portraits of normal American people. When I was interning in Chicago, I was awed by Paul's achievements as a photographer. I first picked up a camera when I was eighteen and became a professional six years ago. Paul's Grandfather and father were enthusiastic photographers. Paul has been around cameras since he was young and he has decades of experience. When we were metering for portraits in Chicago, Paul was concerned over 0.1 of a stop of exposure. I cannot see the difference in anything till there is 0.3 of a stop of a difference, but Paul said that he can see 0.1 of a stop and it does make a difference. I concluded that I am still at the beginning of my photographic journey.

In a small way, I have already made my mark in photographing the arts scene in Singapore and in the wedding photography market. But that is not what drives me. It is a continuous journey of refining my vision and the skills to create the vision. Last year I interned for Paul Elledge, this year I will taking workshops in Tuscany with photographers like Antonin Kratchovil and Andreas Bitesnich. I am learning all the time. There are no longer any leaps in my photography, that happens only in the beginning. As you get better, it takes more effort to continue to improve and get to the next level. I think that to keep improving and pushing myself, I need to stay hungry. I was financially stable in the wedding line, but I am taking a gamble in the commercial world. I want to be able to earn enough money to maintain my studio and still have time to work on my personal photography. But I could just have thrown my career out the window.

There are small celebrations when I reach new levels, but they are short lived. I know that I have some skill, but I am always humbled by the multitude of talented photographers before me and working today. The photographs are a by-product of a well lived life. Life is a journey, not a destination.

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