I am a Photographer

 

My name is Mark Olwick, and I’m a photographer.

You have no idea how long it took me to say that with a straight face and full of confidence.

What does that statement mean?  I can tell you what it’s not:

  • It certainly doesn’t mean that “I’ve arrived” and can now rest on my laurels. 
  • It doesn’t mean that I can support myself solely by my photography (yet). 
  • It doesn’t mean that I’m anywhere near as good as Michael Kenna, Nick Brandt, Keith Carter or any of the other living-greats. 
  • It has absolutely nothing to do with the whole “what is a pro vs. amateur” debate (which I consider ridiculous and pedantic). 
  • It has nothing to do with some quality scale as judged by other people.
  • It isn’t someone who thinks “Hey, I’ve got a DSLR, maybe I can make some money at this”.
  • It’s not just something I do for fun (that’s a hobby).
  • It’s not a fad or a sprint.  As Sam Abell said, it’s a marathon.
  • And it certainly has nothing to do with the type or quantity of gear you have.  Gear is merely a means to an end – a tool.

 

So what does it mean?  It’s simply means that it’s who I am.

That’s different than what I need to do to support myself.

It means that there’s no way that photography could not be part of my life – and still be called a life (as I define it).  It means that it’s my passion, the thing that makes me happy, that somehow enables or enhances the other passions of my life:  travel, friendship, love, family.

How do you know when you’re a photographer?  I wish I could tell you.  Honestly, it just occurred to me one day.  My reaction was a mixture of happiness and laughter – the sudden realization that I’d found my bliss (as Joseph Campbell spoke about in Pathways to Bliss).  I do know that it’s not something that anyone else can tell you and that how you define it is entirely up to you. 

I’ve shared my definition above and a couple of Greats share their definition in the quotes below.  I’d love to hear how others define it, so please share your thoughts in the comments.

ttyl,

Mark

And if a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it’s as though I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible. – Richard Avedon

And that desire–the strong desire to take pictures–is important. It borders on a need, based on a habit: the habit of seeing. Whether working or not, photographers are looking, seeing, and thinking about what they see, a habit that is both a pleasure and a problem, for we seldom capture in a single photograph the full expression of what we see and feel. It is the hope that we might express ourselves fully–and the evidence that other photographers have done so–that keep us taking pictures. – Sam Abell

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24 comments

  1. Hi Mark
    I enjoyed reading this post – and agree with the statement about a passion and the fact that it feed my passions in the rest of my life. It allows me to make a contribution, see better and express myself I never dreamed of before.

    My husband and I were just in Montreal and stayed around the corner from Notre Dame so I can really appreciate this and your other Holga photos
    maureen

  2. well said mark. For me being a photographer is my real work. When I do photography, I flirt with eternity as time stands still and I am like a child, fully aware, awake, and alive creating. It has begin to feel for me like the Richard Avedon quote. Thanks for posting this. Again, well said.

  3. Very well put. I’m still trying to say it with a straight face. Some days are better than others. I don’t rightly know what the delineation is. We live in a society that puts so much emphasis on what you do. You meet someone at a party or at the park and after saying one’s name, one usually says “What do you do?” as if that is what then defines them.

    But does it? Most likely not….

  4. “You have no idea how long it took me to say that with a straight face and full of confidence.”

    Oh yes I do! I can’t say it with confidence or a straight face yet. Great post!

  5. Very good!
    I know exactly what you mean, I went through all kinds stages of not being able to say it or feeling guilty or misleading when I did say it. Somehow I thought someone of great stature was going to have to officially give me the go ahead to call myself “a photographer” Now more than ever, it is what I do and who I am.

  6. Well said Mark,

    Often the hardest thing to do in life is accept who we are as artists – especially if it’s something that society considers frivolous or not sensible. Once you can admit it to yourself without fear or care about what others might think you know you’re on the right path.

  7. Thanks for your words, Mark. The day I realised I was a photographer was the day that the thought of not being able to take another photograph ever again literally set my pulse racing and I actually started to grieve the thought!

  8. Mark, you have put into words what I have felt for many years now. I gave up the dream of become a working photographer years ago because I was told it would never pay. Instead, I foolishly followed the advice of others… I went to school, got into massive debt, and graduated to unemployment. To pass the time, I rekindled my passion. I rememeber the exact moment, while sitting in a field, taking photographs of a summer sunset, I thought to myself this is what I always wanted to do. I told my wife I was going to hit the ground running with this and learn everything I could about being a working photographer.

    I haven’t arrived yet either, but as the saying goes: “the journey isn’t about the destination.”

    Thanks for sharing Mark

  9. Great post. When I am not making a living at my day job, I put on my photographer hat and become immersed in photography. Reading books, blogs, watching videos, searching locations, and shooting. Though I don’t make any money at photography, I pretend that I am living a photographers life during my non-vocational hours.

  10. Love your post. It expresses a lot of my own thoughts regarding the day I rewrote my “about” page last year and actually called myself a “photographer” in writing for the first time. In the last year, I’ve been surprised most by how much my own attitude towards my photography has changed with that one simple word change.

  11. Mark, I love this post. The things you say really resonate with me. My definition of photography is sharing my minds eye with others. I see things the way that my mind sees them, which is not necessarily the way we literally see things with our eyes. I am drawn to traditional mediums such as film, vintage optics and historic processes such as wetplate, dryplate, paper negatives, POP prints, etc. because it is how I see. In regards to how photography relates to my version of life, it is what drives me to exist and share. I can’t imagine a day when I am not pursuing a new project. Photography is the one thing that brings total peace to my soul and I lose all track of time and boundaries.

    Tim

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