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.
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