Existentialism in Black and White


Northport, Alabama

Sometimes I am still a writer. Sometimes I post a photograph not because it is technically outstanding but because it contains a story I want to tell. This is one of those times.

In the past 11 days, I have covered 18 assignments for five clients, capturing a total of 1,300 images. Out of those 1,300 frames, none have been particularly noteworthy. They have fulfilled their purpose, but that is all. There were none that made my heart beat faster, none that said “This is the one,” none that I felt particularly compelled to post here. My original intent with this site was not so much to be a showcase of my best work, but a reason to shoot each day, one place in the world where I could be myself, have a little fun, and let go of some of the perfectionism that plagues me in my daily shooting. That worked well for a while, but lately I feel stressed when trying to choose a photo. Nothing seems good enough. I feel compelled to produce something brilliant every day, and so often I feel like I miss my mark. It’s not because of you guys, you all are the best. It’s something inside of me, something that says I will never be good enough, never be smart enough, never be strong enough to make it.

Sometimes the nights are too long and no matter how much I work there are still too many hours in the day. I write and I write, trying to find myself. I look in the mirror and wonder if I still exist. Sometimes I feel like I am walking in a fog and I wonder if I am still alive. Sometimes the only thing that tells me I was here today is the six-point credit line that will appear in the newspaper tomorrow.

Saturday began with an ordinary assignment, a clean-up day at a local elementary school. I have covered so many of these that I have run out of new ways to shoot people painting classrooms, planting flowers, scrubbing floors. But as I walked down the hallway to leave, I was reminded that while it may be routine for me, it is always the first time for someone else. Just as that six-point credit line tells me my life has meaning, that photo tells them that they were someone, even if for only a 30th of a second. The newspaper clipping above was from Dec. 8, 2004. Another ordinary assignment in an ordinary day, but it meant something to someone, enough that they took the time to cut it out and tape it to the door outside a classroom. As I walked farther down the hallway, I saw more of my work adorning the walls — ink-smudged photographs, yellowed articles written when I was still an editor — it was all there. A timeline of my coverage of that school. The people of this community do not care whether I am a top-shelf wire service photographer or a mediocre freelancer shooting for the local daily. They hug me anyway, thank me for coming to their events, fawn over me whether I deserve it or not.

Sometimes I have a hard time accepting that. I feel a great responsibility to do more, to give more, to be more. But every once in a while, something reminds me that maybe I am doing what I am supposed to be doing; maybe all I have to give is all that is needed; maybe my life has some meaning beyond the narrow parameters of a six-point credit line in a black and white world. Long after I am gone, these words and images will be all that remain. I hope that at least one person walks away from my work feeling like they truly know me, like they have been entrusted with a piece of my soul. If I can infuse my words and images with my life’s blood, breathe my spirit into the dry letters and pixels, then I will have accomplished my goal.

Music of the day: Rain City by Turin Brakes

Trouble Sleeping by The Perishers

Dice by Finley Quaye and William Orbit

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