I once heard the performance artist Laurie Anderson say that there are really only two important questions: are things getting better or are they getting worse? (though I guess that's just one question).
And that got me thinking about whether or not I've gotten better or worse as a photographer. And I think I have an answer for that.
I started out shooting very young (did a LOT of photography in high school and college as a stringer for various local papers and my college paper) and from there was overseas as a photojournalist. Frankly, the combination of stupidity and feeling bulletproof, I'm so lucky I wasn't killed or maimed with the overseas work. But then, any of you who've been in combat know how much of that (who lives, who dies) is pure random chance. I was nowhere near as good as many of the other camera jocks and "bao chi" of my generation who were running around but I was decent enough of it to make a living until it was time to settle down and get married and have a family.
As I look at myself now as a photographer, I'd conclude a couple of things:
--my eyesight isn't nearly as good and my reactions aren't as quick.
--I'm much more of a decent human being now, and that probably holds me back in some ways as a photographer. I'm not as quick to grab a camera and go stick in in someone's face or do whatever is necessary to get "the shot."
--as a photojournalist, I'd be willing to promise just about anything to get cooperation and now, if a model is leery or unsure, I don't push it so I'm nowhere near as manipulative as I had to be as a working professional.
--I absolutely know that there are things I shot decades ago where now I don't have the stomach or the cynicism for it today. I'm simply much more human.
--Now days, I don't practice my craft and spend every living second of every day thinking about what picture I'm going to take or sacrificing everything in order to get good pictures. I remember once when I was much younger being invited to a party and I of course took my cameras. To me the only purpose of the party was an opportunity to take pictures. The woman who'd invited me asked at the end "well, how did you like the party?" and my response was "great--I think I got at least 6-8 killer shots here." No conversations or meeting people other than in the context of a picture.
--And with age comes some appreciation. I think back to a bunch of shooters who were mentors, lots of models who have graced me with their presence and talent, bullets I dodged (literally and figuratively) and allowed me to make to where I am today.
So I'm not nearly as obsessed and focused with photography. I've gotten rusty in some ways. But I'm much more human and less of jerk--which I would hope models find easier to deal with. So I guess that means I'm not as good of a photographer as I once was. But I"m okay with that because I think I'm a better person.
One other chain of thought: photographically I'm in the midst of a transition. A number of models I've done a lot of shooting with appear to be hanging up their careers. They've either stopped modeling or they're slowing up and moving on to other things. For some of them, I'm happy--glad to see her finishing school or deciding to have a child. But it seems like a lot of models all at once. At least 4 of them are in my portfolio and have decided to hang it up in the past 3 months. I've been fortunate to have worked with a lot of very talented ladies and I'll miss them all.