The most efficient and productive person I have ever known once said to me that he never wants to sit in a rocking chair when he is 90 years old and say “well, I could ‘a”. I thought of him when a dear friend recently gave me an album of John Prine songs and told me it’s probably something I would enjoy. Prine is a balladeer who has written a unique collection of ideological statements and one in particular “Safety Joe” I found particularly compelling. Safety Joe is a character who spent his entire life avoiding even the slightest emotional or physical risk. That got me thinking, Safety Joe could never be a photographer. Virtually every aspect of photography forces you out of your comfort zone. Good image making can be expensive, time consuming and physically demanding and that’s just the start of the list. Photography is a process requiring constant learning and practice and those processes result in frustration and failure as part of the price to improve – hardly a place for Safety Joe.
Safety Joe doesn’t snowshoe up a snow covered cinder cone to catch the last light of the day on White bark pines and then ski down by moonlight but I know a photographer who does.
There are also huge emotional components to photography. Photographers were the original geek squad in school and that label stays with you in adulthood. It takes a healthy ego to overcome the perceived notion that anyone carrying camera gear must be a dork.
Photographers must also have good interpersonal skills. Even the solitary landscape photographer occasionally has to build a rapport with the locals in order to get accurate directions to some magical spot or ask permission from a private landowner to shoot on his/her property. This is a big step out of our comfort zone and one that Safety Joe would never take.
Exhibiting your work whether in a gallery or for competition is also a huge emotional risk. I suspect that most folks prefer the comfortable world of self-delusion to the reality of healthy criticism. Competition takes time, energy and risk which are terms not found in the vocabulary of the Safety Joes of the world.
While in my corporate life, one of the few executives I both respected and called a mentor had a poster hanging on the wall behind his desk. It was a cartoon sketch of a turtle. I try to make the words beneath that image my personal mantra, “Consider the turtle, for he must stick his neck out in order to make progress”.