This has been a long time coming. I need to publicly express how I feel about photography, what it’s meant to me, what it’s done for me and what I owe as a result.
I am going to share some deeply personal things here. I am uncomfortable doing it. You may be uncomfortable reading it. Be forewarned.
It starts simply. I had a horrible childhood. My parents beat me so badly I nearly died. I have always had the idea that death is coming and coming very soon so I have always just lived for the moment. I made bad choices as a kid. I got in lots of trouble and lots fights because my parents taught me that physical pain was a way of communicating. For a long time I knew no other form of communication, but when I was 16 that began to change. Why? Because a man named Jack Russell gave me a Nikon camera. And that was it. I found something. Something I could do and that I loved and that I felt like I could do well. Ever since, I’ve been a photographer. Mr. Russell’s daughter was my first girlfriend and she was my first model. I came to love that camera more than her so we broke up – but her dad let me keep the camera!
I went on to photograph many things and get paid for it. I started in motor sports, then went to wedding and portrait, then to nature and landscape, eventually moving to wildlife and then more refined, birds.
For most of my adult life, photography has given me a good living. I don’t take that for granted and I know how special that is. Many people with better photographic skills than mine, have failed at making a living in photography. So how do you express what you owe to the thing that supports you? To the thing that keeps a roof over your head and food on the table? It’s hard to fathom.
Most people I knew told me I would never make any real money at photography, and they were wrong. I never really thought I would fail. I admit I didn’t expect the level of success I achieved, but I never thought I would fail. That’s one of my secrets. I am too stupid to know I can fail so I just go for it. I let go and do the thing I love come what may. I have always (and still do) approached photography with a “beginner’s mind.”
By surrendering to the idea that I was going to be a professional photographer I have been able to accomplish things that even I never thought were possible. Photography has literally taken me around the world. I’ve been on every continent (yes even the polls.) It’s given me a chance to meet famous Hollywood actors, rock stars, politicians, religious leaders, titans of business, athletes and more.
Whether it’s a chance to hang out with the a Playboy Playmate, the winningest race car driver in history, (Mario Andretti) or Damian Lewis of “Billions”…whether it’s eating lunch with Dr. Eric Schmidt back in the day when he ran MCI or shaking hands with Steve Jobs at the original iMac launch…wether its a Sheik from UAE who wanted me to photograph his bird collection or rock stars who wanted me to photograph their guitars, it’s been an honor and a privilege, and I have loved every minute of it.
I’ve also been able to marry my lifelong passion for avian subjects to my photographic pursuits and this has given me the opportunity to give more than 500 talks on ornithology and bird photography. I’ve had the chance to speak at all the big photographic conventions and in so doing have been able to meet thousands of gifted, thoughtful, and accomplished photographers – many of them who have become my friends. I’ve also given talks to groups of 10 birders. It’s all fun for me, no matter the crowd size.
I’ve written and published around a dozen books because of photography. (I have one more in me – I am working on the last third of my new book on how to photograph guitars.) I’ve given radio and television interviews because of photography. Helped create a TV show. I’ve blogged and podcasted about photography and I’ve had the good fortune to get a chance to teach what I know about photography to literally tens of thousands of people. I’ve written more than 6500 articles on photography and as of today, Nov 2, it will have been 22 years since I first published a photography how-to article on a web site called Photofocus.com, which still publishes to this day thanks to Rich Harrington.
I’ve taught on most of the major streaming platforms like lynda.com. I’ve been an adjunct professor at a university. I’ve given speeches to large crowds at colleges and even gave the last commencement speech at Brooks Institute of Photography.
I’ve received several national and international accreditations and had the high honor of being named an Olympus Visionary. There are only a handful of photographers representing the major brands. It’s something many aspire to and somehow, I was the one chosen. Olympus has helped open doors for me that wouldn’t have opened otherwise and it’s been rewarding on all levels.
All of this has given me something to live for and a sense of purpose. I’ve used my love of photography and the places it has taken me to motivate me to keep working as hard as I can. I’ve had serious health struggles and photography gave me the hope I needed to overcome them. I’ve had the chance to work with the finest, most creative, most talented people on this planet thanks to photography and I am lucky enough to call many of them friends. In other words, photography has been my lifeblood. I’d try to list all my friends here but it would be a very long list and I’d inevitably forget someone. Just know that I didn’t achieve any of this by myself.
Whether it’s the inspiration I’ve received, the friends I’ve made, the photographers I’ve been able to teach, the subjects I’ve photographed (from bald eagles to princes and kings,) it’s been a blast.
So why am I mentioning all this now? Well, for a couple of reasons. One, I just felt it was time to openly state my gratitude and to let everyone know that I do indeed know how lucky I’ve been. Also, next month will be the 50th anniversary of that special day when Jack Russell, an old, shoe-worn, newspaper photographer gave me my first camera. 50 years of telling stories with a camera and trying to as openly and honestly as I am able, share my point of view with the world.
Because I have been at this so long I am going to take a break. Not from photography! (Now watch. I will get emails from people asking why I am giving up photography. Sigh….)
I will be a photographer until my last breath. I will still make images and I will continue to represent Olympus. I will publish when I get paid. I just won’t chase those contracts like I used to.
This blog and podcast will no longer regularly be updated. I have to stop sometime and 22 years of publishing, well I am guessing that I’ve said mostly all I have to say. All that comes 50 years into my career and it seems like as good a time as any to get some rest. I have some other business opportunities I may explore, I’ve been doing some consulting for some startups and I have (thanks to the pandemic) finally found out what it’s like to live without working 60-80 hours a week. Turns out, it’s fun! It’s REALLY fun. I’ve even learned to garden. I never, ever, ever, thought that I would be able to grow a plant without killing it, but this time being homebound has proven to me that you can teach a very old, tired, and worn out dog like me – a new trick or two…
As for this site and the podcast: From time-to-time, I will still publish an article here now and then or maybe even do a quick PictureMethods podcast. I want to do some teaching on Topaz Software. So you will see some of that here and other places. I also have a few things already in the pipeline for late November and will be doing my annual gift guide. Just note that you cannot count on regular updates. If you subscribe to the blog (for free) you can always make sure you know when and if I do decide to publish.
Regardless of how much or how often I decide to update it, I will leave the site up and all the podcast episodes for anyone who cares to read or listen. I will be spending more time with my music and less time worrying about blogging, podcasting and social media. I have to admit that my disdain for social media has had a small part to play in this decision. It’s the most destructive thing on the planet in my opinion and I lived more than half of my life without it or an Internet for that matter and you know what? I did just fine without either, so eventually, I hope to return to that lifestyle, i.e., living in real time – a real life, devoid of emojis, trolls and the utter nonsense that has taken over social media – on all levels.
I long for the days when people who call me a “friend” do so in person, while we break bread or go photograph together or maybe strum a tune together on a guitar.
I won’t completely disappear off social media. Especially if Olympus keeps me as a Visionary and if other business opportunities warrant my continued involvement. I want to be easily accessible for those who need help with their Olympus cameras or with any of the other tools I use. But for everything else, I intend to be scarce on social media – posting once or twice a week instead of daily. Arguing with strangers has lost its allure 🙂 And I have finally realized there’s no point in trying to talk sense into jackasses because, well – I am NOT the jackass whisperer 🙂
By the way, if someone asks me to speak at one of the big photo conventions or a birding symposium (assuming we ever have those again) I will happily oblige. I’ll just say yes a little less often and then they will stop asking so often, and nature will run its course. Everything has an end. It’s the way of things. And it’s actually a very good thing. We’re only given so much time to accomplish that which we are destined to do. If we were immortal, there’s be no urgency to live our best lives right now.
So you may see me on the flight line at Bosque or at the finish line at Indianapolis. I’ll photograph that which interests me and not that which I can sell. I am sure it will be fun. While most of you started photography as a hobby (for fun) it’s always been my job. I haven’t ever done it as a hobby and I very much look forward to taking a new approach…i.e., just concentrating on fun and not on getting paid.
I do have two field workshops scheduled for 2021 that I am really looking forward to leading, but beyond those two workshops, I will only be available for private tours from now on. It’s a young man’s game and I haven’t been a young man in a long time.
I might make an exception to do some live Topaz weekend workshops where we shoot and edit together, but obviously, plans of that sort will wait until we’re clear of the pandemic.
I do plan to stay involved in photography – just in a different way. (Thought I’d say that again because I know someone might read this carefully.)
This isn’t goodbye. This is me acknowledging how incredibly lucky I have been and an expression of my desire to start taking it easy. I keep hearing that someday we’re all supposed to retire. I doubt I’ll ever do that very well. I have failed at retirement many times. And I have avoided getting serious about retirement because when people talk about that I don’t hear retire – I hear expire 🙂
In closing let me say, I have deserved every enemy I’ve ever made in this world, but I did not and do not deserve the friends I’ve made along the way. I want to reiterate that the success I have achieved is in large part, thanks to my friends. Many times I was just riding in the car that they were driving and we all ended up on the road to success.
I hope that if you read this you will see that truly anything is possible. I can absolutely guarantee you with a certainty that if success can happen to me, it can happen to you. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I am the least among you. Seriously. That’s not false modesty. It’s just a fact.
No matter how screwed up the world is today, if you take time to do what I’ve done here, i.e., make a short list of all the good things that have happened to you and all that you have accomplished, it will help you get past this nonsense and on to the next thing and hopefully, with a sense of purpose.
I appreciate those who took the time to read this and as always, I am rooting for you. All of you. And just because I won’t necessarily be active every day on social media or the Picture Methods site doesn’t mean I am not here for you. You can always send me an email: email@example.com and if I can help you, I will. And after the pandemic you’re welcome to come for lunch. Or maybe even write me a letter and send it thru the postal mail. We used to do that and it worked very well. I am going to focus on REAL friends, not social media friends. I advise all of you to do the same.
I’m gonna head on up the road now.
Thank you all.