“Is that a film camera?”
That’s how it started, asked as I was taking a photo of a gentleman walking down the street by Pike Place Market.
“Sort of”, I replied, showing him the photo that I just took on the back of the camera. “It’s the Fujifilm X-Pro2. It’s all digital, but it has the soul of a film camera.”
“Nice pic, that looks just like Acros film”.
“It is”, I replied with a smile.
His name is Steve. He is in his sixties and shoots street photography with a film Leica camera, in full manual of course. I told him he looked just like the actor Sam Elliott. He told me he got that a lot. He had a hilarious mix of dry sarcasm and “crankiness”, but clearly was a man with decades of experience looking through a viewfinder.
We talked for about 20 minutes, during which he said so many pearls about photography and life that I can’t remember them all. He spoke a lot about the “young kids” who are out shooting today and how they complicate photography. There was a bit of the “back in my day” tone, I definitely didn’t agree with everything he said, but he shared his ideas with such conviction and passion that it was enjoyable just to listen. At one point he said:
“Photography can be as simple or complex as you chose to make it”
“Photography can be intellectual, instinctive, or both”
I asked him what he meant by these statements and he told me that he has gone through many different phases in his life. When he was new, he instinctually took photos for fun because he “didn’t know any better”. Then he went through a phase where he over thought everything. He got obsessive, he read every book on photography he could find, he over analyzed photos, he shot relentlessly, etc. He said that in hindsight he was glad he went through this phase because it helped him grow, but then quickly added, “I was a total ass to be around though”. He followed that up by saying he just shoots instinctively now; he loves walking in “his city”, he loves meeting people and he is happy if he occasionally makes a frame that he really likes. It’s like he went full circle.
Right around that time my phone announced that I had a new message, which launched us into a conversation about “kids and their damn phones”.
(For the record: I’m in my forties, but it was nice to be called a kid)
I can’t remember his exact wording, but it was something like this:
“The problem with the internet and many of today’s photographers is that they worry way too much about what other photographers are doing. Just worry about what you are doing.”
This stood out to me, as it speaks to the obsession that some photographers seems to have with other photographers. It sometimes feels like pluralism is dying in the photography industry: People have strong beliefs on what makes for a good photograph or a good camera, but it seems harder and harder to find people who realize that those strong beliefs are merely that: their beliefs, their opinions, their points of view.
Steve’s whole point was that we should stop worrying about all of that and just spend more time making ourselves happy by taking photos. I’d love to say that we were really bonding by this point in the conversation, but this actually when things turned against me. Steve asked me what I spent most of my photographic time doing, to which I replied “I shoot, edit, process, share, talk to other photographers, teach, write, blog, Instagram, Tweet, etc”.
(Crickets chirped for a minute… and it is usually only my wife who looks at me with such disapproval)
He thought for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and finally said:
“Well, just make sure you’re focused on your own art. Make yourself happy… the rest is all bullsh*t.”
I’m not sure what he meant by “the rest”, but with that he moved on down the street and so did I… just another one of those chance encounters that happen when we spend time on the streets.
Now, do I agree with everything he said? Of course not. Clearly I love social media and can say, with absolute certainty, that it has been instrumental in my success and even more importantly it has brought me many new friendships that I truly value. But, hidden in his strongly worded opinion was an important message: Do YOUR thing. Make YOU happy…. whatever that looks like.
For the rest of the day I took a few good photos, stumbled across (and into) a Black Lives Matter rally, met a few new friends, booked two new clients via the magic of the internet, ate some good food and spent some time sitting by the water. It was very much a Ferris Bueller kind of day for me (look it up kids), which also served as a reminder that we can either get carried along by life or we can learn to set the pace.
I thought a lot about Steve’s messaging that day. More and more I am coming to believe that the main thing stopping people from being happy and living the life they want to live is fear, which reminds me of this quote from Steve Jobs:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
As depressing as this quote is there is so much truth to it. I look around me at the people who are truly living their lives and they all, to the last person, took conscious control of their own destiny. They don’t argue about the little things, they don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, they simply value the important things and are consistently and mindfully living the life that they want to live.
I went to Seattle for some photos and food, but came back with my mind racing with new ideas. Life is funny sometimes.
And, to wrap this up, why did this conversation even happen in the first place? Because Fujifilm took a chance six years ago and brought us the amazing X100… the camera that changed everything for so many of us. Years later, Steve saw an X series camera around my neck and asked me a question about it. So, with that said, I think it is fitting to end this post with a new series of images I made that weekend, all shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2, the 23mm f/2 and the new 50mm f/2.