I’ll always remember how this feels. It’s a hot sticky Mississippi summer night and I’m accidentally and completely overdressed, wearing a suit and tie which feels more like a sauna inside than a fashion statement. Acoustic lyric-less renditions of class rock songs are playing quietly on the speakers in the background as I look down from a second story balcony upon a candle-lit wedding alter by the water. The sun is setting and the crowd is hushed. Something about this moment feels completely like one of those movie moments, as if I’m supposed to remember this for the rest of my life. No, I’m not getting married. Not even close.
There’s something about weddings that make you ponder back and forward upon your life. No matter where you may stand in your own love life, you take personally assessment of where you stand with the ones you love. Although, the thoughts drift well past the sentiments of matrimony and undying love like you read in old storybooks and Chuck Norris movies. You see, I’m observing a wedding ceremony for the member of a rock band that started my career almost 10 years ago, and flanking him are the members of the band, my friends, looking on, smiling.
I had flown in from an advertising shoot in Miami to make this wedding, wouldn’t have missed it. I thought about the first time I met this band member getting married about 10 years ago. It was actually about 1 mile from where we stand now, in another part of Biloxi, Mississippi. I was just a nervous college senior shooting my first national magazine editorial (knowing very little about what I was doing). Ten years? How could it have been that long ago?
The funny thing is that its not so much the time passed, but the significance of the 10 year mark. You see, I looked up to a few photographers as I developed my career early on (of course I still look up to them). Amazing portrait shooters like Platon and Kwaku Alston. I surmised that successful photographers like them took about 10 years to finally “make it” shooting world leaders and famous celebrities for the cover of major magazines and huge ad campaigns. I would sit in class at photo school and just daydream what it would feel like to hit that 10 year mark in my career and hope I had “made it” and everything would be figured out.
So here I am. At a wedding where my career started almost 10 years later. Standing with the band that originally took me on the road with them and introduced me to all the big names in the industry, jump-starting my career. I took personally inventory of my life and career. All those times I dreamed about where I would be in 10 years professionally and personally and here I am. Funny, I really had accomplished a lot of my personal career goals. Met some of my favorite musicians and photographed them, shot covers for my favorite magazines, ad campaigns for some of the biggest companies, and even a few endorsement deals. Although, these accomplishments haven’t fulfilled as I envisioned they would 10 years ago. Yes, I’m extremely thankful in every sense of the word, but I’ve found these accomplishments alone to leave something to be desired. It is a great feeling to feel like you’ve done something with your work, but it means very little if you cannot share this joy. Sometimes, I even forget what I’ve done. I straight up just forget. You see, the accomplishments have meant less than the time I share with those I care about.
It’s this moment right here. This wedding. My friends in this sentimental reunion. It’s swimming in the pool fully-dressed. It’s rolling up the sleeves and dancing like idiots to foreigner as the sweat permeates every pore of my body. It’s catching up with the people that were there from the beginning, when a fumbling inexperienced kid shot his first magazine.
I suppose this long drawn out story has a moral somewhere in there. All these big accomplishments you want to make for your photography. Accolades. They are awesome and all, but after awhile, much like love and marriage, your relationship with your craft grows and changes (together hopefully!) This is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. The accomplishments are a means to an end. A pathway to better jobs and opportunities. But the fulfillment, it’s in the relationships and the memories. It’s in creating the photos that you always wanted to and that’s rarely accomplished through paying gigs. As I hit 30 last year, I knew that the key to a happier photo life was enjoying the experiences to the best of my ability and not worrying as much about the career markers. For too long I was worried about career markers and didn’t even take moments to breath in the new adventures I was embarking.
I liken photography to the music industry. 10 years ago, there were more larger than life rock stars, and today, there are more independent musicians killing themselves to make modest to respectable living, but to do what they love. So, don’t focus so much on whether you’ll make the cover of Rolling Stone or a photoshoot with the president. Do your thing. Pay the bills. Love the ones you’re with, as they say. Make new friends. Live the adventure and the art, not the accolades, no matter what you like to photograph. Sure this may sound preachy and slightly cliche, but it’s a valuable lesson I’ve had to teach myself to keep myself sane as I wonder what’s in store for the next 10 years…
To love, to health, to adventure.