25 Years: What’s THAT like?

25 years ago, I picked up a camera – not for the first time – and snapped the first photographs for which I was paid. I’ve not been without a camera since. Hard to believe that happened more than two decades ago, and it brings back memories 2006, when I celebrated and made a big deal about 15 years in the field… and then promptly “retired” from commercial photography to focus on my artistic development instead. This is different, though. 25 years is a big chunk of my life since I still like to pretend I’m young. I mean, if one were to believe the lies I tell about my age, I’d have been photographing a year or so before I was born. As 2016 comes to a close, my usual year-end reflection is taking a different turn, one that looks at the bigger picture. Here’s how 25 years feels to me.

25 years. That’s more than many of my mentees and protégés have been in the land of the living. Years ago, a promising young photographer would cross my path, and we’d talk about how long we’d each been in the game. I remember when I had only been photographing for more time than kids and teens had been alive. Now there are adults in their early twenties who weren’t even thoughts when I first picked up a camera and snapped my first paid gig. It really puts time into perspective for me.

25 years. I loaded my own medium-format and 35mm rolls of film into my cameras. And if I was feeling particularly snap-happy, I had to have an abundance of unused rolls on me, and I had to swap those rolls without missing a shot. Needless to say, I missed some shots back then. I still load and shoot film when the fancy strikes me, and the main difference now is that I’m faster at doing something I no longer need do with the advent of digital photography. Still, it’s fun and nostalgic to shoot film alongside my digital cameras.

25 years. It took me weeks to save money to process my film when I wasn’t shooting a paid gig. If I wanted to experiment with creative techniques, I would have to do so when I had the cash to turn those rolls of film around quickly enough that the results didn’t long follow the experiments. Even then, I had to sift through 24 to 36 prints from a 35mm roll of film to get to the shots that mattered. Fast-forward to today when I can experiment, see the result on the LCD screen, opt to delete immediately, and then continue shooting. I can also let my subject or assistant or student see the photos right away for instant feedback. Hard to imagine how I got by shooting the way I shoot all those years ago.

25 years. I think I cared way too much about gear when first starting all those years ago. Now gear is secondary to me. Inspiration, vision, self-expression and creative freedom matter a lot more these days. That’s partly because tech advances have made digital photography options so widely available that it really does matter less to everyone what gear you use. The other part is truly a reflection of personal and professional growth that comes from knowing more now than I did then. What hasn’t changed in 25 years? The thrill of testing new tools, experimenting outside the box, and being playful throughout the creative process.

How long have you been in the game? What are you biggest challenges? Triumphs? Wishes? Regrets? Share in comments below. Thanks for reading.