Photography Retrospective

In February of 2012, I wrote that I would not be buying a camera. Two months later, I did buy one, and that decision has come to shape a lot of who I am today.

It’s funny how four years seems like a long time, but also feels really short, too. Photography exploded into my life, taking up all my spare time, attention, and money. I knew it would when I started. After all, I’ve always loved gadgets and gizmos, and photography is rife with things to fiddle with and obsess over.

I kept buying nicer and nicer lenses, and nicer and nicer cameras, until I had “the setup”, what I thought would signal to other photographers (and myself) that I was serious about photography. It was never enough. I had a problem. I felt addicted to buying gear. I would feel crummy and think that buying such-and-such new photography thing would make me feel better, and it did, but that elation would quickly subside when I realized that I shouldn’t have bought that. So that would make me feel crummy too and the cycle would repeat.

Buying photography gear was an unhealthy coping mechanism that I used to deal with my depression, but eventually I did manage to stop before I did unrepairable damage to my marriage and finances. When I moved to New York, I got the help I needed, and that’s made recovery from “gear acquisition syndrome” possible.

That’s the dark side of my photography. But there’s a good side, too: photography is a huge, positive part of my life – in both lofty and day-to-day senses. Let me explain both.

I wanted so much to feel like a “real photographer”, and I bought gear that I thought would help. That wasn’t smart, but it did lead to making making a lot of photos, and that did help me feel like a photographer. More than that, I eventually stopped caring about how I appear to others as a photographer; photography has become something I do for me.

Buying gear didn’t help, but actually using the gear I had did. And eventually, I learnt that it didn’t really matter anyway.

Today, a camera accompanies me everywhere I go. Every time I leave my apartment, I have my camera in my bag, and the camera is already in my hand by the time my feet hit the sidewalk.

Photography taught me to learn from my mistakes; if a photo didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I figured out why. Once I found out what went wrong, I tried not to do it again.

A lot of the choices I’ve made haven’t turned out for the best, but I’m learning from them.

This summer has actually been the first time in my life that I haven’t lived paycheque-to-paycheque. It sucks that it took until my late twenties to get my shit together, but I want to concentrate on the fact that I’m actually getting my shit together. And honestly, photography only exacerbated an obsession with buying things. But, it did help in unique ways that I think only art could have. It taught me lessons I’ve applied to other parts of my life, and it now helps take my mind off things when I do feel down. It’s become a healthy coping mechanism.

If I could go back and explain all this to myself in 2012, when I was buying my first camera, I’m not sure my younger self would understand. It’s like monads, you can’t explain how they work because that comprehension can only come from struggling with them. You can’t take a shortcut. With buying photography gear, I didn’t understand how I was hurting myself until I had struggled for a while. Maybe the struggle was necessary. In any case, I’m glad it’s ending.

So that’s my retrospective on photography, at least so far: a hobby-turned-obsession that cost a lot of money and caused a lot of stress, but also a hobby that became a healthy coping mechanism with a lot of fun. Like most everything, photography hasn’t been “good” or “bad”, but a bit of both. I can live with that.

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