Let me take you behind the curtain for a while. I like to shoot onstage events from behind the curtain. It is all dark and mysterious back there and you see things the audience can’t see and wouldn’t contribute to their enjoyment of the show even if they did see but it enriches your experience covering the show. I like that area backstage where the performers are waiting for their moment on stage, where they are making last-minute adjustments to costume and makeup and getting their game faces on. So let me take you on a journey and lets see where we end up.
I ask myself a lot of questions. Introspection is really healthy and keeps you on track. Last post, I introduced you to me, to why I am what I am. Now I want to pick it apart a little. At heart, I am a teacher and I like to understand things and then make them understandable to others. It is part of my nature. That is actually one of the major reasons for this blog.
I was having a conversation before Friday night’s high school game between Decatur and Austin with Lt. Col. James Walker who heads the JROTC program at Austin. We have been friends a long time and he was asking me if I loved the big games. I do. I really love the big games. I don’t care if it is a city championship in the Dixie Youth baseball leagues or the BCS Championship in college football, I want to be shooting the biggest thing going. I told him how I loved covering the tornadoes last year. I felt like I was made for that situation, to shoot those pictures, to meet the people I met. When I am right in the middle of the biggest mess, or biggest event I can find, I am right at home. I told Col. Walker it was probably a good thing I had never covered a war because I would probably love it too much. I don’t expect most of y’all to know what I mean but I trust a few of you will.
Actually, let me explain so no one is confused. I am not hoping for wars, fires or tornadoes. That is absurd. With that said, when something like that happens, being right in the middle of it suits me. I once worked for a retired Army Lt. Colonel. He ran a printing business and I was a pressman in his shop. He once told me did two combat tours in Vietnam, volunteering for both. I thought he was crazy. He said the reason he did it was he was trained to fight and that was the only war going. Something clicked. I understood that. He was a warrior. Warriors fight wars. Made sense. I had been a firefighter. I was never more fulfilled than when I was fighting fires. As a photojournalist, I find my fulfillment in doing my job, the bigger the event the better I like it.
Conversely, I get bored with the mundanaeity of life. I totally sympathize with Sherlock Holmes who could not abide boredom. Give me activity. Give me a big assignment. Give me a disaster, a championship, anything. Just please don’t bore me! Boredom has its place and it is not entirely bad because if I get bored I have to challenge myself. That causes me to go look for stuff. When I look for stuff I usually find stuff and finding stuff is good. I got bored this summer and found mud bog racing. It didn’t quite turn out the way I hoped but it was certainly better than the stuff I was doing without it. The Bible has this great advice; seek and you shall find. Nothing like looking if you want to find something. Borrowed that one from Thorin Oakenshield. If you have to ask…
When I played baseball, I just about always hit third in the lineup. I took a lot of pride in that. The number three hitter is usually your best hitter. That is still where I want to be. I want to be the guy you go to when there is pressure to get the job done. I want you to depend on me. Back in the day when I was a volunteer firefighter, I wanted to be the guy on the nozzle attacking the fire or the guy doing search and rescue. Danger as a photojournalist isn’t comparable to that except in the rarest situations, maybe like when you drive out in front of a tornado! I was pretty terrified that day, but on balance, I want to be in the middle of the action. I want to be the guy up with bases loaded in the last of the 9th with two outs and the game on the line. If I fail, I’ve got no one to blame but me and I really hate failure.
One of the greatest challenges for me is staying motivated when I am not in the middle of a big assignment. Here comes a really important point. Notebooks ready? Motivation must come from inside you. If you are internally motivated you will bust your rear end to get a good shot every time, not just when you are standing in the middle of a tornado. Seriously, internal motivation, the drive that makes you want to kick butt and take names even if you are shooting the chess tournament at the local middle school, will keep you career happy for a long time. If you are externally motivated you are subject, almost completely a slave, really, to the whims of outrageous fortune otherwise known as the assignment log book. I have been externally motivated. It stinks and it made me very, very unhappy. I am now an internally motivated photojournalist and I am happy with myself.
One of the other greatest challenges for me is not being a jerk. Or arrogant. I have taken the DISC profile, a personality profile test, many times over the years and I have a very high “D” aspect to my personality. That kind of personality can get things done but it can also make you a jerk, pushy, arrogant and unpleasant. You need to know your strengths, for sure, but even more importantly, you need to know your weaknesses. Since my son Reece died, I think I have become more impatient. I hate that but I have no idea what to do about it.
What in the world does this have to do with photography? It is a valid question. I believe it is very important to understand yourself, your motivation, your strengths and your weaknesses as a human being because who you are is how you will shoot, how you approach your work and the people you encounter. In fact, this is every bit as important as understanding lighting and f stops and shutter speeds. Have you ever been looking at a map and there is a “You Are Here” indicator on it? If you don’t know where you are you don’t have any way of knowing where to go; however, if you know yourself you know where you are and you have at least some idea of what your next step ought to be.
Now you know a lot more about me than you should but I open my book a little bit to help you be able to get into your own book. Take this post and look inside yourself, see who you are, why you approach life the way you do. Identify your strengths but also your weaknesses. Knowing both is important.