I was listening to a really good podcast today called Finding Fred, which is about the way Fred Rogers made his show back in the 1960s.
And on The Candid Frame podcast, Mary Ellen Mark was interviewed by Ibarionex Perello.
Both are people I can relate to because both did things the way they did not to please others but to be true to themselves.
Fred Rogers knew he wanted to make a TV show for children who have fear from not understanding the way the world works, and made his show to talk directly to kids. He didn’t even call it a show or program but a visit. He made each show talking to the camera as if he were talking to just one child.
Mary Ellen Mark was a wonderful documentary photographer who passed away a few years ago, but to hear her talk in her interview, she didn’t want to just change into making what she called photo illustrations when the trend turned away from the kind of documentary work she did. So, she stuck to her ways and kept shooting film and making the stories the way she wanted to make them.
I relate to both of them. I work to make portraits and documentary work that will have value in 20-40 years from now. photographs that I believe matter, whether they’re the “in-between” shots of life today for the Roy Stryker project, or the wonderful faces of senior citizens for The Wise Photo Project. These are the kinds of photographs that I believe are important to make, and so I continue to make them.
Which makes me think that’s really all we can do. We may feel like it’s not enough, that we can never deliver enough work of the kind we want to make (Fred Rogers believed that), or we may not be able to get the work that matters to sell (Mary Ellen Mark thought that), or it doesn’t pay the bills (I don’t make money on the Roy Stryker or Wise Photo Project, but they’re easily the most important work that I do.)
That’s all we can do. Find out what it is that we are passionate about and create that. Make it come to fruition because we can’t let it not. Because of us it has to exist.
That’s the work of the true artist.