Watching and Documenting the Lives of Others AKA Joining the Circus

I’ve been fortunate to be able to be a working photographer all my life. From the moment I left college, I immediately got work as a photojournalist, then a staff photographer position at a large daily newspaper, and then have worked as a freelance commercial, advertising, and editorial photographer, totaling 35 years in photography.

During that time, people often ask what I’ve learned. I’ve told them that sometimes I feel like an outside observer to the rest of the world. My life has been spent watching and documenting the lives of others. Often from incredibly great access points–the campaign stop of a U.S. President, a rock concert while on stage, a celebrity press junket, a sports legend in front of my camera.

President Bill Clinton
Robin Thicke in concert

Getting to use VIP entrances all the time, never waiting in line, and having food and drink available to you changes a person. When someone would ask if I wanted to go to a Phillies or Eagles game, I’d think, “Why? And sit in the stands with $12 beers and $10 hot dogs? When there is a catered buffet of delicious food in the press box?”

Peter Fonda

Also, some things I have to attend bore me, and if I have a camera in my hand I can at least make photographs and give myself something to do. In some way, having been a photojournalist for many years, having a camera puts me in a position of superiority–I’m allowed to get up and walk around, I’m allowed to go stand on the edge of the stage because the camera gives me license. I get to be the photographer–I’m known by everyone as a photographer so of course, I have a camera.

I feel like an outside observer, not like the rest of the people in attendance.

Kevin Fox, screenwriter of The Negotiator

Here is the life of a creative, summed up in a scene from The Offer, a 10-episode series about the making of The Godfather on Paramount+ which I highly recommend.

Scene setup: Sitting at a bar over drinks, a reporter is talking to the producer of the film who can’t get the studio boss to agree to hire Al Pacino for the film. This monologue is by the reporter:

You’re looking at this the wrong way. The question you should be asking yourself is, ‘Why are we here? In show business?’ You’re here because this is the life you’ve chosen. We all ran away from home so we could join the circus.

And everything we say to make it seem like we care about the life we could’ve had–wife, kids, house, dog–it’s bullshit. ‘Cause what’s really making you miserable isn’t the fact that you don’t have a membership at the country club or the head of a 12-point buck on your mantlepiece. None of that matters.

What you really want in life, in fact, all you want in life is for a man named Al Pacino to pretend he’s a man named Michael Corleone. And you’re right to be miserable over this. It IS that important.

‘Cause I feel the same way. And we can only be around other people who understand that. Everyone else is just a civilian.

That pretty much sums it up right there–the artist life.

I do have a partner, MaryLee, but we don’t have a house, instead, we rent–actually two, one tiny place in Colorado and an even smaller place in Los Angeles. We don’t have new cars (but the ones we have are reliable.) We don’t have kids. We aren’t around enough to have a dog.

We don’t want any of that. All we want is to create. Our art is our child. Our creativity is unsatiable.

MaryLee

The life of an artist. As much as others say they would like our lifestyle–MaryLee’s an actor and writer in LA–they don’t. They really want the kids, the country club membership, the new car, the dog, and the big house decorated straight out of a Pottery Barn catalog. They do. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. Everyone gets to choose. Those things look nice–I like them, too. But I don’t care about them. I just want to make the next photograph.

I don’t know that the artist really gets any choice in the matter. I’ll take my camera as my window to the world, I’ll create new photographs today because that’s what I do.

That’s what I love to do. That’s what I have to do.

Like I have any choice in the matter.

3 thoughts on “Watching and Documenting the Lives of Others AKA Joining the Circus

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  1. Appreciate your honesty. The creative life seems desirable to most people in theory, but, in practice, requires a special kind of talent and drive that most people lack. We all generally and genuinely admire creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know of a relationship that broke up after the guy was drawn to a woman who was a free spirit and spontaneous and after they were together a while, he wanted her to not be so much. He liked the idea of it, but not living with it. Thanks for always reading my work, Merlin.

      Liked by 1 person

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