THE THING I HATE MOST OF ALL about being sick isn't the
pain or inconvenience or twinge of mortality, but my own pissy, distracted
mood while playing the invalid. I'm a lousier patient than I ever was a
student or employee. When I lived on my own, at least I only had myself
to make miserable, but with K. around I feel an obligation to keep all
the bad mood and self-pity in check. It only seems to work half the time,
but miraculously, the fight against ill temper and impatience turns into
a real effort to get better. One more thing to add to the list of positive
effects of a good relationship.
On Friday, I dose myself with pills and head out to print
the girl band photos in time to make the day's UPS deadline. At the rental
darkroom, I shuffle around bleary-eyed, hacking into my sleeve, but that
doesn't obscure one major, sobering fact -- the photos are crap.
While not the worst things I've ever done, they're definitely well below
par for the best of my current work. I was on autopilot for the shoot, and no amount of printing will make the results any nearer to okay. I'm also aware that the magazine probably won't notice; rock photography isn't the most demanding of genres, especially when the job is little more than coverage, in a time when most bands seem like novelty acts.
I generally don't make resolutions for the new year, but
I have to do something about this -- I might not have too many illusions
anymore about rising to the top of the photo world, but I should at least
be able to produce work that doesn't make me cringe. If I'm getting a bit
tired of pop celebrity portraits, I have to try to do something else, even
if it's just shooting eggplants. In any case, I should try to discover
what I like about shooting eggplants, and apply that to the pop celebrity
work. Something, anything -- I could go on for years coasting on half-assed
work, and still have a career, sure. I've seen it happen to other photographers -- the paycheques are okay, but the sense of self-loathing grows exponentially; in a city like this, just outside of the big time, very few people know what really good work is, and in any case there are pages that need to be filled, and more than enough time-servers and journeymen who can fill them. With a jolt of recognition, I began to realize that I could have
become one of them.
On the crowded streetcar home from the UPS drop-off, I
stifle my cough and remember one thing -- it's been a couple of years since
I bothered asking my clients if they liked my work. At first, if was a
defensive tactic -- I had been trying some new things, and didn't need
to hear if they didn't get it. In any case, I didn't get a lot of complaints.
After awhile, if became a habit, and a bit of a point of pride -- I liked
what I was doing, and didn't much care what anyone else thought. In any
case, I've always been as bad at taking compliments as criticism, so I
put my trust in my own taste.
I suppose I'd have avoided this if I'd been a bit more
enthusiastic about showing my portfolio around. But I hate that -- I've
heard too many off-putting excuses, insincere compliments and glad-handling
brush-offs like "It's nice, your work. Very, uh, european." (Translation:
I don't get it. It doesn't look like the stuff the other photographers
show me. Maybe you should try getting work out of town.") I should probably
have an agent selling my work, but I can't get an agent unless I have more
work, or at least no agent worth having would contact me until it was worth
their while -- which is kind of a catch-22, if you think about it, isn't
Still, a thicker skin and a bigger client base would give
me some sense of the competition, and an obligation to keep things fresh
-- whatever that means. In any case, there was nothing fresh about the
photos I shipped off to England this week, except for the flu germs I'd
packed in with the prints, contact sheets and slides. Happy coughing, folks.