Creating Artistic Photographs – Hobbies And The Backyard Project
I have hobbies. I know coming from an artist this statement may seem surprising. Isn’t art supposed to be everything I want to do? Isn’t it true that if I can find a way to make a living from art then there is no reason to want to do anything else? Why would I want hobbies? Are not these for people who are not happy with their profession, people who need substantiation in ways that cannot be provided by their income-earning activity? People for whom something is ‘missing’ and who are looking for that ‘something’ in alternate activities?
The irony is that while most photography clients and students have hobbies, a number of professional photographers do not have hobbies themselves. Nobody seems to find that strange. It is assumed that as a professional artist and photography teacher I am not expected to have hobbies. After all being able to make a living creating and teaching art should be enough to generate all the satisfaction I will ever need.
It is true that I did not have hobbies for a long time after I started my photography business. I was so busy trying to make it that there was no time left for any other activities. My situation was not uncommon. Hobbies are often compromised to prioritize money-making activities. That is when hobbies are not altogether forgotten which is the case more often than not. In the struggle to make it, hobbies are the first thing to go out of the window. They return when business efforts are met with success. That is if we are successful. If not they remain tucked away.
Students and clients do not notice this conundrum for the most part because it seems normal that if you teach and practice what is to others a hobby you do not need to have a hobby yourself. Why would I need to relax or change my mind from an activity which is fun for those who engage in it? Well, that holds true if that is not all you do. When photography is a hobby it takes your mind away from your profession. However when it is your profession you need a hobby to change your mind. If not problems happen. In my case, during my hobby-less period, I felt overworked and burned out. However, I was unable to take time off from my business activities. I felt that my business would go under if I took my eyes off of it even only for a day or two. I felt that success came at the cost of working all the time and of doing nothing else, especially not hobbies.
I became aware of this issue when I was selling my work at the El Tovar hotel on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. A customer asked me what were my hobbies and I drew a blank. I couldn’t think of anything. Worse, I kept thinking that this was my hobby so why would I need another one? However, within a few seconds, I realized that my hobby had become my profession and that I needed a new hobby. The customer’s question made me realize the lack of diversity in my life. My activities were photography, photography, and more photography. I created photographs, printed them, matted and framed them, marketed them, sold them, shipped them, and back around again. This customer made me aware that hobbies are not only important they are necessary.
Regardless, to this day people see me as being content with the sole practice of what is, for them, a pleasurable activity. How and why would I want to do anything else? Why wouldn’t I want to eat and breathe art and photography day in and day out, every day, year-round? Why? Because to me, art is not a hobby. It is a profession. Is it a pleasurable profession? Absolutely. After all, I chose it. I could have chosen another profession but this is the one I wanted to practice. However, not everything in a profession is enjoyable. As with any income-generating activity, there are taxes to be paid, paperwork to be filled, licenses to be renewed, orders to be shipped, problems to be solved, and so on and so forth.
At the end of the day, I am happy that the workday is over. Why? Because it is work. Hard work even if from the outside it does not seem to be so. As with any work I want to enjoy other activities that are not work. I do not mean just going out, seeing a movie, eating at a restaurant, visiting a museum, or similar outgoing activities. Not that these are not worthwhile simply that they do not qualify as hobbies for me. I mean real hobbies, things that I am passionate about that are not photography related. After all, I am doing this, meaning being an artist and making a living at it, because I want to create a specific lifestyle. To describe that lifestyle in detail is beyond the scope of this essay but let me just say that this lifestyle does not include only doing photography. It includes doing other things with the same level of intensity and passion as photography.
The relationship I have with the tools I use in my hobbies is comparable to the relationship I have with the tools I use to create photographs. For leatherwork, I use paring knives, stitching awls, and fileteuses. For woodworking, I use bench planes, rip and crosscut saws, and marking gauges. For landscaping, I use clipping shears, trimmers, and pruning saws. For photography, I use digital cameras, carbon fiber tripods, and inkjet printers. While their names are different these tools are equally specialized and exotic. Their purpose is also similar: I use fine tools to achieve professional results. I love my tools whether they are used to work leather, wood, plants, photographs, or others because I have more hobbies than those listed here. I am also a collector as much as a user. Tools matter to me. I am curious about their design and purpose. I like to know their history, how they were made, and who used them before me. I enjoy discovering tools I don’t have and I like learning new uses for the tools I own. Tools are an essential aspect of the enjoyment I derive from my activities. Whether a profession or hobby makes no difference.
The Backyard Project
Sometimes hobbies and professions find a way to merge. Happenstance makes this happen. Such was the case here. Social distancing forced me to stay home. Unable to drive and photograph locations away from home I decided to photograph what was in my backyard, photograph the outcome of one of my hobbies: landscaping. Home, or rather what is behind my home, became my subject.
Photographing only in my backyard meant having to face severe limitations. No more driving to a different location if the one I was in proved uninspiring. No more following a storm to place me at the best location at the perfect time. No more looking for the light all day long driving around until a composition jumped at me causing me to stop along the road scrambling for my gear knowing that I have only seconds to get the shot.
Instead, I had to work with a subject that was ‘locked in’ so to speak. Variety came from my imagination, not from looking for a new subject. The inspiration came from looking at the familiar in a new way, not from visiting a place I had never seen before. I had to visualize what I see every day in a new way. I had to find photographs where I did not know there were some.
Above all, I had to find a successful way to deal with limitations. Many beginning photographers see limitations as a negative thing. However, professionals know better. Pros know that limitations force us to be creative. We know that being forced to be creative is an asset, not a shortcoming, and definitely not a cheap solution to an unwanted problem.
One could argue that if one chooses his profession well that profession, plus the ancillary activities it generates, are plenty to fill one’s life to the brim. Hobbies, therefore, are not only unnecessary they are also unwanted distractions from what may be called ‘one’s life’s mission’ or ‘one’s life’s work.’ While I agree that this may be the case for some it has never been the case for me. I have never seen things that way. Not because I don’t have a life goal, I do, and not because I am not passionate about my profession, I am. Simply because as I stated earlier my life goal is to create the lifestyle I desire and one of the aspects of this lifestyle is being able to engage in non-profession-related activities.
Studying At Home With Alain Briot
The coronavirus situation has brought social distancing forcing us to stay home and limiting our photographic activities. I offer several ways for you to study without leaving home. First, you can refine and master your photographic skills with my Mastery Workshops on USB or DVD series. The Mastery Workshops focus on all areas of photography: processing, marketing, composition, etc. I have a 20 to 50% off offer, depending on how many Mastery Workshops you order at the same time. All the details can be found HERE. This link is also accessible from my home page.
Second, you can also study with my series of eBooks. These also focus on all areas of photography. Discounts are available if you purchase several eBooks at the same time. Check them out HERE.
About Alain Briot
You can find more information about my tutorials, photographs, writings, and workshops as well as subscribe to my Free Monthly Newsletter on our website. You will receive 40 free eBooks when you subscribe to my newsletter.