Why am I a photographer? / by Joseph Donzis

Writing a blog is very difficult for me...  I enjoy talking and I like discussing my interests, experiences, or just trying to make people laugh- but trying to express the who, how, and why of myself gets down to a personal level I'm not used to sharing openly.  Something else I'm not used to sharing openly is my finances.  I gotta be honest, money is a big concern for me.  No, no, no, that's not why I'm a photographer, I'm not looking for a quick buck (trust me, this isn't the right profession for that anyway).  The reason I mention money is because photography is a profession with limited funds; businesses only allocate so much money towards media, collectors are only comfortable paying so much, and unless your pictures sell for thousands of dollars- people don't usually WANT to pay you.  In fact, some people will do whatever they can to cheat you out of money; I've learned this lesson the hard way.

So, why take part of a profession with, as I've seen lately, such squalor opportunities?  Because it's important.  Next to teachers, I consider photographers to be the most important non-vital professionals (I say non-vital because people won't immediately die if there were a shortage of teachers, unlike doctors, police officers, firefighters, etc.).  I've actually been very fortuitous that I've had the opportunity to teach for a number of years.  I LOVED teaching; I found kids to be receptive to my methods, I got to entertain while informing, and I got to be part of the preservation of knowledge.  That was huge for me.  Preservation of knowledge...  Yes, I've had my battles acting as an educator, but once I was inside the classroom, none of those issues mattered.  That was until I moved to New Jersey.  I don't know if it's the parents here, the kids, or something in the water, but never have I been met with such deplorable teaching conditions.  I found myself teaching lessons of very little import to children who were only there to play with an end product (which they often expected me to mere give to them) and parents who wanted me to let their child play at the expense of learning, referring to me as an "overpaid babysitter."  That broke my heart.  That was the day I realized that there are some parents who would rather tell other parents how amazing it is that their kid is in an engineering class than actually have an educated child.  I know other educators have had far worse experiences and dealt with true loss as teachers, but that was the point at which I could no longer keep standing in front of a classroom full of children like a party-clown and allow parents to convince themselves and others that their child was somehow better than other children who couldn't afford such an expensive after-school program.

What does this have to do with photography?  Everything.  I was an educator because I enjoyed being part of the preservation of knowledge, and when that means of preservation was devalued, I looked for a new means.  I've always enjoyed photography and had a lot of experience behind the camera or assisting others behind the camera, but no experience running my own photography business.  All that I knew was that there are an infinite number of moments in every day and those infinite moments have a finite amount of time, but with a camera, I can preserve them forever.  I know, a photograph does not contain an entire story, in fact it is an extremely biased view, but so much can be learned from a simple picture.

A moment of shared love and passion, a symbol of hope and caring for future generations.

Playfulness, reluctance, or simply the act of being a child.  Could other children relate to this?  Will future generations see this and understand, or possibly even question such an emotion?

A place preserved in time.  If we have learned nothing else about our iconic architecture, it is that it can be preserved for centuries, or felled and left as rubble or in ruins for future generations to mourn or even forget.

Even something as seemingly simple as food is not eternal.  Over-hunting, famine, and mere passage of time are all enough to make what once was a staple become a mystery for future generations.

A photograph is universal.  Perhaps the subject can be misunderstood due to cultural differences, but every single picture is a record that something once existed in the world or in someone's imagination.  Even to those who cannot see, a picture's content can be described.  Every photo will illicit a response: happiness, hatred, shock, empathy, or even desperate nothingness.  Does the photography of a product lessen the value of a picture?  No; every product exists because someone put forth the effort and worked to make that product exist and preserving the product with respect and dignity provides a record of that product's existence for current and future generations.  Sometimes the photograph is exploited to market the product itself, like in advertisements, and sometimes it is exploited by an artist such as Andy Warhol.

You do need to be careful, of course.  Some clients will try to take advantage of you and steal your photos.  There are procedures you can take to protect yourself, including contracts, releases, and keeping your photos organized and backed up properly.  So why be part of a profession with so many people trying to take advantage of your skills and steal your work?  For me, photography is always about the record first, and any finances come second.  I can only work hard and hope to one day have my name remembered with the other great photographers, but at least I can rest assured that someday in the distant future, one of my photos can serve well as a representation of the world as we once saw it.