Sunday, June 1, 2008

Catching Out

I am reluctant to write on this blog for a number of reasons, but I figured this would be the best forum to explain my absence over the next few weeks. I tried to leave a cute message on Facebook once, but it only led to people being surprised to see me after thinking I had actually moved to Australia and ruined my Facebook credibility in one fell swoop.

For anyone who isn't a photographer, keep it that way - this is not a good time to be one. Newspapers are hemorrhaging money and looking for the answer in the wrong places. Staff jobs at magazines have become effectively nonexistent, and the day rates aren't much more than they were in the late 80's. Bottom line - its tough to support yourself, and I don't have an answer for how you could raise a family in this climate.

This isn't another lament about the future of a relatively young profession, despite the prolific naysaying I truly think you can make it in this business with the right mindset and talent. The point is it's not easy and it certainly isn't a market for the feint-of-heart.

I backpacked Ireland once, and one of my fondest memories was hiking up the Cliffs of Moher with some new friends from nearby Doolin. Fortune smiled, cleared the omnipresent North Atlantic cloud cover, and lit the jagged Irish coast with the first sunshine we had seen in weeks. The Cliffs of Moher look like someone took a giant buzzsaw and hacked off part of the world, plunging dirt and stone into the ocean hundreds of feet below. On the trek up we came across an inlet about 30 feet below the ridge we were standing on, the kind of place you'd look for sunken buried treasure if you had a mind to. To us it begged only one thing - the perfect opportunity to launch our sweaty selves into the ocean below. As is usually the case with these things, confidence nurtured by distance was shattered upon peering over the edge, bare toes ferociously gripping rock and arms tentatively outstretched towards phantom means of catching ourselves if the earth should shift or a strong wind arise. Never before has such a one-sided debate resulted in more inaction than the question of should we or shouldn't we.

"Let's go." "OK, let's go." Fuck.
"We should just do it." "Yeah, alright." Shit.
"Let's just count and jump." "Right, let's do it." Ehhhhh.

On and on, not one argument against but yet feet still firmly planted on rock. Then, it just happened. There wasn't a big speech or a point not raised five times before, the part of us that wanted it just boiled over and powered our silent departure from solid ground into the trusted arms of whatever fate may await us.

Until recently I had been tiptoeing on the edge of commitment to this profession, going just far enough to be able to pull myself back if things went awry. That isn't going to cut it in this business, there is no room for restraint. Something's boiling and I'm making the leap.

Last summer I rode freight trains from San Francisco to Minneapolis and confirmed the existence of a story that fascinates me like no other ever has. I've put too many thousands of dollars on my credit card and leave tomorrow to chase this for a month, maybe longer. Because of financial and logistical constraints and the extraordinary generosity of people who believe in both me and the project, I'll be shooting much of this on two very foreign mediums - film and video.

Financially, this is a bad idea - I'll be sacrificing what little headway I've made in the commercial market here. Maybe this will flop and I'll limp back to New York and start over, but I know I never would have forgiven myself for backing off that ledge in Ireland.

See you in July.

-Steve