Mastery seems an abstract concept when associated with a passion. The word implies a finish line, rank or position, a goal. Moreover, it means an investment with conventional wisdom placing that at 10000 hours. It got me thinking about my library of photos all 61904 of them. Recently I watched a movie where one of the central characters was a notable photographer who had dedicated his life to the artform. At one point he says, and I am paraphrasing, that he can remember the moment he took every shot. I have witnessed this amongst my photographic mentors and friends and must confess that I relate.
During the winter months, my single hard drive died unexpectedly. I have since remedied this, but for a stretch, longer than I ever care to relive, I didn't know if we would be able to recover them or not. It didn't seem like it would be a big deal until it happened. Sixty thousand photographs, gone. I laugh about a comment I flippantly made years ago that they were only photos. It was at the beginning of the trajectory that became my photographic life, but once said - even that long ago, it became part of this story. And, I might add, it is only amusing in hindsight because it could have gone another way, and then, it wouldn't have been funny at all.
Thinking of this made me wonder how many hours I have invested in this passion of mine. I never think of the time when I am behind the camera as anything but joyful. It passes so effortlessly that the idea of the time being a deposit in the bank of mastery diminishes the happiness it adds to my day and my life.
All that said, thinking about mastery inspired me to go back to this week for each of the last nine years. The photographic eye I have today is vastly different than the one in 2009 and 2010, the year I received my first "important" camera, a gift. I have memories of who I was then, the one with the camera; voracious and insatiable. The photographer I am today bears little resemblance to her, but she remains present in every photograph I make and retains that same insistence.
In 2007 the original iPhone was released. In the decade-plus since we have all learned a different language, a visual one. My fluency in this new language includes reminding myself of my grocery list through pictures. Something magical made mundane, democratic, or so it seems until presented with a life-altering image, one that confounds or inspires, that excites and implores you to act, and moves you closer to 10000 hours behind the camera.
What did I discover through this 9-year hindsight?
First, to accept those early photographs as treasures. They aren't well made, composed, lighted, framed, but they are treasures nonetheless. They are the moments of my life with family, friends, and people who have crossed my path, experiences I have had. I look at them now with tender, not critical eyes.
I discovered that the subjects which were vital to me, in the beginning, remain so today: family and friends, landscapes, water, architecture, nature. Each category represented in the selections from this week over the last nine years continues to be a part of my repertoire today.
Lastly, I acknowledged that even if I am approaching 10000 hours behind a camera, there will never be a finish line for me. Instead, I commit to being insatiably curious, to challenge myself, to admire things I did not or cannot make, and most importantly to continue to learn new things.