Friday, July 2, 2010

Those damn Mums with a camera - oops I'm one of them!

This is me in the east African country of Burundi. I'm at an orphanage for gorillas and chimpanzees. As a travel photographer and writer you get to do some pretty damn amazing things. It really is a dream lifestyle that, while not always being the most profitable venture around, is always full of adventure and excitement.

And then marriage and kids happen. And things change - sometimes dramatically. A colleague of mine, Daniel Scott, has a new blog over at Daddy Travel Writer. He's only just started but I'm sure he's going to regale us with tales of what it's like to balance being a travel writer traipsing around the globe with trying to raise a couple of kids.

But that's the viewpoint of someone who's still working. What happens when you put the cameras down for a bit and put all your effort into raising the little beasties? Well here's my big secret - that's what I've been doing for the last two and a half years. As you can tell I haven't given up work completely but I am a full-time Dad to my two little boys - 7 and 5 (as of next week!)

This all came about when, after over 10 years of working as a professional travel photographer and visiting more than 55 countries, my wife got an opportunity to work for an airline. As in flying overseas up to five times a month. As in away for six months of the year. Hmmm. So do you stick your heels in and say, "Hang on a minute. I've got the best job in the world. Why on earth would I give that up?" Or do you say, "Go for it honey. I've had a good run and you need to follow your dreams as well'.

I chose the latter. And boy did the shit hit the fan! I had no idea what I was in for. In the blink of an eye I was a DWAC - Dad with a camera. The object of all that hatred on various forums around the world wide web. And I've never really read anything about what it's like to suddenly go from being a busy creative artist to a multi-tasking nappy changer. So here's the reality.

It's really hard. And I don't mean the looking after the kids from 6 in the morning till 8 at night, cleaning the house, cooking all the meals and being tied to a little person 24/7 every day of the year. It goes without saying that that is so hard it's not funny. There are a million books about that. What you don't find written about much is the sudden drop into non-creativity.

Photography is a passion, and when it's your job as well it really is a vocation and can become an obsession. I didn't realise how much photography dominated every aspect of my life until I gave a big chunk of it away. One of the biggest shocks I found was the loss of self-identity that you have as a creative professional. You become your job. You're known as the travel photographer and that's who you are - until you just become so-and-so's Dad.

It's really difficult to give up checking your emails to see what work requests are coming in. To keep up with what's going on on Twitter. To keep tabs on how the industry is changing. But I came to the conclusion that if I kept on looking at my computer/laptop/iPod Touch to check in during the day - well every minute I was doing that was a minute I was ignoring my sons. So, as hard as it was, and believe me it is still incredibly hard, I have to let it go until the kids have gone to bed.

The other hard part is not resenting your kids or wife when an editor calls you up and wants to send you to Tibet for a couple of weeks. Or to Japan for a week-long hot springs tour. To remember that it's no longer about me, me, me but them, them, them and us, us, us.

What I've found really important to me is to stay creative in some manner. It's not like an office job where you can take a few years off and then slide back in again with a bit of re-training. Our creativity needs to be constantly nurtured and used. Our skills need to be honed and improved upon. We need to keep that creative spark alive lest we lose it.

So I write (this blog as well as personal writing every morning), I play music, I read and I caption and edit metadata for my more than 7000 images of the local area. Anything to keep that inner artist active. And I photograph as much as time will allow me. And I've found that the more that I listen to my inner artist the more I am honing in on how I want my photography career to develop. Because things will change. That is inevitable. Next year both boys will be in school and I will be free during the weekdays.

And whilst I won't be jetting off to outer Mongolia in a hurry I will definitely be looking for local stories and people that interest me and photographing them. And I'll continue to photograph this amazing part of the country in a way that satisfies my need to have a camera in my hand. Because I'm not the sole breadwinner any more I'll basically be listening to my heart to judge what projects to work on. I don't need to take the big, well paying commercial jobs if they don't interest me spiritually. I can really concentrate on the work that will keep my inner artist happily fed. But it's still going to be really hard to balance that constant desire to photograph but keep it on the back burner while trying to be a good father and husband.

So spare a thought for those damn Mums (and Dads) with a camera. We're photographers just like any other. Only we've decided to make a huge personal sacrifice and donate a large part of our entire being to help raise our children and let our partners follow their dreams.

And remember that what we're doing is really spiritually and creatively draining. NOT photographing for those who love it is a damn site harder than photographing. Not having a camera in your hands all day every day is a lot harder than it sounds when you're obsessed. And that's something the manual doesn't tell you.

Oh, and I do solemnly promise that I won't dress my kids up in fancy clothes and photograph them any time in the next million years, but I will consent to recording their scootering exploits with a camera every so often. And sharing them on the blog once in a blue moon, with your permission. :) Just to keep that inner artist happy.