Contemplating the Photographer

I was a “Photographer” of sorts once. It was an interest I became passionate about at age 15 while living in South Africa in the 1970s. Just a teen, I was lucky to receive as my first camera an old Exa single lens reflex (image on the right, being held by my father, 1962) that my dad had outgrown. It came with a waist-level viewfinder, a 50mm lens, extension tubes and a hand-held light meter. This was the camera my father had used to document the family since the early 1960s.

Admittedly, in those early years, I did more reading about photography than actually taking images. Film and processing were costly for someone on my minimal teen allowance, but libraries were free. It was not until the 80s that I began earning some regular income and could then practice photography more regularly.

While enthusiasm is a good initial approach to a pursuit, it does not necessarily lead to growth. I photographed much as my father did: snapshots of the family, vacations, events and nature walks. Despite immersing myself in books and magazines about the subject, I didn’t really develop as a photographer until I fell in love with macro photography, especially the photography of insects and other invertebrates. I enjoyed it so much I began a blog (2009, The Bug Whisperer) to share my photos and experiences and to learn about entomology. By 2012, I received my first requests to run photomacrography workshops. I imagined leaving my humdrum life as a gardener behind and turning my love of macro photography into a business. This was not a simple decision for a self-conscious introvert, but I knew if I didn’t try, I might regret it for the rest of my life. One thing led to another. Confidence grew. I began teaching more workshops, presenting at shows, giving talks, publishing articles, and even being interviewed by a trade photography magazine.

Dolichovespula arenaria approaching the nest.

However, these small successes never led to appreciable image sales or regular income. As social media sites like Facebook and Twitter took off, my blog posts received less and less attention, and interactions with like-minded readers (photographers and entomologists) gradually faded away. After a short blossoming period, my workshops didn’t draw enough participants to be sustainable. Dozens of excellent macro photographers strode on, using social media with zest. Many more entered the field, often with a brilliance that I never achieved.

There was no one event that triggered it. On my blog, I wasn’t getting the interest I was hoping for with local bug lovers or photographers. I didn’t have the entrepreneurial fire to push ahead to get the business truly off the ground. In some cases, my passion for the subject led me to overestimate the value of what I was producing. The Dunning-Kruger effect and Imposter Syndrome were intertwining. Whatever the reasons, the result was that it came to a point that I no longer enjoyed what I was doing. The pleasure I once took in exploring the wonders of nature with a macro lens and blogging about it faded away. Not because the exploration wasn’t worthwhile in itself, but because I had failed to turn that beloved hobby into a successful business. I gave up. Not just on the business, but on the idea of being a “Photographer”. After 2018, my cameras and lenses sat in drawers, unused for months at a time.

Retreating to a comfort zone…

This blog is a partial response to that disappointment. I want to reconnect with doing the things I love for their own sake, as an amateur (from French amateur “one who loves”), with no need for recognition or recompense, but for the joy of it. Some new interests have already taken hold, and, no doubt, photography will again be a pleasure.

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