On Being a Photographer: HOLI & a D7000

HOLI was coming up in a week. I was going to photograph it, of course but this time I was the official photographer. In a moment of impulsiveness I decided it was time to upgrade my D90 body and get something better. I almost bought the wrong thing, a body that would have been incompatible with my lenses, but I was smart enough to consult with a fellow photographer, my guru in such matters, who I knew would guide me the right way. He advised me toward the D7000 and within a few hours it was on its way to Lafayette.

I got it a day before HOLI. I played around with it. Messed with the settings. Made more frantic calls to my guru. I calibrated the lenses, which I didn’t even know was a thing. I couldn’t get my zoom lens to work on the new body so I decided to attach it to the D90 and bring it along as well.

The next day I got to HOLI and started shooting. I noticed the spot metering wasn’t working quite the way I expected it to. I fumbled around with two bodies, a feat other photographers seem to handle with ease. I’m too clumsy for all that equipment flopping around my neck. I found my guru, who had driven three hours with guests to attend HOLI. Skipping pleasantries, I immediately started peppering him with questions. His suggestion that I shoot in manual mode and spot meter for shade and sunlight was enough to give me a panic attack.

“Screw that.” I told him. “I’m putting it on Aperture priority and hoping for the best.”

All day I moved around alternating between my fussy D7000 that randomly decided to work with my 24mm lens and changing lenses on the old D90 while color flew all around me. I couldn’t even tell which was working better and taking the better shots. The 18-55, the 24, the 50, my good old 80-200 that never lets me down? Was it the D90 with the 24 or the D7000 with the 50? Who knows what was going on all day. I was just moving around lenses, fiddling with settings and changing bodies at random.

I’m not a technical photographer. I’ve watched my peers start off with manual film cameras, as I did and flourish into studio lighting and commercial work and super fancy lens collections and thriving freelance businesses. I’m an emotional photographer. I just want to make pretty images from the world around me. I want to kidnap the spirit of what is happening and seal it into a photograph. I want people to see how beautiful they are and how happy they were at that moment when I suspended a second of their life. It just so happens that my medium is a complicated piece of engineering with more capabilities than my patience will ever allow me to understand and utilize. So I fumble around, making countless mistakes, hoping to come away with some success.

By the end of the day I was exhausted. I had never had so much color on my cameras or my self. I wondered if they would survive the ordeal.

After a long bath and a little rest, I started looking at the images.

For every good photo, there were 15-20 bad ones. But goddammit, the good ones were pretty damn good. On one of the last cards, I found an image; beautiful, dark, brown hands holding a clump of bright green color. Her red shirt with just a hint of blurred out paisley pattern contrasting the color and texture of the green clumps. Someone had just thrown a bit in the air, so a few green droplets and dust were in the shot. The focus was miraculously sharp. It was perfect. It was a perfect photograph. I looked at it and thought, That’s it. That makes the whole day worth it. Hell, that makes my life worth it. If I exist in this world just to have created that one image, I’m good. 

Ok, ok, I know that’s a bit hyperbolic.

But being an artist sucks sometimes. The failures, the attempts, the missed opportunities, the competition, the motivation, the lack of emotional and material validation and the doubt. The never ending doubt that is an essential but painful part of the creative process. It can be overwhelming.

But that’s the price we pay for those singular moments of joy. The millisecond when you see it through the lens and you know you’ve captured something wonderful. I look at that photo and all the others that I managed to come away with despite my clumsiness and lack of technical prowess and I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I know I should never stop attempting to create those artifacts of beauty and joy, even if I have to learn how to use a new camera to do so.

So, I guess it was a true HOLI for me. A fun, beautiful day surrounded by happy, wonderful people, leaving me a gift of renewal and realization of my own intent and purpose in my little, weird world.


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