A Loss of Identity

This is something I’ve been struggling with for a long time. It’s been a months-long struggle of feeling lost, realisation, loss, and finally some level of (brave-faced) acceptance.

A few months ago I started to really struggle with my photography work. The amount I shoot has been on a downhill trend since Eli was born, even though since that time I have pushed myself technically and artistically, and turned out some of my best work – in some ways a surprise considering the distinct lack of time and headspace I’ve been able to dedicate to making images. There have been upward spikes in that downward trend, as a fresh bout of inspiration has hit me, or as I’ve ventured far enough to pick up my camera and view the world through it. But less and less it happens, and only when I really had to.

Paying clients were one of the big things keeping me going – and when I was shooting for a client, the joy, feelings and inspiration would return. But as soon as I was away from the shoot and the rest of my life began to quickly fill my mind, the passion would soon die and what was left was…hard. I often couldn’t bring myself to face it. Not the usual feelings of I’d much rather be shooting than editing, or Man, it’ll be great to get this work done and out of the way, but instead I struggled incredibly to even face the work that remained. There was a significant weight that was attached to photography, and one that I increasingly became unable to bear. Even realising and admitting this to myself took a long time.

The hardest part in this realisation was that so much of my professional (and private) identity has been wrapped up in being a photographer. I bought my very first camera of my own in a life stage where I was starting to figure out who I was irrespective of anyone else’s input or sway on my life. It quickly flooded all throughout my life – my kit went with me. I don’t want to think about how many thousands of dollars I spent shooting 35mm before I ever owned a DSLR (and it’s the reason I never had any savings). Fast forward a few years and I met my now wife, and the first time we met I was working as a photographer. I used to take photos of her, of us, and we’d spend our then seemingly empty days driving around, visiting places, shopping (her) and shooting (me). I built a fairly decent small business that earned me a fair amount of money considering I worked full time at another job, and even got to the point of having to pass on weddings to other photographers during the busy season, because I was already booked.

I can’t emphasise the fact that I was a photographer to the core. My dad has been a hobbyist photographer for the better part of 55 years. I grew up shooting on his Nikon EM and FG film bodies, learning about focal lengths, apertures, and exposure as far back as I can remember. As soon as I owned my own kit, it went with me in the car wherever I went. If I saw a frame in my mind, I’d pull over and shoot it.

I saw the world as a photographer. Everywhere I went I was visualising how what was before my eyes would translate to the frame. My inner dialogue used to be filled with trying to figure out how best to balance what would be a tricky exposure as fog rolled away in morning sunlight. Conversations with people would have me noting on some level how the light was falling on their face, and the kind of portrait it would make.

And then it stopped.

This year has been the hardest year of my life, the hardest year of our marriage, the hardest year of our parenthood. We’ve had to sacrifice some things willingly, but for me a lot was sacrificed unknowingly, as I began to lose the ability to keep what used to be an integral part of my headspace there – there was simply too much more that demanded attention and time. The sense of loss that went along with this was far greater than I ever thought it would be. I felt like I was in mourning. It felt like I had lost a part of myself. Next to my desk would sit a bag of equipment that used to be such a privilege and thrill to open and use, and instead it sat mocking me, taunting me, and hurting me. No longer was the desire there, and what used to be a something that centred me, filled me, and relaxed me, became something that drained and pained me. I couldn’t face it, and when I did, it only served to frustrate me.

I finally came to the realisation that letting go and moving on was simply the only option left. As much as family would tell me that it was deliberately moving on and closing something, to me it has only felt like defeat and failure.

I’m a photographer. I was a photographer. I still felt like a photographer, even though I couldn’t bring myself to do anything as a photographer. My father, in his 70s and fighting both Parkinson’s Disease and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, shoots tens upon hundreds upon thousands of photos of Eli, every week when he goes to their house on a Wednesday night and Thursday. And me, the professional photographer, can’t even pick up his camera to take a photo of his wife or son.

My last client work is all but wrapped up, and with it comes the hardest decision of all. Do I close down the online portfolios and redirect the URL to this blog or some intermediary page, or do I leave them up knowing that if an enquiry or job opportunity comes along, it well be more detrimental than beneficial.

Like I said before, it’s a brave-faced acceptance – and that is only of the fact that I’m not a photographer any more. But it’s not an euphoric, weight-lifting acceptance. It’s one that still hurts.

One Response to “A Loss of Identity

  • James!
    Thank you of being so honest! I’ve been going through a similar thing as I’ve made a firm decision to tear up my teaching registration. I know it was the right thing to do but I also feel like there’s a deep sense of loss. Part of me stands relieved but there’s a really big part of me which is now lost with an identity wound up in being a stay at home mum.
    But enough about me…
    I think keep your website. Feelings aside, you are still darn good at what you do! (And I totally wanted you for our wedding… But mum had already arranged a photographer!)

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