A Single Step
By Brad Beckstrom
I lost something 30 years ago and I just found it. In high school, I dreamed of creating great images, starting my own creative studio. Life moved on, the working world, a business, and later, a family became priorities. After college, I put down my camera creatively. That was 1985. Just this past year I picked it up again.
You see, I didn’t physically lose the camera. I’ve taken thousands of photos in the past 30 years. I’ve traveled, taking all of the requisite nicely composed tourist and family photos. I’ve loaded up Facebook, Instagram, Flickr and the like with iPhone photos.
In the mid 90s, I experimented with the first digital cameras, producing digital postcard events for clients. Images that included full-color logos and postcard backings. The personalized postcards were printed on-site using high-tech dye sublimation printers at events across North America and as far away as Singapore. They were phenomenally popular and drove our business for years. We printed and loaded literally tens of thousands of images onto the web using something called fetch, before photo sharing sites like flickr or SmugMug arrived. My interest in photography had paid off, but in the end, this was just high-volume, branded event photography.
How I began to scratch that long-lost creative itch.
One snowy Saturday I came across the award winning documentary “Finding Vivian Maier.” It’s about a longtime nanny who took over 100,000 photographs and hid the negatives in storage lockers that weren’t discovered until decades later.
She had shown her work to no one.
Maier’s massive body of work was discovered at a Chicago thrift auction house years after she passed away. Her photo archive has been reconstructed, published, and featured in hundreds of publications and exhibitions. Years after her death, she has been lauded as one of the great street photographers of the 20th century.
Maier was an intensely private person. She wasn’t interested in sharing her work with friends and acquaintances and certainly not the public. For most of her life, she worked full-time as a nanny, yet was able to amass an amazing portfolio of photographs. Her images included street life in New York, Chicago, and cities around the world. She was doing this for the love of it in the purest sense of the word.
Doing it just for the love of it. Therein lies the secret of truly finding something you’re passionate about. What is that thing you would do for free? What is that thing you would continue to do, without remuneration, recognition or even the awareness of friends and family. You would continue to do it even if you had to choose between paying the rent on time and this passion.
Vivian Maier’s negatives and a large storage trunk were sold off due to non payment of rent. The negatives later ended up at an auction house where they discovered as part of a large stash of items that were parceled out. As part of the stash hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film were also found. Vivian had put film processing on hold as she struggled financially later in life. She continued to take photographs until 2007 before passing away a short time later in April 2009.
What is that thing you would continue to do till your last years? Time is an important part of this equation. Some, but not many are lucky enough to find their passion early in life. A passion can be discovered later and we may have more time than we think. It’s not unreasonable to think that someone could live a productive life into their 80s. If you’re healthy and you’re doing something you love, you may cross that imaginary finish line at 65 and keep on going.
For instance if you started working in your 20s and you are currently 50. You have 50% of your productive years ahead of you. Even a passionate 65-year-old may have 25% or more of their productive life ahead of them.
Think about that. 50% of your productive years ahead of you at even 50 years of age.
Creating The Big Audacious Quest
So now if I’ve truly rediscovered my passion for photography, where will that lead me? Could I take over 100,000 photographs like Vivian did even though she started in her 20s? Could I store these away digitally to be found by a distant relative or stranger many years later? Could I reignite a passion in the second half of my working life even with so much else to do?
Will I keep going, without acknowledgment, gallery shows or even likes on Instagram? I believe I can. It will be a journey to find out. I needed to start by thinking long term. I needed to think of a big audacious quest that would take me around the world and a decade to complete.
I put some numbers to it. Amassing 100,000 images at my current pace would likely take 10 years. My journey from amateur photographer to master would look like this.
100,000 Photos Taken
10,000 Photos Published
1,000 Places Explored in
100 Cities Visited
10 Years in the Making
1 Amazing Story
By writing it down and putting some numbers to it, I’ve got a feel for what I’m getting into. Writing down this long-term goal doesn’t guarantee I’ll make it. Life could get in the way again. Sharing this will help keep me going. I’ve set up a free cloud storage account with amazon and have begun publishing my photos here. I’ll continue writing about it as well.
To me, writing and photography are a fix for someone who’s interested in everything. The writing helps me decipher all these signals and point me in the right direction. Writing things down and sharing images helps me look back and connect the dots.
Learn more about Vivian Maier on Artsey.
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