I rushed from one end of town to the other, late for the gig. Some things never change. Others do. Tonight it's not beer or fag ash I'm wiping off my trousers, it's my daughter's mashed potato. At least there's no soundcheck, but the slideshow needs prepping. Rushing, then waiting... smelling vaguely electrical, of sweat and apprehension.
I did my first talk as a 'pro-photographer' the other night. I spent a good part of the first half somewhere on the upright side of hypoxia, my nerves at talking to 100 or so people translated as a tightness in the chest. I remember now, the performance drill. I used to do this for a living... but as a teacher, sometimes a musician, before that as a tech, not a photographer. I enjoyed the second half of the gig, I hope those on the receiving end felt the same... but despite spending half the night after awake pouring over the bits that went well and the bits that didn't gel, I still don't know for sure. I heard the odd ooh and aah, took the odd question, but there were some in the front row with their eyes closed as well as some with theirs wide open. Everyone was still awake at the end, so I guess that's a positive.
Like teaching, to do this properly, to do right by the people who've bothered to rock up on a dark, damp Monday, after a day of grinding away at a real job, does in its turn take alot of energy, and apparently, some soul searching. That and an espresso and 3 mouthfuls of somebody else's wine an hour before showtime. With my editing hat on I spend alot of time looking for value in other peoples work. Genuinely. I enjoy it, but it has meant I haven't spent nearly so much looking hard at what I do, until recently. Some of those on their 5th (or 15th) book/tour/whatever might assume this is an avoidance strategy, but I found taking myself seriously enough to prepare in the weeks before pretty stressful. Not stressful as in "FIRE!" but... existentially. I've fought a fair few bone fide fires in previous work, so I realise how ridiculous this sounds - I'm not fresh out of college. But why do I take pictures like this and not like that? What right have I to stand up and talk about pictures and not a hundred other people...? I sweated on those sorts of questions all over again like I haven't done since my 20's, even though they seem absurdly indulgent.
In the interval, I was approached by a guy who asked me if I was a 'proper' photographer. I'd started the evening with a quote I've used before on here from Cartier Bresson, about not being a photographer but about being a human using a camera instead. Screw the labels. Anyway, this guy was acting pretty strange... leaning in, slurring his words... and I got a little defensive, crossed my arms, asked him what he thought, having seen half the show. He apologised in case he'd offended me, and told me he was autistic, and had to leave just before we were due to finish in order to take his medicine. My turn to apologise. I was being a prick. This wasn't about me, it was about him.
I don't have any answers, just more questions. I didn't want to show just the chocolate box shots, there are other stories to tell. Square peg, round hole, same shit, different day. But then I remember these same pennies dropping from teaching, and from playing music too - you hear a way of describing an idea, coming out of your mouth or your instrument and think 'oh yeah, that's what I meant, all this time, that's what I was driving at'. There's a level of detachment and exchange in all improvisation which can't happen without an audience. On a good day, everyone participates. These things are symbiotic, a showing of faith. Anyway, all's well that ends well. Apparently even I'm allowed to take myself half seriously, every so often. I guess I'm giving myself permission. Watch it though, sonny, don't get smart.