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The Grass is Greener….Maybe.

February 13, 2009



I don’t know if this story is true. I can’t even remember where I heard it, or read it, or if I made it up.

The story goes like this.

A successful commercial photographer, from the United States, is burned out. This guy is “successful,” works all the time, and is viewed by those around him as being one of the “it” guys in the commercial photo-world.

But again, he’s burned out. So, he decides to take a break, to take off and do something for himself. He envisions time away, a return to his photographic roots.

So, he flies to Guatemala and begins making pictures, not for a client, not for an assignment, an art director, etc, but just for himself, like he did before he gained his reputation in the pro-market.

Guatemala is in celebration mode, with what I think was Easter Processions or Holy Week events, so there is much to be had, visually speaking.

(Popcorn break….maybe a beer here people.)

Okay, where were we.

As his boots scrape along the cobbled streets and the air shrieks with celebratorial horns, he begins to feel as if he is relearning his craft. Perhaps his inner child, once in a shame spiral, has begun to close the umbrella and realize that the clouds have parted and sun shines once again. (Okay, way over the top on that one.)

As this photographer works he looks across the narrow street and sees another photographer working. Younger, thinner, with more hair. Black pants, black jacket, Leica in hand, shooting the same scenes. (Okay, making this up at this point, just filler, hang with me.)

It’s impossible not to notice each other, really impossible not to do the “bro nod” registering the presence of one other.

Time passes, many winds of the advance lever, many failed moments, but a few that just might work. Life is good, there is no phone to reach for, no tethered rig to take the surprise out of life, only the pocket full of film to wonder about.

As the days events wind down and the revelry tapers off, both photographers end up at the same intersection and make their introductions.

The younger photographer is from Eastern Europe, is on a longer trip through Central America, and is staying at a hostel close by, but they decide to head to the American photographer’s hotel which is the same distance, but has a better bar. (Photographers, bars, a long, long relationship here.”)

Beers all around. Gallo if I remember correctly. Glug, glug, glug.

The talk is about photography, about Guatemala, about what they have seen, heard and photographed. They handle each others cameras, one using the tiny Leica, the other a larger, modern slr. Nothing to serious.

And then something subtle yet dramatic happens. The young photographer pulls a box of images from his small shoulder bag. 5×7, black and white silver prints.

What’s in the box is only his life, his entire photographic life, existence, etc, is on these small prints. His life’s work, the pursuit, his passion, whatever you want to call it.

The images are from all over the globe. One shot here, one from there, great, powerful, simple moments.

Deep inside his heart the American photographers feels a pull he cannot deny. Jealousy? Envy? Awe? Admiration? All the above?

This person across from him, and this magic box hold what he knows, or believes is a representation of the ultimate goal.

The conversation continues but the American is distracted. He hears himself speaking but doesn’t know what he is actually saying.

He begins to describe his life, as he has no prints, no remnants of his life, other than the family photos riding next to his passport.

He describes his work, his studio, his clients, his ads, etc.

The younger photographer asks more and more questions. He is contemplating what is next in his life. Where does he want to go? When will his luck run out? Or his money?

If he could get one or two of these ad jobs the American is describing then perhaps he could continue his pursuit with more ease, with more wiggle room.

He listens to the American with envious ears, slightly jealous and admiring this guy who has managed to land the big jobs.

Both participants looking across the photographic fence at the potential of the other’s grass. If I could only get to another place. If, if, if, I could only get……..what?

I don’t know the moral of this story. Or the lesson, if there even is one. But, I’ve found myself in both of these positions over the years, and look back and wonder what would have happened had I made the other choice. What if I took that damn blue pill instead of the red?

Maybe the moral is that certain questions must be answered, or maybe just should be answered before we proceed.

Starting with, “What do I really want to do?”

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