I have become a big fan of Alec Soth's blog. He's been writing recently about family life and photography. I mentioned it at dinner and Robin came back an hour later with this essay.
Doug has asked me to write about being the wife of a photographer.
In our early courtship, while talking about dreams for the future, Doug stated that he wanted to be a travel photographer, away from home a good part of the time. He also wanted to have children. I told him that I was interested but not set on having children and that I didn't want to be a single parent, especially if I was married. He did travel. We didn't have children. It was the right choice for us.
Advice to photographers' significant others:
- Always bring food, water, and a book. If the light becomes "perfect" (usually early or late in the day, or if it's overcast in just the right way), your photog will be captivated by it. Do insist on your right to go to the bathroom, be dropped at the hotel before the light comes in, or have your basic needs taken care of.
- Don't take it personally when he says, "The light is beautiful on you." You could be a rock, or a stump, or a wall. But he probably loves you anyway.
- Don't take it personally when you become the "foreground element". It's not about you. You're just the one that's there.
- Do take it personally, in the best way, if you become the object of many studies. Photographers connect with the world through their cameras. It is another way of being known.
- You don't have to like all of the work, if you like the photographer. Doug has one body of work that is too visually complex for my brain to process. None of this work is in the living room. If your person needs you to love every picture, send him to therapy. If you think you need to love every picture, go yourself.
- Get used to schedule changes. Your photog might find out on Tuesday that he's going to Ireland for two weeks on Thursday. Have friends to fill in the gap. Accommodations I figured out included putting in a watering system for the garden; hiring people to do some of his tasks; and letting myself be pissed about the changes, until I'm not.
- Keep in contact. In most places in the developed world, there are local cell phones for sale. Speak often. Email. Whine. Say endearments. Listen to whining. Support. Ask for support. It's good glue. We talk almost every day. I especially like to bask in Doug's excitement when he's on a shoot and it's going well. He does bliss well.
- It's okay to demand that the geek speak stops, when you've run out of patience for it. Especially if they're talking about digital workflows. It's rude for people to speak in a language not shared by others.
- It's OK to play the wife role, on occasion. I do this at openings and print sales and during the big post-shoot image processing. Other times, be who you are, more than wife. Doug is the wife at my conferences and book signings and when I'm writing. It's OK to be flexible. Don't get caught up in the role. It's not a full enough identity for anyone.
- If you're traveling together, don't think you have to be joined at the hip. Pursue your own interests, then meet later. Do ask your person to leave the camera in the room or in the bag for a meal or an evening. Suggesting that making contact with you might allow your photog to "get lucky" can help this occur. It works for me.
- If he's been gone for a long time, and you've had the house to yourself, expect conflict on re-entry. It's normal. It's predictable. Just have it. He's invading your space, after all.
- Don’t worry about the "Bridges of Madison County" scenario. You know how he really is.
A story: Several years ago, outside of Banff, after a full day of shooting, the light changed and Doug became enchanted. I was really hungry. After 45 minutes, I demanded to be driven into town for food. Reluctantly, Doug packed up his gear, and we drove to a 2nd-floor sushi bar. I was facing the window. The light was magical. We ordered anyway. Before the fish came, I saw a rainbow over Mount Rundle. I said, "Doug, get your gear and get out there." He did. 20 minutes later he returned. Three minutes later, the second rainbow appeared, arcing over the other. "Get back out there, now!" The waiter didn't know what was going on. He kept asking if everything was alright. He didn't understand my explanation: "My husband is a photographer."