Robert Hecht




ON PERSEVERING AS A PHOTOGRAPHER
by
Robert Hecht


Recently I opened a fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant and received the following profound words of wisdom:

Good things come
to one who preservers.
(sic)


Well, I’ve been preservering (sic) for quite some time now as a photographer—steadily for over 35 years. I consider it to be the real work of my life, even though it would never have been possible without the economic support provided by my “day job” as a video producer. And while many good things have come to me from photography, I find that I must actively cultivate a positive perspective about my art work—and its relative success in the world—to appreciate the truly valuable aspects of a life in creative photography. I believe this ability is critical to my ability to persevere.

It would be far easier for me to focus on all of the myriad “good” things that have not come my way, and sometimes, alas, I still do. This is especially true when my ego succeeds in shouting down my rational mind and gets in the final word—as egos are so skillful and insistent at doing.

So, for the benefit of those who may share my sardonic inclinations, I’d like to list a few of these all-too-familiar “ego traps”.

— I have not yet become a household name.
(Well, I am a household name, but only in my own
household, and perhaps in one or two others.)

— My profoundly unique artistic vision has not been
widely recognized.
(My wife and kids believe in my genius, though—at least they
tell me they do—and my dog enthusiastically agrees.)

— I have not entered the pantheon of great West
Coast photographers.
(I was quite sure this would have happened decades ago—in fact, shortly after moving to the West Coast from New Jersey.)

— I do not have the representation of a prestigious,
influential gallery.
(Nor of any gallery at all as of this moment.)

— Wealth, even agreeably modest wealth, has eluded me.
(I do believe, however, that had I invested all of the money I instead spent on paper, film, cameras and lenses, etc., I would by now have amassed a sizable fortune.)

— I am not able to live from the sales of my prints.
(A squirrel would have trouble living from the sales of my prints.)

—I do not count among my close personal friends the greatest
living photographers.
(Hell, I hardly even know any photographers, and for that
matter have very few friends.)

— My work is not often seen by a large audience.
(Sometimes it is seen by very large individuals—does that count?)

In short, fame and fortune have thus far escaped me. As the jazz saxophonist Paul Desmond once remarked: “I was overlooked long before anybody knew who I was.”

I know there still lives in me some small, if delusional, hope that major success will indeed yet come. These days I tend to think that it’s just because I’m still living that my work hasn’t been more fully accepted. And with time, that will change. The living part, that is. (I am at least becoming old—isn’t that the next most valuable thing to being dead???)

So what has persevering all these years as a photographer brought to
me? Well......

— I get to call myself an artist (or if I’m feeling really
pretentious, a “fine-art” photographer).
(And that and a hundred bucks will buy me a
box of paper.)

— I get to experience the satisfaction of creating my own
unique images.
(At least they seem unique to me. But could this possibly be
just a form of visual masturbation?)

— I get to show my work to a small but appreciative audience.
(I still, however, encounter people who are impressed most
of all by my bevel-edged mats.)

— I get to spend a lot of time in the dark.
(Why is it that darkroom days so often fall on gloriously sunny ones?)

— I get to have many character-building experiences.
(This is a result of having to adjust to the many forms of
rejection my work regularly receives.)

— I get to engage in profound soul-searching.
(This is usually along the lines of : “Is my work great? Is it worthless? Is it great? Is it worthless?” And so on.)

— I get to confront a whole range of other personal doubts.
(These are often about such things as: “I knew I should have bought that other lens!” “I knew I should have taken that workshop!” “I knew I shouldn’t have taken that workshop!” “I knew I should have been working in a larger format all these years!” “I knew I should have taken up stockcar racing!”)

— I get to tell people I meet that I’m a photographer.
(But why do they invariably say “No kidding—so am I!”?)

The truth is that I deeply love what I do. I love being a photographer! I consider it a tremendous blessing to have connected with this medium, and to be finding my own ways of creating work within it. It is, for me, the perfect medium with which to respond to the visual world.

What has it given me, and why do I persevere? Through photography, I have learned so much—about myself and about life. I have learned to look, to pay attention to the moment, to try to feel the significance of everything I see. As a result, my awareness and appreciation of the world have grown profoundly, and my life has been enriched beyond anything I ever dreamt since I first picked up a seemingly innocent-looking camera. Who knew what changes it would bring?

Most importantly, working in this medium has given me greater personal strength, and the conviction that anything I feel so strongly about has to be worth doing.

What’s more, I have been exposed to the work of many wonderful photographers, whose images have nurtured and challenged me. And I believe that the truly great workers in this medium are indeed among the very greatest artists of all time.

(I guess it’s true, good things do come to one who preservers!)

The work itself, for me, is truly its own reward, despite the frustrations. But in anything that is worth doing there are frustrations, and often significant ones. The process of creating something worthwhile is fraught with endless successions of problems and challenges. In many ways, it is meeting and conquering these things that helps to give work its meaning, I believe.

Throughout all the years of staying with the work, I believe the most important thing has been concentrating on satisfying my own artistic goals, and not getting diverted by how well or how poorly the work is received by the world. If success had been my main focus from the beginning, I would have quit ages ago, figuring it was a lost cause. And I would have missed out on the best part, because my work has really only come into its own, I feel, in the past ten to fifteen years—that’s twenty to twenty-five years after starting!

My ego, of course, wants to keep throwing obstacles in my path: doubts, fears, jealousies, grandiose expectations—it’s the ego’s job, after all. But my job is to not let my ego destroy any of the joy that I otherwise receive from simply doing the work. Truthfully, it’s a fight at times; my ego does win a few rounds now and then, but ultimately I come out the winner—a bit bruised but victorious!

One thing I know for certain—whether external success comes to me or not makes no difference—I continue to do the work and to keep reaching for the outer limits of my own artistic ability. I have never thought of quitting. (On the contrary, now that I’ve made it through all these years, I’m sure I can go the distance.)

True, it would be nice to have my work meet with “success,” but it has nothing to do with why I got into this grand, if somewhat crazy, endeavor in the first place. So, I’ll just keep photographing, because as far as I’m concerned, good things have come to me. I’ll keep persevering as long as I the energy and the eyesight—and oh yes, the money to buy film and paper.