If There's No Joy

At the start of summer I began conducting private photography lessons for two high school freshmen. Both young women are smart, motivated, and talented.

We meet once a week. The mother of one brings them to the studio, then she sits back and takes notes while these students learn about composition, storytelling, aperture, and shutter speed.

These two hours I spend with them are completely different than anything else I do. They're so happy to be here. Their love for taking pictures radiates from their smiles. And they're good at it. I wouldn't want to compete against them a few years up the road.

This experience has been on my mind since the first session. And I've been trying to figure out why there's so much joy with these women compared to the daily cynicism that appears in my inbox? Is it their youth? I don't know.

I received a letter yesterday from a podcast listener who stated that he will no longer be following my show. It was because of a joyous remark I made in a tweet - not because I criticized someone or cast aspersions against an institution. I was just happy.

Other typical notes obsess about technical nits or question artistic choices made by various photographers. And what I started wonder is, how good are the photographs made by these critics? Are their images as compelling as those produced by a pair of 13-year-old girls?

Again, I don't know. But I have a guess. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that photographs need to be happy. But I do believe that passion for the craft, and life itself, leads to better pictures. Whether you're capturing something that's heartwarming or heart wrenching, it's your compassion for either that can help elevate your art.

I've known this for quite some time. But I was reminded again by two young women. They think that taking pictures is supposed to be fun.

And I'm not going to tell them anything different.