I decided to take the summer off from photography classes because I burned out of doing just about anything this spring. Teaching middle school was draining on all levels, and I actually developed situational depression. Today is my second official day of summer break and while I have no job lined up for the fall, I feel a little bit better. I had nothing to write about in this blog since March because I was pretty numb. Now, I find myself looking back at the experience, and that is making me look forward.
A little back story:
I don't know if the administrator who evaluated me this year just didn't like me or should possibly retire. I was a new teacher not only at the school but also in the district, which made me a "probationary" teacher. By mid-fall, I understood that I was having a lot of classroom management issues and that I wasn't suited for teaching middle schoolers. It takes a very special and amazing kind of teacher to teach that age group. That's not me.
I was honest with my admin. Probably the big mistake. At first, I thought she was supportive of me looking for a high school to transfer to. She even said as much. But this spring, basically she made it so that I could not transfer. I had a deadline to find a school, but that deadline was impossible because no schools in the district would be offering positions until long after it. Long story short, I had to choose to resign from the district entirely.
A colleague at the school suggested that if one were to look for a silver lining, it might be that forcing me to resign also forced me to not see my position at the middle school as a fall-back in case I didn't find a high school to transfer to. That job was really killing me. I was so miserable that I would cry on my way home at least once a week. This blog isn't about teaching or adolescents or hormones, so I'm not going any further with the explanations, but if you've ever been a middle-schooler, you know what you and your peers were like.
At first, my colleague's advice meant nothing, but recently it has. My job situation being up in the air (again) as it is, I am forced to look at all of my options. I still want to be a set photographer, but in the meantime, I have been doing live theatre photography. It occurred to me that they are similar and that finding opportunities to do theatre photography might be easier than set photography. If I can build a portfolio through theatre, it might increase my chances to get the set work, especially when I am more ready skill-wise, to take it on.
I read several articles about live theatre photography, and so far I've been doing things correctly just by using common sense. I certainly picked up a few excellent suggestions, like setting the ISO to the fastest setting before the images get grainy, which for my Fuji X-Pro 2
I am in the midst of a career change. For twenty years, I've been an educator. I've taught English and writing in middle and high schools and (mostly) at colleges and universities. I've been a tutor and a test scorer, too. I'm very, very good at teaching anything English, probably in part because I'm also a professional writer and editor. But this was not the career I really wanted. It wasn't my dream. It started as the "day job" that would pay the bills while I pursued a career in writing for film and television, but anyone who has ever tried - whether or not they succeeded - will tell you that talent only gets you far after luck has placed your work into the right person's hands, and those hands are nearly impossible to find.
I will never stop writing. As I said, though, I understand the game I'm playing out here in Los Angeles. I've been at it for a long time. I was getting close several years ago, but personal obligations took me away from Los Angeles, and for a while I thought I should just give up. So when I returned to L.A., I was pretty much back where I started, only I was a far better writer.
So the photography.
My father gave me an Olympus OM-1 when I was about ten years old. He was an amateur photographer himself, so he showed me how to use it and then let me go. I wish I had those photos still. I loved taking pictures as much as I did writing or telling stories. It was always a hobby, though, whereas writing became that "thing."
Now, over thirty years later, having burned out completely from teaching, I am attending the Academy of Art University's MFA Photography program online. It's an amazing program, one I really wish I could devote all my time to. This was a major choice for me on several levels.
This is a big financial investment. I have already racked up a ton of financial aid debt from a Master of Professional Writing, a Masters in Secondary Teacher Education, and an MFA in Creative Writing. The decision to return to school for one last round was difficult. As a full time teacher, a mother of two young kids, and supporter of my parents who live down the street from us, we simply don't have the finances for me to quit my job and take an entry level photographer job at a portrait studio or to be a PA on a set. An academic program with a great reputation is really my only reasonable way in.
It's a huge time investment. As I said above, I have a lot of responsibilities. My spouse, also a teacher, is not home until late during much of the school year because she is a high school theatre teacher and runs the spring and fall shows. Before I started this program at AAU, I hardly had time to write. Now, I have less. But considering that my current teaching position, which is at a middle school, is stressing me so badly that I am taking antidepressants for the first time in my life, I feel that the extraordinary amount of time I have to spend doing my assignments is worth it.
It is a commitment to putting myself out there. As a writer, we put our writing out into the world. I've been at this long enough to know how to take criticism. If you tell me you don't like something I wrote and give me concrete reasons why, I get that. If you just say you don't like it, well, so what? Photography is the same, but recognition is much, much faster. Someone can look at an image you posted somewhere and put a start or comment on it. Someone reads your book, they have to first read the book and then bother to go back and review it, or in the case of getting a script into the right hands, you have to first FIND THE RIGHT HANDS. In the meantime, you can get feedback from writing groups or fellow writers, or you can enter contests, but it takes much more time to get that feedback. And then, nobody else will see your feedback unless you pay to post your scripts on various websites. The biggest difference to me is the type of feedback you can get. For writing, readers have to internalize it before judging it. The written word creates images in the mind. Each image is unique to every individual, no matter how much detail a writer provides. Photos are already visual. They can be judged on composition as much as content or implied content. A script could be judged for its format (composition), but that's just surface stuff. Visual art certainly does affect the mind of the viewer, but the image is the image. The viewer doesn't alter the image in his or her mind. It's just there. So to me, putting my photography out there makes me vulnerable much quicker than putting writing out there. And that's okay. If I didn't, I couldn't prove myself. But it's a commitment nonetheless. I have to put out way more pictures than I will ever put out writing samples.
I'm doing this because I absolutely love taking pictures. Candids are my favorite. I'd really love to be a set photographer because of this. Capturing moments as they happen, when people or animals are being themselves (even if they are being themselves as a character) freeze memories that we can look on later, and they will trigger memories of the larger context. "Real" moments are also challenging to compose. You can't ask people to stop what they're doing. You have to take a ton of pictures as a fly on the wall (so I now have a silent camera I'll discuss in a future post) and sort through them for the perfect, encapsulating story. I also enjoy landscape photography, but I don't get to do much of it. I'm hoping to do a project about landscape in areas of Los Angeles that are not usually photographed. And I know it's boring to most people, but as an amateur meteorologist, I am TOTALLY fascinated with the sky. Especially out here, when until recently the drought and cloudless skies went pretty much hand in hand, I love to study clouds.
Yes, I'm still finding myself here, but I know for sure what my end-goal career is. Publicity is immersive. Being in the middle of the business of a set always made me happy, even when I was a PA (Production Assistant). I miss it.
So that's where I am right now. I'm in my second semester at AAU, a truly wonderful program. This blog is my journey into uncharted waters. I'm not a kid anymore, but I have too much of my life left to keep going the way it's been going. Plus, I want to show my kids that it doesn't matter how old you are or what is going on in your life, if something drives you, it's important to figure out how to achieve what you want... or what you need.