There was a time, once, when one of my cats had to undergo surgery… and I remember myself asking the doc, if he could give me something for the pain. And he looked at me for a moment… obviously, a bit surprised that I would make such an unreasonable request… and then, realizing that I just didn’t understand, he explained. You can’t give an animal a pain killer, because the pain serves a valuable function in nature. Without the pain, the animal feels as if everything is all right, and he will behave as if he weren’t limited… and might not live through the experience. No, he has to have that pain all the time to remind him to just lie around and not do anything till he recovers.
I suppose that’s why I had to have three heart attacks before I changed my life style. Most of my life, I was so strong, that I just didn’t have to think about limits. I could carry any burden, work for as many hours as I thought was appropriate, under any conditions; could keep on going without sleep or without food… and at worst, it just seemed like an inconvenience to me. There were a few times, of course, when things went wrong… when I was wounded or sick, but they were unusual and rare incidents, and I did what the doctor ordered. But then, one day… I discovered that I had found my limit, and it took a while before I learned how to live differently. But I did. I am thoroughly enjoying living life within the limits nowadays.
After they had opened me up and put me back together, what I was given to understand, was that I should just calm down. Fortunately, I was informed that there are some very light medicines that could calm me down. But this was a problem for me. I’d never taken any pills all my life. Not even vitamin pills or an aspirin for a headache. And what’s more, all my life, I’d tried to be more sensitive and not less; to take things to heart; to empathize with my fellow man,… and so on. I accepted their opinions with confidence and respect. But I just couldn’t imagine myself taking a valium every day to remain calm. So I told them I would have to learn to deal with this problem with my own resources. But that it looked liked a serious job. It was. It was one of the hardest changes I had to go through. But I don’t take valium to this day.
When I first got into commercial photography, it was because I had numerous expensive habits, and most expensive among them, was my interest in art. Having to support a family, I couldn’t take it for granted that I would succeed in such a mercurial profession, where fashions and taste often determine success or failure. And the percentages of financial prosperity are extremely small. Commercial photography is like any craft or business. You have to know your craft, and you have to know a little about business. And then, if you’re willing to work, your biggest problem is not letting your money slip out of your pocket on the way to the bank. I got to know some of the finest in my profession, and I often heard the same story. They had fallen in love with the profession, when first they studied it. But after a while, the greatest pleasure turned into a chore. You had to do the same thing over and over again… and the better you get at it, the more boring it gets.
I’ve heard similar complaints about other professions. I became good friends with another photographer in my town. He too had a studio, and did work much like the work I did. And I admired his imagination and originality; his flair with the camera. He was able to turn an advertisement into a compelling story, or pull your eyes into an image till you just wanted to bathe your senses in the pleasurable colors and shapes of the images he produced. Since we actually worked in relatively close proximity, we used to go off for long lunches together, drinking and eating to our hearts’ content, and discussing what the world was all about. And since we came from different backgrounds, and had different political points of view, it was all the more fun to discuss and compare our attitudes towards life, culture, politics, and what the future might bring.
One day, we had finished our lunch and were sitting on the patio of an enchanting local restaurant that specializes in ‘country food’… you know, using those ingredients that are native to our country, and the spices that grow wild around here. When we would finish our lunch, the owner of the restaurant would come by to ask how we liked the meal, and offer us a liqueur that was flavored with a number of local spices, and was actually pretty strong alcohol… and that day we were feeling especially good, and just kept refilling the little shot glasses we had their on the table. The both of us had a good amount of work to go back to, but we also had employees working hard while we were gone. And we knew, that come what may, we would manage to complete those jobs that we had committed ourselves to.
And then, after a long pause, he said, ‘you know, Shimon, You could make a lot more money’. How, I asked. I was making enough money. I was thoroughly enjoying my life. But he was always looking for ways to make more… and of course, I was always willing to listen to his ideas. And his was pretty simple. My studio had a photo lab attached, and we were open to any sort of business that would come our way. Sometimes it was some little job, but had to be prepared just right, and that meant setting up a studio background, finding the right lens, arranging the lights just so… And other times it might be a project, which included a lot of graphic work, the use of Polaroids to check the lighting, and dashes into the lab, to check to see that the work was coming out just the way we wanted before all of the theatrical set-up was taken apart. There was a lot of work and time spent, going from one job to the next. And his idea was for me to specialize; to pick just a few types of jobs that were well remunerated, and then to concentrate on them.
I thanked him for his advice, and explained to him that I enjoyed my work being an adventure. Going from one thing to another, having constant challenges, and a lot of variation in my work, was just the thing that kept me in love with what I was doing. I could probably make a bit more money, concentrating on just a couple of really well paying types of work, but then I might lose the feeling of fun I had about my work. He didn’t reply. Because we both knew, that though he was younger than me, he had already lost the fun of working in our profession.
And why do I think about that now? Because in blogging, I do the same. I allow myself to touch any number of subjects, and don’t really specialize, though art and photography are pretty high on my list of interests. And this morning, as I was reading the paper, I thought of a number of subjects that were certainly worth writing about. But then I thought of those people that Lenin used to call ‘useful fools’. And that I might be inviting some responses that would bring me heartache. It isn’t like me, to avoid a subject, just because it is out of the consensus. But at the same time, I thought, I’ve got to avoid this heartache… and that gave me another idea of something to write about.