Photography is MORE

I have been a photographer for many years, as a professional, and before that as an avid hobbyist. Many of you who have taken classes from me know how much I believe photography plays a vital role in our world, and we can use our photography talents to make this world a better place. That is why I have donated my time and energy to a wide range of causes over the years.

I’ve worked with so many photographers since I don’t just do photography, I also teach photography. The first photography class I ever taught was in 1978. Since then, I also have organized several different photographer groups in the Austin area. I love photography and I love people.

In the midst of this COVID-19 Crisis, I have scrambled to try to adapt to this ever-changing situation, to keep my little business going. The escalation of this crisis was so abrupt, I frankly wasn’t ready for my studio to be totally shut down. So, I’ve been scrambling to start offering online classes, especially while my studio is totally shut down.

I have also been going on longer walks every morning, just to clear my mind. I call them my “sanity walks.”

This whole experience has really caused me to pause and reflect on just what my purpose is in life and the purpose of my little business because I was (and am) having to navigate through some tough times to keep my business going.

Granted it is hard for my little business to compete with large companies that do continual multimedia radio, television, Internet, and print ads. But the truth is, I do not compete with them at all. My focus is different. It is 100% on the individuals I serve, whether they be my photography clients or my students. I have never really had a sense that I should grow this into a larger retail business with multiple employees and larger facility.

I think the main point I keep coming back to as I reflect on all of this is that my purpose is really tied to YOU, all of you. Not really photography. It is more than photography.

I have been blessed to meet and befriend so many wonderful people through my little business. I really cherish that. I can honestly say I have loved that part of my business. I really do love you all. We have had some great experiences together. We have had many laughs, and some of us have shared in some deep sorrows. Our lives interconnected at least for a brief time. My life was made “better” by knowing you all.

I guess I am really just fully embracing that my business isn’t about photography. It is about you. It is about life experiences, and that is true about photography in general.

Photography is more than just being about photography, if that makes sense. It is more than just getting caught up in buying new gear, new cameras, new lenses, tripods, etc. Sure there are some folks who are really into high tech gadgets, but still for most people the deepest value of photography is capacity to express art through our each individual perspective, to capture memories, to tell stories, to celebrate the beauty of this world, and to remember and share our experiences for a future generation.

Photography is About Love
If you are not photographing what you love, try to make some changes. Really reflect on what and who you love, and photograph those things and people.

Photography is About Fun
If you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong. Do what is fun to you.

Photography is About Emotion
As I have told many of my students, perhaps the most meaningful photograph you will ever take is one where there are tears in your eyes when you took the photo.

Photography is About Life
It is about documenting your story about your life experience.

Photography is About Individuality
The greatest gift you will ever give yourself as an artist is permission to be you. Don’t just copy what other people are doing. Find your own unique artistic expression. Seek more innovation and less imitation. Boldly be you, whatever that is, be you. Many of the greatest artists in the world stood out because they didn’t just copy the styles of what other artists were creating.

Photography is About Perspective
One thing I have loved about photography is that it has given me a purpose in seeing the world a little more “deeply,” to pause and take it all in more fully, to not walk on by too quickly.

Photography is About Personal Growth
Over time I have grown in my skills and perspective and inspiration. Photography just gave me an excuse to focus on those aspects.

Photography is About Gratitude
Sometimes we overlook the things closest to us. We overlook the things we take for granted (and that includes people, not just things). The best practice of photography is through a lens of gratitude. What are you grateful for? Photograph that. If you don’t, you will regret this years later. The amazing thing is, the more you focus on a perspective of gratitude and express that gratitude, you will find a deeper joy and happiness in life.

Photography is About Sharing
Unless we live in a total vacuum (granted during these COVID-19 times, with self isolating, we might feel like we’re living in a vacuum) ultimately the images we create we share with others. Photographs are meant to be shared.

Photography is About Making a Better World
We can share our photographic talents to help others like nonprofit organizations, community service groups, churches, etc. If you are gifted with photographic talents, gifts are meant to be shared. Share them.

Photography is About Artistic Humility
On occasion, I have encountered a photographer who was quite arrogant about their work, and what they talked about the most was how great they are. Arrogance hurts the artistic world and it hurts the artist. Arrogant teachers silence questions from students eager to learn. Arrogant artists think they have nothing to learn, and that stifles their own creative growth. Always remain “teachable.” Seek to always learn. I may be a teacher, but in my heart I will forever be a student. Art doesn’t have to be a competition. Don’t think about how good you are in relation to others. Just strive to improve in your own artistic pursuits. Other artists aren’t competitors. Make your only goal to be better than the photographer you were yesterday. That’ll suffice.

Photography is About Relationships
Some of my most fun photographic experiences were really the relationships, the activities, the fun we had as a group. Yes we took photos, but man those experiences were fun.

Photography is an Excuse to Do Something Different
I recall all the times photography has led me to the most amazing places, like standing 50 feet way from a bull moose feeding in a pond, or standing on the side of a mountain in darkness waiting for the sun to rise, or standing on a scissor-lift 30 feet above the ground photographing a group of 500 people, standing right at the edge of a stage as a performer was singing, … just so many stories, fun moments I would have never experienced had I not had a camera in my hand.

Photography is About Legacy
We don’t always even realize at the moment when we are creating a photograph that it might have much deeper meaning to ourselves or someone else later. In my studio photography, several times, I have taken a photograph of someone, only to find several months later or a year later they died and that photo was used for their obituary. We just don’t always know what we are really creating when we create it. Just know some of your photos are really going to matter to someone later on.

Photography is About Life Insights
I believe we have a LOT to learn by spending time listening to others, hearing their stories, and learning about different life perspectives. I truly believe that actually helps us as photographers. That is why we created a group that meets on Monday nights at my studio for free called LifeInsights. At least we met in person before this COVID-19 crisis hit. So for now we are meeting online on most Mondays, though we occasionally take a break. It is place where you can share with others, get to know others. No fee to attend. I believe we can make this world a better place if we do more to “love our neighbors” and this is my small attempt at doing just that. I am happy to share my studio for free for this, and I am looking forward to when we can open our studio again!

And Lastly, Photography is About Apertures + Shutter Speeds, etc.
Yes, you need to know how to use your camera (and I have classes for that). But photography is so much more.

Go out there and create great images.

Kevin Gourley

Kevin's book "30 Practical Tips for Better Photographs" is available in print and on Kindle devices!

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