Tossing in the towel

Dolly Sods, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

At one point in my life, I dreamed of being a photographer for National Geographic. I think it was around the time I was 14 or so, before I had picked up a DSLR and even gotten serious about photography. I dreamed of traveling to far off places and photographic exotic people, animals, and landscapes. I had little notion of how dangerous some of those places could be, how inhospitable and desolate, how lonely and isolating. I didn’t think of what it would be like to leave loved ones at home, or even to leave home itself. I was naïve. My notions of being a globe-trotting photojournalist were romantic ones, not realistic ones.

I’m now 26. In the past six years, I’ve held 15 jobs in five states. Next month, I’ll start three new jobs and add a sixth state to the list of places I’ve been employed. I’ve had assignments that have taken me abroad and to even more parts of the U.S. Sometimes I sit behind a computer for hours on end, other times, I’m in an area so removed from civilization that even satellite phones fail to work and days pass without seeing other people. My life is always in flux and constant change has defined who I am.

One day, I’ll have a “real job” I say to myself. One day, I’ll grow up and be responsible and independent and self sufficient. One day I’ll work constant hours, have a steady paycheck, and reliably be able to pay all my bills AND save for my future. One day maybe I’ll even have my own house and a family. One day. Some day. In the future.

My mom says times are tough. I’m not the only one suffering through this, she says. Jobs are hard to come by, full time jobs even more so. Employers don’t want to pay benefits, she says. It will all work out, she says. Follow my heart, she says. Follow my dreams.

Dreams change. People change too. I’m only 26, and I’m tired.

I’m tired of sitting at the computer doing things that don’t really make a difference. A little computer time is fine. A bit of lazy self-indulgence is healthy. But hours and days at the computer spent editing and emailing is not how I envision a life well spent. I’d rather be out and about, discovering the world that never fails to remind me that I’m alive. I’d rather be with people. I want to make a difference.

I no longer want to be a professional photographer. Not for National Geographic, not for Kari Post Photography, not for anyone. I don’t want to be forced to photograph, to write and edit, to promptly answer emails, and to market my images because they are what pays my bills. It’s not fun! Frankly, it sucks! I just want to take pictures because I love taking pictures. I want to write because I love to write. Feeling obligated to do either takes the fun right out of it.

I’m not willing to turn something I love into something I hate. I’m not willing to turn myself into someone I feel sorry for. I’m not desperate. I’m alive, and I want to live a full life.

So I’m tossing in my towel as “pro photographer.” I never liked that title much anyway. It’s time that I turned photography back into a fun hobby. I no longer want to feel dread when I return from an amazing trip or weekend with friends because I know I’ll need to spend the entire day catching up on emails and other online projects. I want the computer to be a tool, not a trap. I want to define my photography, I don’t want it to define me.

I already know who I am.

18 thoughts on “Tossing in the towel

  1. Thanks for your brave and honest article. Looks like you’ve been busy writing a few articles lately anyway; I appreciate it. I hope the yin and yangs of photography sort themselves out for you soon.

  2. I said it several times before and I will say it again, “You never cease to amaze me”. You are going through your mid-life crisis at a very young age. I love the decision you made for yourself. I love the new adventure you are starting. I am sure it will take you to places you can’t even imagine right now. You may not remember me telling you of my life adventure at the waterfall shoot several years ago. I never once regretted my decision. However, I must say, I will miss reading your photography articles and following your work.

    May God speed.

    1. Thank you Walt. I hope this is not a mid-life crisis. If so, I’m pretty sure I have one planned for age 35 and age 50 as well!

      Just to clarify, I will continue to blog, write articles from time to time, and take photographs. I’m just tired of doing it because I have to or am supposed to. Photography is something I love and have fun with, and I take the best pictures when my passion is ignited, not when I’m working. So what I am really trying to accomplish is to let go of feeling any sort of obligation towards creating images, writing and posting on a scheduled regular basis, etc. and just do it on my own terms, when it feels right. You’ll still be seeing plenty of me, but professionally, I’m going to move in another direction that brings me satisfaction and a sense of purpose that I don’t get when photography is linked to my cash flow.

      Thanks so much for your continued support!


  3. Good luck getting your passion back. For the same reasons you don’t want to be a “pro” anymore, I chose not to be a professional classical musician-I wanted to keep loving making music and not be obligated to do it. Like you, I’m trying to find a way to continue to love photography and make a living using it and interacting with people without being tied to a computer all the time.

    1. Thanks Margaret. Sometimes art needs to exist for itself I think. Photography is an integral part of my being and my identity. I will continue to work on it, but I think I need to break free from the business side of it that feels too much like work. Photography has in many ways helped me find freedom in the past, and it needs to keep doing that – to be a catalyst instead of something that holds me back and makes me feel chained. Good luck with your journey!

  4. I can realte to that. One time I got a pretty valuable perk for doing a blog post. I thought it was great deal for me but I hated writing the post. it was so much like work for me because I felt pressured to make it good instead of just doing it for fun.

    1. I love writing actually, and I don’t mind small assignments here and there. It’s managing the whole business side of photography and feeling tied to a computer that makes me sick to my stomach. I’m sure I’ll continue to do projects from time to time, and I know I’ll continue to write and take pictures, but I’m not going to turn myself into someone who generates all of their income from photography and spends hours answering emails and marketing themselves. That’s no fun! I’ll “work” as I see fit – when its convenient and fun – and otherwise I’m not going to worry about it. I get more satisfaction out of doing other things – teaching for one – and I’ll be sticking to those other passions in terms of defining my career. Photography may continue to be a hobby that makes some money, but I don’t want it to be my only job.

  5. I am a bit older than you Kari and have thought about these same questions for years. I am living in both worlds right now, the day job and being “semi pro.” i am still trying to figure it out. I still wonder about what is the secret to bridging the gap between something you have to do and something you love to do. I love the honesty in this post and it speaks to the other side of professional photography.

    1. Thanks for your comments Mark. I certainly don’t have the answer to that one. I guess for me, I feel strongly motivated by making a difference with my life and career, and I’ve found that teaching gives me a much greater sense of purpose than taking photos does. Photography without those other things makes me feel trapped, tied to the computer, and very much isolated and alone. As work, it almost becomes punishment instead of pleasure, because it takes so much time away from doing the other things I love, from being around people, and from making a positive difference in the lives of others. So for me I think the answer is to keep photography casual and be content to keep it as a side thing, and not my main thing.

  6. I started to climb on the photography workshop forums and taking a gazillion photos, getting them ready for presentations.. then I realized.. I’m supposed to be doing this for fun. It was a learning experience, but I far prefer wandering the world with my Nikon in hand enjoying what I see and capturing that that is special to me.

    Good for you!!

  7. While i don’t know you, i found myself relating to your blog – an honest self-assessment. unlike many photographers, i choose not to take photos for a living- never have and never will. My profession is fulfilling on many other levels. I find that i can separate the domains – the nature of the art, as it were, from the issue of approval. For me, it’s an expression of passion about the environment, and i don’t frankly want to cloud that conviction with being paid.

    I found your excellent work because of – keep taking pictures, keep searching, and in the words of Steve Jobs, stay hungry.

  8. You know Kari, you sound like a pretty mature young lady for the ripe, young age of 26! A million types more mature than I was at that age. Perhaps the purpose of all the flux and turmoil is to teach you patience, something historically scarce at 26. I’m 60 now, extremely happy and grateful, and more patient than I have would have ever imagined in my 20’s, 30’s, or even 40’s. It will work out for you, just relax and allow it to happen. I know, telling a full of energy 26 year old to relax is probably a waste of time, but it can be done. Enjoy the journey, my friend, for it’s wonderful.

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