Copyright Dorothea Lange
“I slid down in the seat and began to weep. I wept for her, for me, but mostly because the siren call of my first big story with a yellow border around it was more powerful than the call of fatherhood.”
I bought Joe McNally’s book four years ago whilst I was looking to further my lighting techniques. When the book arrived I quickly flicked through it to see if the light in his images was the kind of light i was expecting it and hoping it would be – there were many pictures of Joe’s work and without a doubt this guy has done his fair share of ‘photography kilometers’.
That night I curled up in bed and opened the book and read the above quote that referred to Joe leaving in a taxi to go off for his first National Geographic assignment and leaving his daughter and family behind. I had instant tears in my eyes.
What honesty and there it was in print for the whole world to see. I had a new admiration for a photographer I didn’t know simply because he had the courage to own up to something so painful and distressing as choosing a magazine assignment over fatherhood. And on that day he chose photography.
I am currently reading Dorothea Lange’s A Life Beyond Limits and for those of you who don’t know her name you may know her work, she is the photographer who took many of the American depression’s most memorable photos (see above) and she too like Joe McNally was torn betweeen photography and in her case motherhood.
I am finding her story fascinating, a photographer in the 1920’s when women rarely had a career but choosing an artistic path was not encouraged. She decided to be a photographer but was told by her parents to do something she could ‘fall back onto’. Dorothea was smart enough to know even at a young age that all her youthful energy would be eaten up learning something she didn’t care about and adamantly pursued photography.
What a life and what hard decisions she had to make. She married, supported an artist husband, had children, ran a studio, cooked cleaned and provided financial and emotional support for them all. The writer describes Lange in today’s language as a ‘superwoman’, reading her story I was shaking my head knowing how much energy it takes for me to do what I do and asking myself ‘ I don’t know how she did it’.
Lange’s photographic journey leads her to documentary photography in the depression and a new husband. Her love for photography asks her to make heart breaking decisions about leaving her family months at a time, a little like Joe McNally.
I often wonder how photographers ‘have it all’? I know as the years pass heading to the airport to leave my husband and my darling kitty becomes harder and harder. What if I had a child or children? What decision would I make?
For those of you who interested in photography and the journey of a photographer’s life I think you will find A Life Beyond Limits a fascinating read.
Any photographers out there that are torn?
Love to hear your thoughts.