There's this funny hierarchy in the photography world. Humans love to judge and rank the value of people and careers, and artists are no different. At the top of the food chain are the photographers who shoot Vogue covers and rockstars and travel with an entourage of lighting designers, stylists, and lowly bagel-bringing assistants. They're some of the few photographers known by anyone outside the industry. Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, and the few others that have reached superstar status are among the pantheon.
Behind them are the nature and culture photographers who shoot for National Geographic and the like. Then, depending on your interest, maybe it's interior photographers like those that grace the cover of Architectural Digest or sports photographers that snap that heart-stopping catch or the emotion of the big game. And down it goes, fine art photographers, journalist photographers, travel and product photographers, and on and on. And waaaaay down at the bottom, there's the portrait photographer. We take cute photos of kids and families. Isn't that sweet?
I used to feel that way. I was a Fine Artist. I painted in oils and sculpted in porcelain. Photography was fun way to document my vacation, but unless it was produced by Richard Avedon, it wasn't art. That's until I found the need to make a living and I chose portraiture to build my business. And then I saw how people reacted to my work.
I've seen the shock and excitement on people's faces when they see themselves or their family members through my eyes. I've made them cry by presenting them with the only photo they've liked of themselves since their wedding twenty years before. That is what art does, and I'll never again doubt whether I'm producing art or not.
And now that Harvey has devastated Houston, I'm seeing the people rebuilding their lives and their homes. If I needed any further validation of what I do, I can look at the people who evacuated and had to be rescued and what they took with them. After people and pets, what are the first things they took from their homes when they knew they might lose everything? Photographs. Family photos of their parents and grandparents that can never be reproduced. Pictures of their children as babies. Wedding photos. What's the most valuable thing people have in their homes? Photographs. Memories.
I feel incredibly lucky that I came out of Harvey unscathed. I had friends and family that sheltered me during the storm and the flooding. I watched as the city started to rebuild when I had lost nothing of value. But I joke that Harvey was sent to teach me a lesson and it taught me many. It helped me clarify my direction and realize the value in what I do.
So when people imply that I'm just a portrait photographer, it doesn't bother me anymore. I produce some of the most valuable things people own, things they would risk their lives to go back for when they're evacuating during a hurricane. I make the things that you will pass down to your children. I make the things that your grandchildren will go looking for when you're gone. Photographs are some of our most important possessions. Just ask the citizens of Houston who are rebuilding.