It might surprise some of you, and to others be a shocking reminder of how fast time flies, for me to tell you it was only 10 years ago I stepped off the stage as a comedian for the last time and returned to my dream of being a photographer. Comedy, which I did for twelve years and loved with all my being for most of that time, had grown wearying. The laughter of others never got tiring to me, but conjuring it up while playing a character, instead of being just me, without the stage name, without the funny faces, began to take its toll. And so I changed. On a dime, or so it seemed to those looking from the outside. In reality, none of us change so quickly, and I think the myth of re-inventing ourselves is just that. I think we change, and evolve, and the hard work is not in re-invention, it’s in accepting that we’re no longer the person we once were, and changing our lives – sometimes in truly difficult, dramatic ways – to remain aligned with that new person, a person we might not have noticed ourselves becoming.
I wore a khaki photo vest. I carried two large DSLRs and as many lenses as I could afford. I travel lighter now, both as a traveler and a human being.
I left comedy to become a humanitarian photographer. I wanted to change the world; a one-week gig in Haiti enough to change my life forever. I remember being on a plane to a comedy gig in Texas – fly there, do the gig, sleep in crappy hotel, fly home – and this voice in my head asked me, What would you do if this were your last gig? I surprised myself, because my reaction wasn’t panic, but relief. I knew right then that the gig, as they say, was up. It wasn’t long after that that I went to Haiti and shot for a small NGO. And then Ethiopia with two friends on a self-funded trip to create a cookbook that never happened. I was younger then. I wore a khaki photo vest. I carried two large DSLRs and as many lenses as I could afford. I travel lighter now, both as a traveler and a human being.
The hunger kept me moving. It fueled my best work. I hope it still does.
That gig led to others. I concentrated, because it’s all I knew how to do, on creating good work and telling the stories I was living. And work came in. Assignments led to other assignments. I began to travel for up to a month at a time. I did whatever it took to fund the whole thing – sponsorships, teaching, small commercial gigs for local clients when I was home. But never once did anything seem certain. It always seemed so precarious. The hunger kept me moving. It fueled my best work. I hope it still does.
A lot of threads had to come together, many of them a lifetime in the making, for me to be where I was. I’d been serious about photography since I was 14. I dabbled in art, learned to teach at a young age, traveled a lot, cut my marketing teeth trying to sell the world my comedy, did a lot of writing. I was into my thirties before the pieces came together, and even then it felt messy. Just a bunch of seemingly random threads tied together in a knot, forming a whole. But still just a bunch of threads. And somewhere along the way, life happened.
And now almost 10 years later I’m turning 43, there are books, and somehow I became a publisher, when I’m not traveling and shooting. I’ve become my own client for the most part. I’m not even sure what to call myself anymore, and even less sure it matters. I still do humanitarian work, but also feel strongly pulled to conservation and environmental issues – after all, if we destroy the planet, the people go down on the same ship. Everywhere I’ve photographed within the harshest humanitarian contexts, the environment has been brutalized. They are connected. I don’t know where I’m going, but my God, the ride is exciting.
Whatever you do, don’t stop moving forward. In art, in love, and in life. Don’t lose the hunger. Long for the next chance to feed that hunger, not to silence it.
I’m not sure why, today, I’m feeling so introspective / retrospective. My looming birthday, perhaps. But I think it’s important to know – to remember, because we all know this, I think – that no one’s life is a simple line from A to B. It’s a wandering path, full of uncertainty, and it looks self-evident and easy only in hindsight. At the time none of us really know what the hell we’re doing. But looking at it in hindsight, as though we’ve arrived, can’t be more than a momentary distraction, a place to rest and stretch our legs and our gratitude.
Remember that Springsteen song, Glory Days? Full of middle-aged people living their best lives in the past, it’s as good a cautionary tale as you’re going to get. We keep moving forward. Things remain uncertain, exciting. I keep changing, and so will you, which is – I think – the great hope. Everything changes. The plot will ever twist. Whatever you do, don’t stop moving forward. In art, in love, and in life. Don’t lose the hunger. Long for the next chance to feed that hunger, not to silence it. Do your best work, for the sake of doing your best work. Just don’t start thinking you know remotely what that will look like. You won’t. And hold the things you wish for with an open hand. The person you are in 10 years may not want any of them.
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I’ve followed your journey for a long time but this post made me want to write to say thank you. I love your photos, but most of all the philosophy and vision behind your photos. Thanks for sharing these words; they are fuel to chase a grander vision.
Hope you have a great birthday!
“Traveling light” is a good metaphor for life if you are going to cover the distance and experience enough of the world to become a caring, self-actualized individual. Traveling light is about leaving your ego behind and embracing the world around you.
David..What a great post!..I realize now at 67 I have fewer days ahead of me than behind me and that every day is a Blessing when I can be creative with the Camera in some small measure..To capture a slice of life and a moment that will never be again and to sit back and say WOW!!..I did that..Happy Birthday Buddy and A Blessed Christmas too!!
I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now, but I have to say David, your writing is a big part of what made me take the jump and go for it. I’ve just finished a year on the road, and its the stuff I read here that always gets me back to the heart of the reason why I do this. I ask myself regularly “would I do this if no one pays me for it (ever)?” And the answer I always get back is “YES!” Thanks for keeping all of us focused on what really matters in this crazy world of art and life.
Happy Birthday. Enjoy Venice, and ‘know your words do make a difference. I hope to look back and ten years too and be able to say “that was one hell of a ride. Can’t wait to see what’s next!”
Thanks for this, Scott. Much appreciated. Does me immeasurable good knowing my words land somewhere useful. Have an epic ten years. 🙂
I just had a birthday last week. I’m 54 now and honestly can’t believe that fact. It just does not feel like 54 years of my life have transpired. I don’t feel it….well except maybe for the two knee transplants…lol. But they were a grand trade off and keep me in motion, moving on in life. I’m such a different person now and looking back I’m not sure how I got here. Life happens and you enjoy or persevere and do what’s necessary to move forward.
You’re such an insightful writer David. I always enjoy what you have to say. Time grows short once you pass that ’50’ barrier and you help me keep in mind what I need to do to move forward in the best way I can, in the happiest and fullest way I can…..to get the most out of that life.
Thank you. 🙂
With just eight days until I head out to Ethiopia myself this post arrived at a perfect moment.
You mentioned that it was right at the start of your career – or is that restart after the comedty circuit? For me, it is also the first trip of a sort – after years of photography it is my first trip after realising why I would never have become a great photographer continuing the way I had. So a fresh start for me too. And scary.
We may be talking about different areas of Ethiopia, (although I do remember you having a connect to the Afar?) and we may have different interests but in the land where Lucy was discovered, it does seem to be a place offering many kinds of rebirth.
In a way your post is a reminder that any journey that we may take is not a lonely one: There are always others who have travelled the same path to keep us company.
I’ve been following your blog for a few months now. I’m a fan. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself and have a great birthday.
Best wishes to you sir. It has been well over ten years since I met with you last during leadership training and at that point I still picture you designing logos on your Titanium PowerBook! Hopefully I will run into you somewhere sometime!
Cheers and it’s been thrilling to see this journey of yours!
Thank you for this, David. Sometimes I get to feeling like a hovercraft stationary in the water, then I read one of your posts and it lifts me up and gets me floating forward again.
I came to know the photographer David duChemin through your interviews, books and brilliant photos, not from seeing the images others had made of you. So I am blown away. 43? You have the wisdom and compassion of someone who has seen and embraced twice that many years. Such perspective is rarely afforded to one so young. Thank you for all your work, and yes, you are right: Environmental awareness and stewardship is the answer to virtually all the questions. Best wishes for the coming year.
You’re making me blush, Roxana. Thank you for your kind words.
Great words to ponder this day; thanks for writing them and sharing your thoughts. Have a wonderful birthday.
Another of your oldies here–nearing mid-sixties. Life has taken on a deja vu quality for me in my travels. Yes, moving forward and at the same time, it’s come to have a retrospective quality as you allude to.
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Thanks for your writings–especially these, the introspective ones.
Wow. You are NOT pulling any punches on this one. Thank you SOOO much for sharing, David.
It’s pretty neat as I woke up to this and a video from Jim Carrey speaking about life and purpose I somehow had never seen. I think today is going to be a day of reflection and taking action!
Well said. My life now, the way I spend my days and what I fill them with, fulfils most of my youthful aspirations to live free, surrounded by love, art and beauty. But, it bears scant relationship to the “plans” I made as a 25 or 30 year old.
Happy birthday David! Great, inspiring story for me. Hope you spend your b’day well.
Thanks, Jerry. I’ll be in Venice, so I don’t see this December 24 not going beautifully 🙂
First, Happy Birthday, and Happy upcoming Holidays.
Second, a few years ago I picked up Within the Frame and Visionmongers, because they looked interesting to me and I wanted to go beyond all the beginners stuff I had already been absorbing. A career in photography seemed like one of those things that I was too old for, I mean, I was nearing 30 and everything I has seen and read had been these people who’d been working in the field since they could hold a camera, at least that’s what it felt like. I didn’t even get an SLR until I was mid twenties!! (though not for lack of trying).
But when I read that you had not started your career until your thirties, all the lightbulbs went off. I’m not the sort to just jump in, it’s taken time and preparation, but I’ve started, little by little.
It seems a little odd that that is what I’ve focused on, but the hope that it’s never to late to start is something I really needed. So thank you for that.
If you’re still alive, it’s never too late – the joy is in the journey, no matter how long we think that might be. 🙂 Happy New Year of chasing your dreams, Beth.
It’s true what they say, the older you get, the faster time flies. And 10 years had flown on by.
David, you’re a wonderful photographer, educator, writer and human being. Such a privilege to live in a time and have access to the information we have at our fingers. Have been a dedicated reader of this blog for years. In fact, I get antsy when you don’t write for weeks, so keep writing your thoughts and keep us all inspired to become better photographers and people.
Thanks Ariel 🙂 Comments like this make me wish we could all just get together for dinner sometime and finally put names to faces.
Congratulations on your 10th year anniversary! I’ve learned so much from what you’ve shared, so I for one, am grateful you took the leap.
Thank you, Alvin.
It’s your birthday soon and you continue to give us presents. Thank you for sharing. Happy birthday David. You are years ahead in wisdom.
Thanks, Jeff. 🙂
Hard to believe that I’ve been reading this blog for almost 7 years already. Happy birthday!
Thanks, Stephen, it’s been a gift having you along for the ride!
Well, here i am, in my sixties, just sold/packed up everything my wife Julie and I own on the west coast, and have moved to Rockland, Maine.
Phew, hope to capture this state in every way possible, body, soul and camera!
Still unpacking, so it will have to wait a while yet. 😉
I also have a birthday just around the corner…
I always enjoy and get inspired with your writings/work and your journey. Happy birthday to all of us the “Decemberist.” Cheers!
Wow. Talk about relevant and hitting the nail on the head as-it-were. I have a birthday looming very large, right after Christmas and it makes me feel like a living Beatles’ song: “…when I’m 64….” “Cause I’m turning 64 and that seems alien. I’ve always thought I was an ‘artist.’ But I also photograph and write. I’ve recently realized that I don’t like to be defined by what I do…I ‘do’ many things. Like you, I think we evolve. And you know what? That hunger you speak of, it never does go away. Or diminish. I’m still seeking to express the visions I see through the passions I’m ever exploring. My work is not “humanitarian” or noble…yet it is the shared humanity of us all that compels me. That and the beauty of this planet we call home. Happy birthday-coming-up to you David!
Happy Birthday to you too, Linda. As for being noble – I’d argue an art created honestly, and in the face of fear and all our obstacles, is always noble.
Thank you David. Merry Christmas and may 2015 find you discovering treasures you never knew existed.