Making art, whatever the medium, if done from deep need, reminds me of a young bird taking wing for the first time. The difference is that the bird gains confidence and surety with each flight, until it is as much part of its routine as eating bugs, seeds, or worms. For artists, that surety never really arrives. It is a blind leap each time. Equanimity and composure are illusive; self doubt more often dogs the maker. Satisfaction comes in the doing, with success or failure a mere epilogue, as fickle as wind.
I have been thinking about Edward Curtis these days, having just finished a very good biography about the resolute pursuit of his dream. His intensity and drive were undiminished by financial or familial pressures. He had a vision and worked to exhaustion to achieve what he could before the inevitable eradication of the cultures he admired, respected, and sought to preserve on glass. Time was his greatest enemy. He could see from year to year the choking and dying of an era, a people, sacred traditions.
Are artists hardwired to pursue their work, despite the consequences? From what I see and know, I would say yes. It is not a vocation one can walk away from without a great sense of loss. People sometimes ask me, “Are you still taking photographs?” not understanding that making my images is as elemental to my life as breathing. I have tried to imagine how I could continue to make photographs if I were blinded or bed-ridden, though I am not someone who makes pictures every day. Far from it. But, I think about it every day and wait for the spirit to move me to act. When I was younger I had to shoot constantly. Now I need to bide my time and sprint to the finish, like a runner of short races.
There is rarely glory, often disappointment and frustration, hardly the reward for such self sacrifice. Such it is, though. We do what we do because we cannot do otherwise.
Gratefully I say thank you, Edward Curtis, for leaving us the stories and images of what is long gone.