What makes me an artist?

Yesterday, I met up with some old work colleagues. They were asking me about my photography and what I am doing. My former assistant asked me very directly “What make you an artist?”

At first, I was a bit puzzled by the question, it was very direct and took me by surprise. I honestly don’t remember anyone ever asking me that before. So, I gave it a bit of thought, and this is what I remember saying…

There are many people who can take beautiful photos. Some people do it for fun, some for money, some do it for other reasons. I take beautiful photos, because I have to. Somewhere inside me is a motivation, a burning need to capture beauty. I don’t do it for other people, I only do it for myself. I feel somehow that I have to do it. What makes me an artist, is the fact that I take the risk that, perhaps, nobody likes my images, and still, I will keep doing creating them. If I did it only to make money or to please other people, then it wouldn’t mean anything, it would just be a nice photo.

I don’t ever want to be someone who creates for the sake of creating. I take joy and pleasure in capturing my own memories and my own understanding of what I see. It is up to the viewer to decide if they enjoy what I show them or not. But whether someone buys my work or not, I still will keep doing it. I have to. That’s what makes me an artist.

How I became a photographer

I have been interested in photography and images since I discovered my grandparent’s collection of National Geographic and LIFE magazines when I was a little kid. My mother bought me an instant camera on my 12th birthday and that set me off on a strange and complicated odyssey. I literally carried that thing everywhere, carefully selecting each subject so as not to exceed my weekly filmallowance. Life is never a straight line and eventually I discovered computer graphics, spending many late, adolescent nights programming my Commodore 64, when I should have been studying my high school trigonometry. At one point, I got it in my head that I wanted to work with lasers - yes lasers - doing research for the US Navy (imagine dolphins with fricking laser beams, yikes!!!). Actually, it was quite a grand plan leading to a PhD and an eventual Nobel Prize in Physics.

Fortunately, life had different plans for me, and once I got to university, it dawned on me that computer science classes were full of nerds. I was much more interested in classes that had actual living, breathing, young women, go figure. Anyway, long story short, I ended up in Fine Arts studying Graphic Design. Ironically, at that time, computers were starting to become popular in the design world, and my love life started improving as well.

I was also fortunate to find my dear mentor and professor, Karen Nulf. I met Karen for the first time when I took her Graphic Design 101 class. She has a wonderful gift for communication and after a few weeks in her class, she pulled me aside and asked if I had declared my major yet. I hadn’t, so she took that opportunity to convince me to focus on design and fine art. I am really happy she did, because it got me back to re-discovering my passion for making images.

Thanks to Karen, I had a great career in graphic design. I worked in Chicago for twelve years and my computer skills got me a lot of retouching and compositing work, which put me in touch with some great photographers. I would often get to participate in shoots and learn about lighting and how to work with models, it was absolutely inspiring.

I left Chicago in August of 2000 to take a job as a creative director for an online design agency based in Switzerland. Moving to Switzerland was a daunting task, it is a very different culture here, compared to the U.S., but it was the opportunity of a lifetime, so I took it.

Before I left, I also bought my first digital camera and what a revelation that was. Living in the heart of Europe allowed me to travel a lot, and I took my camera every time. More importantly, I came to realize that I was a pretty good photographer.

After a couple of years, I started to become aware that I was turning into more of a manager in my work and less of a creative. This revelation sent chills up my spine. I realized that I needed a change. Fortunately, around that same time, someone I knew approached me about helping out with a new magazine project, after seeing some of my travel photography. I decided to take a chance and became the lead photographer and photography editor for the magazine.

Though I was never paid for my work and the magazine eventually went out of business, it gave me some confidence to take photography more seriously. I took some workshops, did a lot of self-study and I started getting paid assignments. In 2003, I setup my own studio to focus on photography full-time.

Photography has let me bring my ideas to life in a direct and real way. It’s funny that I did something very similar all those years as a designer, but I never had half the passion as I do for photography. If I can offer one piece of advice, if you ever discover that you really love doing something, then do it, the rest will work itself out

Please visit my about page for more details about what I do, my awards, exhibitions and features.

Thanks for reading,

Bryon