Taking photographs, deciding which ones are good, and posting them, comes relatively easy to me. So too does writing. But I’m someone who writes and then edits and then edits some more. I re-read what I write—yes, even emails—before I consider sending it to anyone else to read. I may even re-read it five times. I certainly don’t identify with those writers who describe their process as one where they sit down and the words flow, more or less as beautifully as Edward Gibbon’s. So when it came to building this website I had a harder time deciding what writing to post than which photographs. Here’s a brief initial post about what I hope to post and why.
I only started taking photographs in a self-conscious way about three years ago, shortly after my first trip to India. It’s not a romantic story. There were simply too many photos where the lighting was off, where the composition was poor, and the photo was basically unsalvageable. I didn’t even know the basic functions of my DSLR, and I determined to change that. Fantastic sunset shot of family at the Queen’s Necklace in Mumbai? Forget it. You can’t even see anyone’s faces. Even Photoshop couldn’t save the day.
By contrast, I’ve been writing for a much longer time. This doesn’t necessarily mean I think I’m any better at writing than taking photos. So far the majority of that writing has been academic. There are virtues to this style of writing, there is an appropriateness to this style given the field of research, but there are some important drawbacks as well, as anyone who’s not familiar with academic writing will tell you quickly. I’ve heard regular readers complain about being bored, about too much complexity, about a lack of narrative, and much else you might expect. People are generally excited by the fact that I’ve published a book, for instance, but unless they’re academic friends or colleagues, they don’t read past the first page.
So what? Well, as some readers will already know, this past year I went on the academic job market for the fourth year in a row. I didn’t get a permanent academic position and it seems unlikely that this will change in the upcoming year. In consequence I’ve had to start thinking about what possible alternatives I might be interested in and able to do. One of the things that has come most readily to mind as an alternative to an academic career is writing. Yes, I’m aware this isn’t an alternative with better overall prospects these days. And I’m intensely aware of just how lucky I am to have the time and luxury to even consider this choice. (Nothing could be further from my mind than that “do what you love” nonsense.)
Even if I haven’t completely made up my mind about my future, I thought it made some sense to start writing and taking photos regularly, to see if it was something I wanted to do on a regular basis, to discover whether or not I can do it well. Perhaps I’ll simply do it because it’s in me to do, regardless of whether or not it turns into something more permanent, more financially remunerative. To some degree I’m swimming upstream here. In certain corners of the internet the blog has been declared dead. But just maybe I can piggyback my writing on my photography? Maybe I’ll find my perspective and my voice and be able to make a go of it?