I would never attempt to launch a photography career. My lack of talent notwithstanding, I would be overcome by the embarrassment and futility of attempting to do something it seems everyone and their brother is trying to do. It doesn’t even have to do with competition or flooding the market, but with how well-known it is that trying to become a photographer is a bit unoriginal. What if people thought I was out of the loop, that I had somehow missed the memo that breaking into the photography business is a tired trope? They would laugh at me.
I know they would, because that’s how I respond. My disposition toward photography is the same as my disposition toward a lot of things, like starting a lifestyle blog or using “love on” as a verb—they have become a tired trope, an object of ridicule.
When I experience these cringe-worthy moments, when the joke is lost on my fellow conversant, there is a swift dynamic change. If “all the world’s a stage,” in this scenario where does that set me? I’m in the audience, laughing.
Shame on me.
In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman makes the argument that the prolificacy of television “has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience.” I resonate with Postman’s concern that I am more likely to engage with the world as if its purpose is to entertain me. The people in my life merely characters, their choices and circumstances merely plot points. I laugh at aspiring photographers because while they work humbly and earnestly on their corner of the stage, I have observed from my seat in the audience the many more aspiring photographers working earnestly in their own corners.
This way of engaging with the world promises I’ll never be made a fool. Even my most sincere efforts are carried out with traces of irony, because the world needs to know that I’m in on the joke. I will make fun of myself before you make fun of me.
Perpetually relegating myself to the audience protects me from being the object of ridicule, but it also precludes me from walking onto the stage and playing my part. While I laugh, the aspiring photographers are taking risks, trying, failing, growing, and even experiencing success. They’re crafting culture, capturing beauty, and spending themselves on creative and worthy work. Who’s out of the loop now?
I cannot laugh at the world and participate in it at the same time. I cannot act as if the world around me is a comedy I’ve seen over and over again and also expect to play my part. The world does not exist to entertain me. I’m called to participate, not observe; to engage earnestly, not evaluate; to try my best, not to critique for originality.
Earnest endeavors are vulnerable and humbling. I am not guaranteed protection from failure or from ridicule. But if all the world really is a stage, we know who the true audience is—and he’s not laughing at me.
Cover image by Gift Habeshaw