I recently had a conversation with a reader with a question that honestly surprised me: “How do I hide my photography obsession from my wife?” I have to admit this one stumped me for a while: I’ve never hidden it from Nadiah, nor do I think I could even if I tried to – partially because I’m a really bad liar, and partially because for as long as she’s known me, even in corporate – I’ve always been a photographer first and foremost. But it does bring up some interesting thoughts around photography and spouses…
Personally, I couldn’t ask for a better partner: probably because photography came before her, she’s always accepted it as part of who I am, even when some of my actions seem a little illogical (or borderline financially irresponsible, even when I wasn’t doing this for a living – she knows now that I’ll be the first person to question the likely return on any potential investment.). She supported me through two attempts at going pro – the latter of which stuck, which was the fourth attempt overall – knowing full well that there was a very high chance some belt-tightening would be involved and possibly outright failure. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: she gave me the final push to take the risk again and try one last time, without which I’d still be master of a desk and some powerpoint slides. I’ve never had my photographic-related expenses questioned and she almost never gets impatient if I get distracted and wander off to shoot when we’re out together. I can’t ask for much more, really.
But on the flip side, she has very little interest in photography herself – other than as a necessary visual tool or something aesthetically pleasing to look at. I’ve tried to teach her and spread some of the enthusiasm, which I give her credit for attempting to embrace, but in the end it simply didn’t stick – “but what’s the point of me taking the picture if you’re already shooting?” she asks. She is content to experience and enjoy in person rather than seeking alternate visual presentations or trying to translate something she imagines – which I think is perfectly reasonable (and avoids all sorts of neuroses which we suffer, like which lenses to bring or whether to be in location A, B or C for sunset, or whether to sit on the left side or right side of the plane).
I’ve talked to a lot of serious pros, photographers, enthusiasts, non-photographers and pretty much everybody in between. It does seem as though there are a large number of spouses who simply either don’t understand or worse, don’t approve of the hobby. I don’t know whether it’s because of the amount of time it takes* or because of the costs; yet I can think of many other far more damaging side pursuits. It is a mentally stimulating activity that forces you to do some thinking and creative exploration – or at least it should be, if taken beyond equipment collecting. And no matter how expensive the lens or camera, it still has more residual value than for instance an equivalent amount of consumed alcohol or cigarettes. (Sorry pal, you’re on your own if you have more than one addiction.) As a result, I always find it quite odd when people say they have to hide purchases from their spouse – granted, if you’re acquiring lenses with the rent money or children’s school fees, there’s a problem. Though I admit I do wonder how much of that is self-inflicted guilt rather than actual spousal disapproval.
*I actually started photography partially because I wanted something to do that wouldn’t take up huge chunks of time at a continuous stretch – you can shoot for as long or as short a period of time as you feel, though obviously some warming up tends to improve results.
The thing is, I’m also not sure it’s a good idea to have a spouse who’s also a photographer, either. I know quite a number of couples who fall into this category, and one or more of three things usually happens. Firstly, there will be one party who’s more passionate than the other, which can result in serious disagreements of the “but I want to go to Barbados, not Death Valley!” type. Secondly, there’s the jealousy factor – as much as we want to be fair and supportive, we’re also human. I know several professional photographer couples who’ve divorced because of this – worse still if you shoot in the same industry and land up being competition, or one is doing drastically better than the other (leading to resentment). Finally, after several years – assuming they stay together – one party eventually just stops shooting. And don’t think dreams of maximising efficiency by sharing cameras and lenses works, either – I don’t actually know of any couple who’s managed to make this work, but I do know of many couples who always buy two of the same lens.
It’s healthy to have different interests. Both parties can learn something. (And you might have something else to photograph, too). It’s probably also healthy to have non-competing or non-conflicting interests, too. And healthier still to be able to put away the cameras on couple-time so your partner doesn’t feel like they’re playing third wheel; this is probably something I need to work on. I’d love to be wrong – but the only photographer couples I know who’ve lasted the distance tend to have either one very accommodating party or shoot vastly different things and don’t really compete creatively.
So here’s where I open this post to the floor, and please leave your thoughts in the comments:
- Is your partner supporting, accepting or resentful of your photographic hobby?
- Does your partner have any interest in photography of their own – either as audience or their own work?
- Do you find it gets in the way – either the partner or the camera?
- Do you feel you have to hide purchases, and if so, why?
And if there are any non-photographers who happened to have wondered here by mistake, hopefully you’ll see that a) obsession is normal; b) there are always people who’ve got it worse and c) it’d be great to hear from the other side of the audience too! MT
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