There are all types of photographers for all sorts of purposes and, accordingly, there are different kinds of classifications for them. There is your professional, semi–professional and amateur photographer; wedding, landscape, and sports photographer; commercial, freelance, and even charitable photographer—you name it. Then there is also the Steppenwolf Photographer—a small, unnoticed niche of artistically–minded and contemplative folks who seem to fail to precisely fall into any of the major classes. They revolve in their innermost world and do not practice photography purely for art, money or fame. Though these attributes might be of certain importance to them, the major drive is chasing the moment when they are able to establish a direct and clear connection with the outer world through the means of photography.
Steppenwolf Photographer likes traveling to far–off locations—the farther the better. The gradual process of getting away from the daily routine and trite circumstances into the remote and unknown gives him a strong sense of obtaining a kind of a release, a sort of freedom. Very often the remote and unknown also means beautiful, and he subconsciously yet persistently searches for the moment of unification when beauty, freedom and his true self come together as one. For that very moment he is willing to travel over and over again.
He tends to travel alone and genuinely finds group travel incomprehensible. He feels embarrassed when someone has to wait on him while he is awaiting the right perceptive (or, in terms of his obsession, photographic) moment—so much so that he would rather take the risk of getting into trouble than hire a guide or be tied up with other people.
He always takes his favourite music and book with him even though he is aware that on that long and difficult hike every ounce is going to matter. Why? Because he knows that there is bound to be a moment when all of sudden he craves that particular tune or paragraph, as well as for the times when he feels a very delicate yet definite consistency between what unfolds before his eyes and what appeals to him in his favourite works of non–visual arts.
When out photographing, two events of the day are sacred to him—the sunrise and the sunset. Watching a day unfold inescapably fascinates him; watching all colours gradually fade to black always finds him contemplating. He tirelessly anticipates that short–lived flash when he feels that the colours in the sky somehow speak to his inner self. Memory is too fleeting and imperfect; the only way to try registering these moments—no matter how flawed it might be—is through photography. And in the end, the captured image represents a mixture of his frame of mind at that moment and fulfillment of the beauty of Nature.
He always looks for new destinations and forward to setting out. On the way to a new endeavor he is full of anticipation and excitement related to it. On the way back, however, his condition might vary greatly depending on whether the trip culminated in reaching the moment he had been hopeful of. If it did, you will find him smiling in a subtle and reclusive way; otherwise, you are likely to see him listless facing the inevitability of returning to the very same lethargic reality that he tried to escape from. Most of the times, however, the former occurs as, on the whole, he is perceptive and constructive enough to find a point where his inner self connects with at least one possible interpretation of the circumstance unfolding before him.
At the end of the day, Steppenwolf Photographer does not care that much about showing his photographic work to others. Although original images are recorded using the best photographic technique and equipment available to him at the time, the final images often are only in the form of small–sized prints, computer files, or just original slides, because they suffice to serve as a link to the original moment solidly imprinted at the back of his mind. Every once in a while, though, he does produce an occasional huge print of colossal quality—to savour and celebrate the imaginative instant in full.
(The essay was scribbled on a napkin on the long flight from London to Shanghai on April 24, 2005.)