Today I met with Paul of VeloTransit about a travel back-pack (more on that later) while at INSCAPE. In the course of our conversations he noted the Nikon D90 hanging around my neck and asked “Are you a photographer?” I hesitated. Am I? I mean, I take photographs, certainly. And I even have some semblance of an online gallery at Ward’s Pics. But am I a photographer? I hemmed and hawed. I am not even sure exactly how I replied, but it was not in a simple affirmative or affirmative of any kind. The response I wished I had given came to me, albeit too many seconds and too late in the flow of our continuing conversation for me to say: I am a photographer dabnabbit!
Flashback to mid-March this year when Tracy and I both joined AmazonTote; she as our user experience designer and I as the technical program manager (aka, technical gofer). Tracy is not simply a 40-hour-a-week kind of career person; she intentionally moved from a position as a full-time designer at Microsoft to full-time contractor in order to pursue her first passion: art. It is without exaggeration she has become not only a very near and dear friend, but also an enormous inspiration in my life. In the past few weeks we have ventured into the art of Seattle together, she in some ways taking me under her wing. I have had the pleasure of coming to see her art at COCA and also this past weekend at Gallery 40. And as I met her many friends and acquaintances and constituents (did you know she is the self-effacing “mayor of Pioneer Square”), she would introduce me as “Ward; he is an artist.” Hold on! Me? Scratch that, I am no artist. No! Artist? No? It had a way of seeping into me, this qualification on myself: artist. I did art, sure. But I was not an artist, right? What constitutes being an artist? Certainly I thought I might be one when I was younger but I turned away from all that when I decided to become an engineer. Since high school when had my art been shown in an exhibit? Nor have I ever received a commission. So how do I qualify as an artist? I do not, right? Certainly it is no secret I love to sketch. I have even dabbled with oils and acrylics. I spent a year studying sumi-e. I attempt to write poetry and aspire to one day write children’s literature. And I may even consider my recent adventures into photography as more than mere technical machinations. But as Tracy introduced me as “Ward, he is an artist” I came to question how I viewed myself.
Granted, like most folks in the world it is not unreasonable for me to claim I am many things. I am an American. I am Japanese, or at least a reasonable approximation of one when I get going. I am Canadian. I am male. I am heterosexual. I am 36. I am WonderBread white. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a divorcee twice over hoping I never go for the triple crown. I am a friend. I did not get into Japanese manga and anime until 12 years after learning Japanese. I am now reasonably fit. I was once morbidly obese. I have traveled a bit of the world. I have held more than a few jobs. I like that I commute to work on a bus. I am an avid coffee drinker and cafe lounger. I am that guy in cowboy boots whose only experience riding a horse is at a family dude ranch outside of Yellowstone Park. I am a dork. I am the guy next door. I am a lot of things to a lot of different people. But it was not till I met Tracy that I even ever thought I was an artist. But why not? I am an engineer, am I not? But isn’t it the four degrees in engineering that make an engineer? Well, sort of. Maybe it is a consequence of lack of self-confidence that I spent much of my life pinning my identity on external validations such as degrees. How much of myself did I try to cram into the tin box of a career, thinking that is how to discover form, solidify definition? How many of my hobbies I have rediscovered in the last year that I have found more rewarding than my work will ever be? And none of those required me to get a degree to qualify me to enjoy them. None of things that I have a deep passion require me to get board certified. I can do and do do them whenever I please. And as I stood listening to Tracy introduce me to her friends, it dawned on me. Who I am is what I do, and what I do is art. I am me who takes photographs. I am me who sketches. I am me who is a photographer. I am me who is an artist.
Thank you, Tracy.