The Value of the Experienced (Old) Photographer

I don’t think of my self as old, except at times when a part of my body doesn’t act or react the way it used to. But, I would say that many of my colleagues would call me old, chronologically speaking. The premature deaths of Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Natalie Cole and Alan Rickman – all in the span of a few weeks and all in their late ‘60’s, has given me pause to look at my own mortality. It has also given me resolve to make the most of each day.

The fact is there is nothing we can do about our age.

Gail Mooney with James Michener, Chesapeake Bay, MD
Gail Mooney with James Michener, Chesapeake Bay Photo © Thomas Kelly

Unlike other things in life that we can change, we can’t change our age. But we don’t need to allow a youth-obsessed culture, define our value. I’ve grown weary of the dismissive attitude our culture has about aging. It’s especially frustrating for me as a photographer, filmmaker, and creative entrepreneur. Creativity comes from the spirit within. Our spirit never ages, so neither does our desire and need to create. I’ve never felt more in tune with my spirit and my authentic self than I do now. I never imagined that would happen at this point in my life but I’ve never felt more creatively alive.

I get bewildered and frustrated when society perceives my value as somehow diminished, simply because of my age, but then I look at my assets.

  • Experience – There are no short-cuts when it comes to experience. It’s earned over years of trial and error on the job and in life.
  • Problem Solving – I wish I had kept track of all the problems I’ve solved on assignments as well as in personal life. Countless decisions and consequences to learn from. I’ve gotten pretty good at it.
  • Creativity – I take more chances and push myself in terms of my craft now, than at any other time in my career. I’m not afraid to try something different because I realize that failure is part of the process. So, I hate it when getting older is equated with getting stale. Sure, some folks do but there are so many people in my generation that are still incredibly vibrant and innovative. Check out my latest personal project, “Like A Woman”, short films and still portraits of women working in male-dominated professions.
  • Perspective – I’ve lived through profound changes in the span of my life. They haven’t always been easy to deal with. Technology has changed everything – how we do business, how we communicate, and how we interact, globally. My generation has experienced both the analog and the digital world. Hopefully, most of us are able to see the merits of each. Change is inevitable, it always has been. I’ve been around long enough to experience many cycles of change, and I can tell you for certain, nothing lasts forever. I try not to let change intimidate me, but rather let it excite me to embrace what it has to offer. That has opened me up to all sorts of possibilities.
  • Wisdom – It’s true that we get wiser as we age but only because we’ve had a lot more mistakes to learn from. Whether we’ve learned from our heartbreaks or from the stupid things we’ve done, we’ve grown despite it. Wisdom is kind of like experience – there are no short-cuts to getting there.

I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this topic and their perspectives.



“Old Enough to Know Better but Still Too Young to Care”

I was talking to a friend recently about getting “older” and how it really sucks on the one hand but on the flip side, I’ve never felt more liberated in my life. He laughed and  said that I reminded him of a line in an old country/western song – depicted in the title of this post.

On the Amazon River, Peru

It’s pretty accurate, at least in terms of who I am.

I have never been one for “labels” of any kind.  I’m much more interested in what’s going on in the “inside” opposed to what someone is displaying on the outside.  So much so that when my daughter was younger, if she didn’t come home from school right away,  I would worry and think that I wouldn’t be able to describe what she was wearing if the police should come asking.

Our American culture seems to be obsessed with labels, more interested in the packaging and fizz than the substance.  “Older” people are invisible, dismissed and ignored as being too set in their ways, dated, and useless, when in fact some of the most interesting people I have ever taken the time to talk to, were ones that most folks seemed to overlook, simply because of their “packaging”.  I was lucky that I came to that realization at a very young age, when an art director, who was a great mentor to me in my early years, introduced me to the legends of photography.  They were all “old”, at least to my young eyes, but I quickly realized that age had nothing to do with how they saw the world.

It amazes me when seemingly intelligent people use catch phrases to describe others and don’t even realize that in the process that they are the ones with “narrow” sights and they would do better to open their eyes and see beyond.  My eyesight has gotten worse as I have aged, but at the same time, my vision has gotten so much better.

When I was younger, there was a popular saying “don’t trust anyone over 30”.  I’m glad I never really bought into that notion, because I would have been the one who was shortchanged. Don’t judge people because of gender, color or age or the type of car they drive.  Take the time and the energy to look past the packaging and really see.  You’ll probably be surprised that ignorance, narrow mindedness, fear, and pessimism comes in all sexes, shapes, sizes and ages.

“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

Satchel Paige (1906-1982) Baseball legend who continued his successful career well into his 60’s.

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