There was only one question I knew for certain I was going to ask. I can't imagine meeting someone like Ken and not asking it. It ended up being the first legitimate question of the interview and went something like, If one of your kids came to you today and said 'Dad, I've thought long and hard about it. I want to do photography for a living,' what would you say?
It was as if he prepared for that one. There was not even the slightest pause before his answer, I'd tell 'em to run as fast as they could in the other direction.
We both laughed. The answer didn't sway me. I expected as much. If you have a cell phone, which most do, more times than not you have a camera. There are twelve year olds taking riveting photographs of their dog's ear and those are some good damn pictures because the technology that went into those phones is superb. The kid points, shoots, applies an app and you've got him a gallery show. No, not really but grandma likes the pictures on facebook.
So I guess then the question is why. Why would you spend money on expensive camera equipment if all you had to do was buy a cell phone? Why would someone pay Ken's kid to do something their twelve year old could do? The simplest answer to that question is the kid cannot do with that cell phone what Ken does with his cameras, lenses and lighting. One look at his book Mississippi lets you know. If you have a passion for photography, landscapes, architecture or history you'll look at it more than once. You'll study it.
The good thing about those phones, I think, is now more than ever Ken Murphy has an audience. Technology has put in many more hands the ability to take a photograph. When these photographs were being created fewer people had even the basic tool for the job. Thus, one could successfully make the argument that in terms of probability we as a people have more individuals discovering they have a passion for photography. People with a passion are going to typically seek out the masters who came before them. Ken is way ahead of me.
One thing I learned very young is that if I wanted to get better in basketball then I played with the boys. They were generally more aggressive, more interested in the sport, more likely to not want a girl to beat them which meant I had to play harder and smarter. I had to get better in order to be as good as them. In the same way as people get more interested in photography they will get less interested in people who can take the same photograph they can. They will find someone who does a better job, who challenges them.
Nah, it's not the technology which worries Ken for his kid. It's the hustle, the freelance that presents huge projects which you work on for months as your life becomes filled with an idea in the process of fruition. Then it is the harvesting of that idea, the publication, the distribution, the success or lack thereof. Next it's Wednesday morning and you wake up and your knees hurt and you're a mere mortal and you have to come up with another idea because now all you want to do is leave something for your kids and your grandkids and you don't feel like it's enough so you have to keep working which means you have to keep selling people on what you do.
Funny, I said, you may be leaving your children and grandchildren exactly what I say my Dad would leave me, the sheer will and persistence to survive, the knowledge they can because they watched you do it.
He thought about it for a moment then, I think my kids would say that about me.
I am grateful for the persistent and curious historians of this modern world. If there is something left to show the future when we are gone I hope at least one of the images is a Ken Murphy photograph.
More to come but not before I get out there and take some pictures today.