On marrying a photographer

Posted in Flotsam by LBM on January 9, 2012

In response to a recent post, I received an email from Cait who wrote:

“Like you, my partner shoots with a large format camera and makes treks around the country (and sometimes the world) for his work. He plans to keep this up for the long term. As we plan for our future, marriage and babies included, I can’t help but think about the challenges our partnership and family will face under somewhat fleeting and unpredictable circumstances. I would love to learn about you and your wife’s perspectives on this subject and/or be directed to any personal accounts or resources that you know of on the work-life balance of a photographic family.”

Kerstin Adams preparing a meal (1972) Robert Adams photographing (1984). 

In thinking about how to reply to this, I first turned to Robert Adams. As regular readers know, I’ve been immersing myself in his work lately. In the new Adams retrospective book, The Place We Live, there is an essay by Jock Reynolds entitled ‘Taken Together’ on the importance of Kerstin Adams in Robert’s life and work. Reynolds paints a fairly remarkable picture of marital harmony:

“Robert began to suspect that he wanted to abandon teaching and become a photographer. Kerstin was characteristically encouraging, and when her employment schedule allowed it, she became his partner in the field. He did most of the driving and she cooked (on a little stove they called “Mother Svea”); at dusk he loaded film holders inside a homemade dark box in the back of their panel truck while she brushed away mosquitoes; in small towns she kept up diversionary conversations with curious onlookers so that he could compose upside down on the view camera’s ground glass; and each day they enjoyed together the sweep of the land and sky, and the privilege of being there.”

As is often the case when I think about Adams, I’m simultaneously impressed and discomfited. When I read about his life I feel like a carnivore reading the menu at a vegan restaurant.

So instead I turn to fellow carnivore Lee Friedlander and his wife Maria (I can’t imagine Adams eating peanut butter, tuna and cheese whiz on crackers!). Nobody has written more honestly about being the spouse of a photographer than Maria Friedlander.

Lee & Maria Friedlander 1968, 1997

On my old blog, I once quoted her powerful forward to a William Gedney book. Recently I came across Maria Friedlander’s introduction to her husband’s book Family:

“What is this Family Book? Is it our own family album? Is it our pictorial biography? Does this book tell us whether we are, to paraphrase Tolstoy in Anna Karenina, one of those happy families that are all alike or an unhappy family that is unhappy in its own way?”

She later writes:

“A book of pictures doesn’t tell the whole story, so as a biography this one is incomplete. There are no photographs of arguments and disagreements, of the times when we were rude, impatient, and insensitive parents, of frustration, of anger strong enough to consider dissolving the marriage. Lee’s camera couldn’t record our family dysfunctions. There are no photographs of Anna, Tom and Giancarlo during the three years in which they felt it would be better if they didn’t see us, and certainly no photographs of how Lee and I felt during that time. Tolstoy was right – when we’ve been an unhappy family we have been unhappy in our own way.”

Getting back to Cait and her concerns about marrying a photographer, I don’t think there is a good answer.  Mixing marriage, kids, travel and artmaking is extremely challenging. It will sometimes be unhappy. “The challenge for artists is just as it is for everyone,” Robert Adams once said to a group of college students, “to face facts and somehow come up with a yes, to try for alchemy.”


60 Responses

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  1. Martin Parr said, on January 9, 2012 at 1:58 am

    Hi Alec
    Very interesting blog. Divorce rates amongst photographers are pretty high, and I meet many who could be a lot wealthier, but are still paying off divorce funds or supporting various children from assorted partners.
    I know in my case , having successfully lived with the same woman for 35 years, this problem of accommodating my rather crazy timetable has been the biggest challenge of all, but luckily I have a very supportive partner, but she very rarely comes anywhere with me, doesn’t like flying and is bored with being Mrs Martin Parr.

  2. Justin Partyka said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:27 am


    Yes very interesting topic.

    As Martin points out, behind the successful photographs, books and exhibitions there can be a darker side to a photographer’s life: failed / troubled relationships and financial struggle etc etc. But this is rarely spoken or written about in public in any detail.

    Perhaps a hint at this is in that old tv interview with Winogrand when that odd woman interviewing him asks what he’s currently doing and he says “just surviving”.

    A book: “interviews with photographers’ wives current and ex” would make for interesting reading.

    Of course there are successful examples of photographer marriages such as the Webbs and Bob and Marina Black.

    But like all of these things, there is no one way to do it.

    • alex said, on January 9, 2012 at 7:12 am

      “interviews with photographer’s wives current and ex” — what of the female photographer and her partner/husband?
      The female photographer trying to juggle family life/ children and a career? This is something I would be equally keen to hear some more thoughts about.
      Is it possible to be a successful female photographer with a family, and not make that family your subject?

      Sorry, I know the trouble of having a man who’s extremely caught up in his work and away from home a lot.. I am just a little frustrated with the underlying idea that the womans role in this is always support for a male on an important mission, and how about her own ambitions; and is it possible for two ambitious people to each follow their ambitions together, or does a female photographer have to find a very “domestic” type mate, who can be her support etc.

      • Justin Partyka said, on January 9, 2012 at 7:46 am

        Alex, yes of course. Sorry. It goes both ways.

        Sally Mann is good example – it would be interesting to hear what Larry has to say.

        This is certainly not meant to sound misogynist in anyway, but I wonder if it is easier for the men whose wives and girlfriends are photographers.

        The woman left at home with children while the husband goes off to photographer automatically puts the women into the traditional gender role. I think men are often happy to be the “house husband.”

        I can’t remember their names, but there is a married couple with children and they have a series of very well produced food books often about Asia and from what I remember reading in one of them is that they all travel together as a family, and they were doing this when the children were young.

        Greta Pratt and Mark Peterson sound like a good photographer couple example of this.

        We often hear about the stereotyped role of the women supporting the man while he works on his career, but there must be many examples of the opposite gender role happening.

      • H Lynch said, on January 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm


  3. Barrie said, on January 9, 2012 at 5:07 am

    HI Alec,
    Very interesting, But i don´t think it is better if you are a factory worker or a waiter at a restaurant. As you rightly said, we are all happy or unhappy in our own ways.

  4. Greta Pratt said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Hello Alec,
    There are a lot of women photographers also. I wonder how they deal with the demands of husbands and family. Look at Lyndsey Addario photographing women giving birth in India while seven months pregnant herself. And what about 2 photographer couples… Rebecca Norris Webb and Alex Webb have some thoughts from a few on their blog. In my case I am a photographer/artist/educator and my husband Mark Peterson is a photographer (Redux Pictures.) We have been doing this for over 20 years and have 2 kids and a dog. It has not been easy but it has been and continues to be an interesting ride!

    • LBM said, on January 9, 2012 at 7:45 am

      Thanks Greta, I was hoping you would chime in on this subject. I can’t imagine what it is like being married to another photographer. I imagine it has both upsides and drawbacks in sustaining the relationship.

      • Greta Pratt said, on January 9, 2012 at 8:15 am

        The downsides are of course the travel and the havoc it reeks on a family. The upside for me is being with this other person that gets me so completely from so many angles. Because we both understand and appreciate the ideas in the other person’s head and their aesthetic along with the business of photography and art we are able to help each other and put up with things people outside the business might not be able to.

  5. Paul Shambroom said, on January 9, 2012 at 8:06 am

    There is yet another, curiously unmentioned model outside the “spouse is/Is not a photographer” question- having a spouse who is accomplished and busy in a different field. We were both traveling and working hard when our son was growing up and it was a challenge and we had to make some hard choices. Martin mentioned “I meet many who could be a lot wealthier, but are still paying off divorce funds or supporting various children from assorted partners.” Many of us (some posting here) could probably also be wealthier, but we made career adjustments in order to have functional marriages and try to be good parents.

  6. Beth Dow said, on January 9, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Well, Alec, you know it isn’t easy, and Rachel is a special kind of star. Keith (Taylor) and I have been trying to figure it out for years. Family life is peculiar when there are two photographers trying to make things work.

  7. Zoe Strauss said, on January 9, 2012 at 8:57 am

    I consider my wife, who is not a photographer, to a be an equal partner and collaborator in the creation of my work. Not just does she financially support me (and has for most our adult lives), her emotional support, and her opinion and input into my editing process is central to my work. Without her, I doubt I’d be a photographer.

    • LBM said, on January 9, 2012 at 9:08 am

      Zoe, ‘God Only Knows’ you are better than anyone at publicly acknowledging your partner.

      • Zoe Strauss said, on January 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm

        Good one, my man!

  8. Frank Armstrong said, on January 9, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Life’s path is always uncertain and unpredictable. Never would I have predicted 30+ years later we Texans would be living in New England each with very different career paths. Being a house-husband/daddy allowed me to do what I wanted, and Ellen to follow her career path. I have probably compromised more than she, but then she always made more money than me. Probably what made it work, as much as anything else, Ellen had a bit of the wandering bug, also. And of course, over the years she has become my most respected critic with the simple statement: that is not a Frank Armstrong.

  9. douglaslowell said, on January 9, 2012 at 9:54 am

    Maybe Katy Grannan will read this post and comment. When we (grad school group) visited her studio in November she talked about being a mom, having a husband with a career, and taking several days at once to photograph alone in the Central Valley. Someone told me her husband is in advertising, another demanding career. So they seem to be making it work.

  10. douglaslowell said, on January 9, 2012 at 9:59 am

    And there’s Uta and Werner Malher, who just completed their first work together, Mona Lisa of the Suburbs ( They’ve had long, successful separate careers as photographers while being married. Just another example.

  11. Sarah Hoskins said, on January 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

    I have worked on one particular project for over a decade dragging my husband of over 20 years and my daughter who is now 16 years old with me. My husband who is an arborist and musian has given up many of his dreams to support mine.

    I think he summed it up best when he was asked how was his vacation to Kentucky where I have been working, “Traveling with my wife is no vacation”.

    In all seriousness I have been lucky to have their love and support.

  12. Sarah Hoskins said, on January 9, 2012 at 10:56 am

    Oh..and he also corrects my typos and bad spelling. He is obviously not here. He is a musician…

  13. Christian Storm said, on January 9, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Another great example of a fantastic, supportive wife of an obsessive photographer is Eleanor Callahan, wife of Harry Callahan. She was one of his first subjects when he began his career and would pose for him every day, for hours at a time. Everyone would be so lucky as to have an Eleanor Callahan in their lives.

  14. Cait said, on January 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Thank you, Alec, for addressing my question with such generous thought. I have really enjoyed and benefited from reading the comments here. My partner and I are only four years into our relationship, but we’ve survived thus far, which I see as a plus. I certainly expect the challenges, but am warmed to read your success stories.

    If any of you would like to pass on your logistical, everyday tips, I’d love to hear them. Some of my questions include:

    1. Do you and your spouse live in a place where you have ample support (family/friends to help out with kids if you have them)? How has or does that decision affect your photography (I know the photography markets can be limited, geographically speaking)?
    2. Do you try to negotiate the inclusion of your family on certain work trips? Is that even possible if, for example, you’re on assignment?
    3. Do you ever put limits on the length of time that you spend away from home?

    Whether or not any of you get to these questions, I’ve learned a great from your posts and plan to look into the books and essays referenced here. What a fruitful discussion!

  15. Bob Black said, on January 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    As a couple (a writer/photographer married to photographer/painter and a photographer/painter married to a writer/photographer) who also happen to have a son, we have much to chime in about this……no time at the moment to write substantially…and i will try to get Marina to write as well, though she doesn’t usually write on the web….we’ve worked together, exhibited together, fought together, went silent together, cried and laughed together, struggled together, broke our asses and backs together, been represented and separated together, i cannot imagine my life as a person, let alone a photographer, without her….not that it has been easy…but show me a relationship that is and I will show you a farse…..the details are in the struggle and the love and the challenge and the accomplishment and the transformation is in that: the enrichment through the contact and the acceptance and the support and the letting-go with and of the other….

    … the mean time, I will try to write something tonight or tomorrow for LBM……..i would not be the photographer or writer I am today without Marina and, though i would never presume to speak for her, I think Marina would offer the same…..but more later… does one embed a picture???…..

    until later……

  16. Rachel Cartee Soth said, on January 9, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    I knew that I wanted to leave a comment on this post (first time ever leaving a comment on the blog), but it has been really difficult figuring out what to write. Being in a relationship with a photographer can be a wild ride no matter your gender.

    When things are going well it is fantastic! The creative juju is flowing, work is being made, and praises are being sung. We have been lucky enough to go on adventures to amazing places, and see wonderful things.

    For those of us in relationships with artists, and for those familiar with the creative process, we know that there are times when it doesn’t go well. There are times when the juju stops, and work becomes really difficult to make. This may happen for a variety of reasons, but when it does, it is not a happy time.

    It has been hard for me to accept that for Alec to make photographs, he has to go out and become engaged in the world without me, sometimes for long periods of time. If he didn’t go out on his wanderings and look at things, he would be miserable. I would be miserable, because Alec would not be Alec. Having said this, it is lonely sometimes.

    It’s easy to lose yourself, especially when your partner is successful. I think the goal is to be passionate about something, keep your life rich, fill up on things that make you feel good and are meaningful to you. Ask for what you need. It has taken me a while to understand this.

    Marriage is a puzzle. This life is crazy and unpredictable, but so is everyone’s! We are not different or special. We are all just figuring it out as we go along.

    I have become a stronger woman. Our marriage is well rooted, and still growing. We have two beautiful children. I am married to a complicated, amazing man that I love. I am grateful for this wild ride we share.

    • DWB said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:32 pm

      Nice to finally hear from you… thank you.

    • Sarah Hoskins said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm

      Nice. The juju stopping and being difficult is so on the money. I know for my husband when there is no juju in my work I am more than difficult. Yet he will still put up with me and believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself. Oh and my daughter made me my own paper photo award when I lost a big one.

    • Bob Black said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:19 pm

      beautifully said Rachel! :))…when we meet again, YOU get a book, not the hubbie in the ball cap ;))

  17. Matanzas said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Another brilliant Maria Friedlander essay is the afterword she wrote for Witness No7, Lee Friedlander’s memoir of Raoul Hague.
    Again, its honest and from the heart, she still manages to write fondly about Hague even after he was a real shit to her. You can see why LF fell for her.
    And after Rachel Cartee Soth’s lovely words, I’m beginning to think that Photographer’s partners either need to be or to become Saints!

    • LBM said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:11 pm

      Just looked this up and read it. Amazing. This think that Maria Friedlander is writing these words in a photo-memoir of her husband’s good friend:

      “Hague applied his aesthetic criteria to people as well as to object. To men, and to women. He could sense something about a person he didn’t like, and without stopping to think about it, he would be rude or evasive. He enjoyed many women, but not when they began to age…As the years passed, I noticed that Hague’s attitude toward me began to change. He bagan to find me irritating, was rude to me, and often mocked what I said in conversation.”

  18. Matanzas said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Sorry it was Witness Number Six!

  19. Beth Dow said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Like I said, you’re a special kind of star.

  20. Jim Reed said, on January 9, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    For our honeymoon, my wife and I drove around the Southeast while I photographed places where my family used to live, places with a very dark personal history. My wife was for the most part extremely patient as I lugged around my view camera while she sat in the hot car in the middle of May. Sometimes I found the pressure to be a good thing, similar to when someone is waiting for you to take their portrait. There’s no way to rush with a view camera, but when you’re under the gun it makes you focus more and accelerates your decision making process. Yesterday my wife delivered our first child and after watching her go through that physical trauma with such strength and composure the ‘labor’ of me lugging around my 4×5 is pathetic. Furthermore the living face of our baby girl makes most photographs I see look pretty damn ugly and boring. Key to successful marriage as a photographer: some things > photography?

  21. Younes Bounhar said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    My solution to this was to marry another photographer…:)

  22. said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Great quote to end on. Photography is no different than what everyone faces. Everything presents a challenge no matter what your profession, passion and place may be. Life.

  23. Bob Black said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    seemed originally that I had wanted to write something more substantial…and actually did over the last 30 minutes, and then realized that what I had wanted to contribute and share, really made little difference….it seems that tolstoy got it exactly backwards, that all ‘happy’ families are happy, and reach that high-wire balancing act, in their own unique and odd and mysterious way….sometimes through incredibly hard work and openness and communication and loss and sometimes through no effort of their own but luck and good fortune and mostly a combination of all of that….making things is both an incredibly intimate act and also one in which the maker is open and vulnerable to share that which came from within, and this too is remarkably true in a marriage….and there is no calculus by which to plan or formulate….there is excitement and intimacy and passion and inspiration and there is also tedium and exhaustion and just plain journey-man like work…on both counts….part of, however, at the core lay in surrender and acceptance…to go on….to measure yourself against the strain and the enlarging…..we have been through all that and still grow as a couple and as artists and there is not other way around it accept that we, and I in this moment, have nothing sage to write….only that, at my age in my early 40’s, i know very little except for this:

    i may or may not be a better photographer and a better writer without my wife and son, but I would not be a better person….and the latter is infinitely more important to me…and hopefully that cadences the work i try to accomplish….

    off to sit down with them…..


  24. Bob Black said, on January 9, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    couldn’t figure out how to post a pic…oh well….

  25. Doug Lowell said, on January 9, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Wow, Rachel, your post is stunningly honest and generous. As such, it is a contribution to the field of photography and our understanding of the dynamics of making art and of being a human in relationship.

    We’re always trying to grasp how to do this thing, and a piece of writing like yours really helps. It’s also quite beautiful. Thank you.

  26. Ben Huff said, on January 9, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Damn, Alec, when you come back to blogging, you don’t mess around. This discussion is so rare and refreshing.

    I’m compelled to say a few things, if not only to shout out into the void how incredible my wife is. I say this without exaggeration – I couldn’t do what I’m doing without her. She is my foundation. Living with me isn’t easy, with or without photography, yet she has encouraged me and supported my addiction from the beginning. What I do, more times than not, takes time, effort and money away from our relationship. I find myself taking, more often than I give. And, this is not without issue, and not easy. We do not always align on priorities.

    But, the thing is that, although she doesn’t entirely understand what drives me to do what I do (how could she?), when the smoke clears she is there. Always there, and I try every day to not take that for granted. Its a balance, and one that I am not always good at.

    At the end of the day, my wife, through all of my scatterdness, narcissism, dumb faith, and time away into the unknown alone… has never asked ‘why’. For that I have no words.

    Thanks Alec for this thread.

    • Erin Cady said, on January 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

      I relate to this so much that it is almost painful. My husband is so wonderful in all my crazy ventures and there are times when I sit back and wonder how it is possible that he can still love me so much, when the scale is tipped so far in one direction.

      I am the dreamer and he is the realist. Eternal optimism meets the great doubter and pessimist. I would rather starve, be broke and homeless and do art and be happy. He would rather be secure, safe, and busy- even if it meant not doing something he very happy or excited about. Now of course these things do not lead to us always seeing eye to eye. It makes me question my selfish need to do my photography and I constantly worry that my overpowering dream has quelled any desire in him to find what might make him truly happy. I worry that by constantly being the provider, I’ve forced him into a life of always being stressed. I wish I knew how to really show him how grateful I am for him allowing me, to be “me”, and loving “me” despite it all!

      But for all our differences, we are perfect together. I could not do what I do without him, and I certainly couldn’t/wouldn’t want to ever know life without him.

      To all those supporting, understanding, tired, and patient spouses on here…. Thank you.

  27. molly martancik said, on January 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    I have really enjoyed these comments.

  28. Anonymous said, on January 10, 2012 at 1:20 am

    “Complicated” means: I want to be free but can’t be blunt.

    Men are always doing runners and photography is a great excuse, but only works if your making money.

    My wife’s eyes glaze over at the mere mention of photography, she suspects maybe that I love it a little too much?

  29. LBM said, on January 10, 2012 at 8:29 am

    A film to watch in connection with my post On Marrying A Photographer is The Windmill Movie. This great autobiographical documentary about the filmmaker Dick Rogers offers an intimate look into his relationship with the photographer Susan Meiselas.

    The entire movie can be streamed on Netflix and Hulu.

  30. bagheadkelly said, on January 10, 2012 at 9:21 am

    Susan Sontag’s “On Photography” was a good read

  31. webbnorriswebb said, on January 10, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks, Rachel, Alec, and everyone for being so open and generous with your comments. I only wish there were better phrases to begin to describe marriage with one or two photographers –– with the struggle, the weight, the luminosity, the doubting, the lift, the fire, the humility, the mystery, the adventure. “A wild ride” could be one. Perhaps a variation of “relationship” with emphasis on the “ship” –– or, in Alex’s and my case, a sailboat (sailing is one of the few times we leave the cameras and computers behind). Sometimes it’s two-handed sailing, sometimes solo. Sometimes we feel more together apart, and more apart together.

    The very elusiveness of matrimony –– its inability to be pin downed –– for me shows how complicated and alive it is, and, although impossible to capture, it’s sometimes possible to be glimpsed, at least fleetingly. I guess that’s one reason why –– slowly and erratically –– Alex and I add a piece (sometimes a photo, sometimes a text) to a collaborative piece we’re calling, “Together and Apart.” Here’s the first piece I wrote, after Alex and I walked home late one night from the movies in our Brooklyn neighborhood.

    for Alex

    One night I see Saturn ––
    between Ninth and Tenth Street––
    naked and luminous
    through the glass.
    You look, too:
    white orb, the ring
    of your laughter

    Floating home, you pull me
    into your chest.
    I’m light, mercury vapor,
    almost yours,
    until the mortal woman returns,
    all curves and memory,
    your arm ringing my waist.

    A gift, this distance
    we’ve traveled so far.

  32. webbnorriswebb said, on January 10, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Hi Alec, Rachel, et al,

    The only thing that seems abundantly clear about this discussion is that where human beings and human relationships are concerned, variety is limitless: what works for one relationship couldn’t possibly work for another. And what works well at one time in life may not work at another. Rebecca and I, who continue to modify the complex compromises that we have made to sustain a two photographer household, often discuss the fact that we might not have been able to make our current relationship work if we had gotten together earlier in life. (I look back and realize how insufferable my youthful arrogance must have been. By the time we got together life had thoroughly humbled me.) Being with Rebecca has certainly made me a better human being — but it has also done something else: I think the self examination and the compromises that have resulted from being with Rebecca have made me a more nuanced photographer. (In some ways this harkens back to the earlier Little Brown Mushroom discussion of youth and photography.) So from my perspective, while innumerable conflicts may emerge in a two photographer household, the benefits — not only human, but photographic — can outweigh the problems.

    Relationships are always difficult. Add to the mix artistic obsession and artistic ego, throw into the pot extensive travel and time apart, and it is easy to see why relationships with photographers are often troubled. It really depends on just how badly you want the relationship to work and what kinds of compromises you can work out that allow each partner the possibility of a rich creative life and growth. — Alex Webb

  33. Tribble & Mancenido said, on January 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Windmill now on queue, hoping to get pointers!
    Two photographers working together…and married.
    God help us!

  34. anon said, on January 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Glad to have you back blogging, Alec. You’re a sharp guy with a lot to say, don’t be such a stranger, let US have your life back 🙂

    I’m a photographer, my wife’s not. When our kids (now 20 and 24) were younger my wife worked from home, and thus I was able to accept assignments knowing all would be well. Or well-ish.

    I think it was hard on all of us in many ways. I missed many-a-birthday, for instance, as I’d sometimes be away for two weeks at a time. As the days of a trip go by, it would become harder to switch from photo-life to home-life during the nightly phone call. Had Skype been around 15 or 20 years ago maybe it would have been a bit different. You’re out on the road sorting film, figuring out where to eat, what’s the schedule for the next day, trying to sleep in yet another hotel; tales of the parent-teacher meeting or the flooded basement somehow felt less important than the tasks at hand.

    Now my kids think it’s kind of cool that their father is a photographer.

    (Indeed, I’m amazed that I’ve made it to 58 and am still working as a photographer, having helped raise a family and put children through college. I just realized a couple of years ago that, yes, it was/is pretty cool to have made it as a photographer and that maybe I should try to enjoy it a bit. Reality: who knows where the next job is coming from. Stressful? You could say that.)

    One of the toughest things for me, indeed, was saying goodbye. Having my family drop me at the train for my ride into the city and then the airport. I have distinct memories of standing in the train door and waving goodbye to my wife and young children. Heart wrenching. Photo life without children could have been easier, I suppose, or maybe less glue is there to hold a relationship together? Many are the tales of divorce among photogs and spouses; I wonder if the rate is different than society as a whole?

    I didn’t have the option of bringing family on some trips, as I know some people do.

    In any case, Cait, best of luck to you. Wish I could have answered this as eloquently as some of the above…

  35. Tamara said, on January 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm


    My husband, a professional photographer, and I were partners in every sense of the word. We compromised quite a bit to have the life we shared together. He was a talented photo illustrator and had awards to prove it. I suspect, however, that if he had not had a wife and two kids there would have been much more career success for him. But would he have been as happy without us to share in it? I worked in a corporate job that provided the constant flow of income for the roof, food and stability that one needs to sustain a growing family. While there were large chunks of time when I found my career unfulfilling I was in awe of his talent and eager to support him in sharing his gift.

    Our partnership went beyond the daily realities of work-life balance; the greater purpose was balancing our participation in the illumination of the world. I didn’t know this at the time, however. We were naturally focused on the logistics of meals to be made, bills to be paid, work projects to be completed and so on. From your questions I can see that this is where you are and I totally get that.

    So from a practical standpoint my advice would be to live near a good airport (Atlanta here), get help from family when you can, talk – really talk – about what your roles will be in your family and how/when that will change and check in with each other on what is working and what isn’t. If something isn’t working you will need to work together on a plan to fix it and sometimes there are no easy solutions where everyone wins. There will be sacrifices.

    My husband passed away just shy of two years ago. I see our marriage partnership through a new lens now. I am deeply grateful for the times that we spent wandering together. I cherish the memory of running up a Death Valley sand dune behind him carrying a ridiculously heavy backpack stuffed with camera bodies and lenses. I can transport myself back to the moment we drove over a crest in the road in Newfoundland and my breath was quite literally taken away by the view of the lighthouse before us. He had scouted the location earlier in the day but wanted me to see it in just the right light. I have beautiful photographs of our children hopping from place to place in an unfamiliar landscape.

    Capturing these moments in image and on my heart is what our marriage was really all about. Take care of the logistics but stop yourself once in a while and remember to be grateful for who you are in each other’s lives and in the master plan.

    • Cait said, on January 11, 2012 at 12:14 pm

      I’m so sorry to read about the loss of your husband, Tamara.Thank you for your grounding words.

  36. Tammy Cromer-Campbell said, on January 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    Our photography instructor, O. Rufus Lovett got me and Scott together way back when. Scott photographs the landscape and I photograph the human condition or people. On our honey moon out west, he brought his 4×5 and I watched supportively with just a few wise cracks here and there… Once I figured out my path and started a project, well it took over me and everything else. Scott stopped enjoying traveling with me because somehow, he says I made him my photo whore ;). I think it is great being married to someone that understands when inspiration hits, let it flow.

    I’ve been in a creative drought for a while. We live in Texas and just experienced the worse drought ever. He shoots landscapes and he invited me to come with him to the lake one evening. I went and took my cameras and to my surprise I became inspired. So husband helped pull me out of my dry spell and now I am documenting the Texas drought. So husband is also inspiration.

    He is the bread winner. I have studio and gallery, but he makes the real money. We were suppose to be equals in that regard, but my projects suck money dry.

  37. KCook said, on January 10, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Great thread, Alec. Have enjoyed reading all of these wonderful replies…

  38. Hsien Loong Lim said, on January 11, 2012 at 3:53 am

    Its so interesting to hear from artists or photographers about the extent to which their spouses play a role in their work, even though I’m unmarried and I’m not an artist/photographer myself, I can imagine the strains and pressures that a life of art-making can have on a relationship. I don’t know if this is relevant but there are many examples of the ways in which artists make work that seem to be inseparable from their emotional states brought on by intimate relationships – the Georgia O’Keeffe movie (starring Jeremy Irons as Alfred Steiglitz!) sheds a light; Patrick Tsai and Jackson Eaton’s respective series (My Little Dead Dick and Jackson And Hasisi were never married) were very interesting; photographers everywhere from Emily Shur to Blake Andrews regularly discuss their spouses in their blog posts. Of them all I’m fairly sure there is none more relentless than Japanese photographer Go Itami, who documents his wife in practically every aspect of her life from eating to sleeping and back again, in the process putting together this intimate pictorial diary of their married lives. And of course, how can we leave out Araki’s “Sentimental Journey”?

    There’s this quote that I have from Eleanor Callahan, wife of Harry Callahan: “It was part of our daily life for 25 years…. He took pictures wherever we happened to be. I might be cooking dinner, and Harry would say, Eleanor, the light is just beautiful right now. Come on, I’d like to take a picture of you,’ and we’d go and make a photograph.”

  39. Corporate Photographer said, on January 11, 2012 at 11:54 am

    if you are both making a living from photography you will get financial highs and lows which can impact on your work as well as your self esteem and will cause problems in your relationship. I know when I have nothing on I am a pain to be around.

  40. Zoe Strauss said, on January 11, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Here’s to you Ms. Rachel Cartee Soth! Marriage is hard for sure, but you’ve beautifully articulated what makes can make marriage great. Thanks.

  41. julia mclaren said, on January 12, 2012 at 4:52 am

    My parents are not artists but both have a creative streak in their personalities. They have been married for 49 years and still love each other with humour and kindness. They have asked us, their 3 girls, to bury them side by side and put on their joint gravestone, “It was being apart that kept them together”.

  42. Cara Phillips said, on January 27, 2012 at 11:25 am

    Alec, what interesting post and discussion. Almost every photographer I know has some difficulty balancing their relationships with the demands of being an artist. Early in my own journey I got two sets of advice from the previous generation of male artists. One told me if I really wanted to be an artist, I should just accept that it was going to take a toll or even prevent my chances of having a healthy relationship and/or family. The other one told me to break up with my long-time partner and find a banker, because with his $$ I would become famous much quicker. Obviously both of the these options were quite depressing to me. But more depressing is that there are elements of truth in both.

    I have seen a lot of artists prosper because their partner had the financial means to help them pursue an art career or had family money (not to say that they were without talent or that they did not work hard.) However I also know a lot of couples who without those means, still make it work. I think because the non-photographer partner truly believes in them and their work, enough to make them willing to accept the travel, money issues, and stresses that comes with this life.

    It is a lot to ask of your partner. And there are plenty of examples where it was too much and the relationship broke under the pressure. In my case, I was lucky that my partner was an art director and photographer himself, although not as a career. He has been there for me, carrying equipment, helping with my lights, and critiquing my work and more. His help has made it possible for me to get this far. That said, it is a constant struggle. The amount of time and energy I have to put into my work, on top of having a full-time job does not leave me always with a lot of time or energy for anything else.

    And I worry a great deal about how I will be able to incorporate having a child into this already challenging situation. I know plenty of women photographers who do it, but I do wonder if it is more difficult for them.

    Anyway thank you everyone for sharing, it is great to read both that I am not the only one struggling with these issues, but that so many of you have found a way to make it work.

  43. Davin Ellicson said, on February 2, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    From my experience it is a good idea to test out a photographic life with your partner before getting married.

  44. Bruce Meisterman said, on February 22, 2012 at 7:06 am

    You’ve described my life!

  45. Eric Cousineau said, on March 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

    I’ll start this off with I’m a husband and father of two boys (4 and 2 years old). I’ve been with Ellen for 8.5 years and married for 6.5 years of that. When we first decided to get married I told her that if she ever tried to get me to stop being a photographer that the marriage would be over.
    When we first got married we were poor, I had a crappy desk job that I hated, and I wasn’t allowed much time off. It was very depressing, because I barely photographed and we could barely pay bills. I then got a job at a photography gallery, it was great for the first two or three years, but it wasn’t what I wanted, I wanted to be out taking to photographs, not selling them. When my wife became pregnant with our first son, we had to make a lot of crucial decisions. I wasn’t happy working in a gallery, and all I ever wanted to be in life is a photographer, and the degree my wife had would never allow her to advance to far in pay or a career that made her feel fulfilled. Not only did we want to be happy in what we were doing, but we wanted our child to be provided for better.
    Since traveling a lot trying to build a career wasn’t an option for us, I decided to become a wedding photographer and built my business while I worked at the gallery. My wife became pregnant with our second child at this time, and set her back a year from going to masters school.
    Move to present day. I’ve quit my gallery job, my wife is in masters school, her school is an hour drive away so she is gone most of the day during the week. This leaves me to be the main care provider for our children. I get them ready in the morning, take them to school, come home work, pick them up, play and work on projects, and cook dinner.
    While wedding photography is something I thought I would have never got into it’s a decision I do not regret making. I get to work from home, I can provide for a family of 4, and I get to work on personal projects when I’m not working on weddings. Since I only have 6 hours a day to work during the week I cannot travel so I find projects to work on that are close to home. While they may not be the greatest projects in the world, at least I’m photographing, and when I’m photographing I’m happy.
    When my wife graduates and joins the working world, our agreement is I get to take down the number of weddings I photograph, and travel to work on projects that have wanted to do over the years.
    The point, it is possible. Has it been easy? Not at all. How are we making it through it? When I have time to reflect on it in 30 years I’ll let you know. I just know I’m very luck to be married someone who is supportive in what I do, and loves me through the hard times, even if we both feel like giving up.

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