Earlier this week Carla and I went to the wonderful Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles to see photographer Annie Leibovitz read from her new book, At Work.
The purpose of this book, she said, was to let young photographers find out about photography, and to explain the stories behind the many amazing photographs she's taken in her 40+ year career as a photographer for Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair.
I wasn't expecting to be interested in the text of the book (and it is mostly text, not photos) but I found it to be immensely readable. At Work is not only a gossip lover's delight (she tells fun stories about all the famous people she'd photographed, like Hunter S. Thompson, The Rolling Stones, Queen Elizabeth, and Al Sharpton), its also an inspiration for anyone who does creative work and wants to continuously challenge themselves to become better at their craft.
I bought my first real camera in Japan, a Minolta SR-T 101. The first thing I did with it was take it on a climb up Mt. Fuji.
Climbing Mt. Fuji is something every Japanese does at some point, but it's harder than you might think. I was young, and I started up the mountain fast. I didn't know about pacing. My brother Phil was even younger – he was thirteen – and he ran ahead of me. Phil disappeared. The camera felt like it weighed a ton. It was awkward. It got heavier the higher we went. After a while I was pretty sure I wasn't going to make it, but just then a group of elderly Japanese women in dark robes came marching along in single file. They were chanting in an encouraging way and I fell in behind them. We passed Phil at the seventh way station. He was lying flat on his back.
When you climb Mt. Fuji you stay overnight at the eighth way station and get up in the morning so that you can reach the top at sunrise. It's a glorious moment. Spiritually significant. When I got to the top I realized that the only film I had was the roll in the camera. I hadn't thought much about the film situation. I photographed the sunrise with the two or three frames I had left.