We are nomads. Quite literally.
Nicole asked me tonight if I believe that a person in my field of work has any hope of surviving in an intimate relationship.
No, I said. It is the price I pay for what I bring back.
Ever? She asked.
Not ever, I’m afraid. Not like in the movies.
I used to believe there was a balance I could strike. That I could go to a place like Bosnia and immerse myself for a while then come back and pick up my life where I left off. But I began to see there was never any real going back, for each return was to somewhere new because I had become new.
Photojournalism, I think, maybe it has its own social psychology, I said.
She is a psychologist so she asked me to explain.
Its not the time spent away that is the problem. It’s not even the intensity or the risk in the work. Wildcatters and deep-sea oil rig workers live far more intense and dangerous lives and stay away as long or longer. It is something else. Even a regular journalist has it differently than a photojournalist.
When we go to a place we don’t just arrive to work, we are the work. More than any other media job, the work of the photojournalist, by nature of what it is, requires we become a part of our environment in order to capture it. When I travel to a place, if even for the shortest of assignments, I am actually mentally and emotionally living there for that time.
I think photojournalists have something very literally in common with nomadic peoples, I said.
What do you mean? She asked me.
Place is not an address for us. We carry our tent on our back. We move in and out of place and people knowing we are passing through. But at the same time because we must become intimate quickly we also make an immediate emotional home where we are. Each departure is a leaving something behind. So no matter how many times we return to a place someone else calls home, it is actually like we become lonelier and lonelier because we know we will not be permanent, but we also know we will become intimate just the same.
But it is not the healthy kind of intimacy, the kind that builds marriages and trust and security. It is an emotional intimacy, the kind that lingers like a fog and feels about as warm.
Still it is the nature of our nomadic work that enables us to bring back what we do. Like in this photograph of the fisherman’s daughter on Ille-a-Vache. I can bring you this photograph because I was there. It is not a description of a place. It is not a philosophy. It is a little girl asleep on a mattress on a tropical island. I go so I can bring back. I am a nomad. The price is worth it.