Can I Be A Photographer Who Doesn’t Want To Photograph? A Writer Who Is Afraid to Write?


It was a golden November afternoon. I strolled across the bustling Mexican plaza in the Jalisco village where my husband Hank and I live part time. Photogenic scenes were everywhere. 

Green, white and red Papel Picado (cut tissue paper streamers) fluttered overhead in the breeze and cast a dazzling display of light and shadow across the stone tiles. 

Graceful couples danced the danzón around the base of the plaza bandstand as elegant strains of orchestra music wafted from an ancient, crackling public address system. A fiesta was in full swing and a giant ferris wheel, covered in neon lights, whirled above as peals of children’s laughter rained down. 

Multi-colored vendor stalls ringed the lively square. I was drawn to the sweet aroma of simmering ponche. A smiling woman lifted an enormous copper lid to reveal a bubbling caldron of apples, mangos, guavas, raisins, tamarind, walnuts and dried hibiscus flowers. We exchanged greetings, chatted briefly and wished each other well, as is the local custom. 

I immersed myself in the jubilant celebrations and felt the strength of community in the vibrant Mexican village. Absent, however, was an urge to photograph. The goodwill that surrounded me felt too precious for a bystander’s camera. 

I sat at a cafe table and reflected on my decision; the fact that the more I see travelers point their cameras into strangers lives and faces, the less I want to use my own. 

I thought of the camera that rested unused in my purse and chided myself for a lack of creative drive. It was the nagging guilt I experience when what I think I should do contradicts with what feels honest. 

I wondered, not for the first time, if I was doing the right work. I like being a travel photographer but I want my work to be respectful and genuine. There is a curiosity, a sense of wonder and an enthusiasm that seem to stifle when I shift from observer to photographer.

I have no idea how to be a photographer who doesn’t take photographs, but I trust the feeling.

I confided my thoughts to Hank the next morning over morning coffee, a daily ritual when we talk about things that matter to us. 

“Maybe it’s time to focus on your book,” he said. The book I’d started and stopped writing, and then ditched entirely to start anew. 

“I don’t have the right words.” 

“Yes you do,” he said. “You just need to let go.” 

“What if I can’t? What if it’s frivolous? What if I can’t go deep enough within myself? ” 

“You can,” he said. “Don’t think, just dive in. You’re ready.” 

Inside I knew he was right. I am ready.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with creative expression? Use the comment box below to share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".