The Weight of a Canoe
If there is one area of my life that I can feel down, it is my career. My career path has never felt linear. I have done a hodge-podge of various jobs to keep both my artistic and financial endeavors moving forward. In my photography pursuits I have had the roles of photographer, photo assistant, photo editor, photo researcher, production assistant, assistant stylist, and bookkeeper (I am proud to say I did my own booking when I was freelancing in these positions). To keep myself afloat financially, I've also held down jobs as a customer service specialist, admin, and receptionist at an optometry office. Because my path has never been a straight path, I sometimes have to remember how far I've come and how much I have actually accomplished. I am, afterall, a financially independent single woman living in New York City. And when I'm having a down moment about my career, I remind myself of the weight of a canoe.
I used to photo assist for a Danish photographer named Daniel. Photo assisting involves being a photographer's right hand man (woman, in my case)... hauling and setting up equipment, ordering meals for the crew, and being an extra set of hands and eyes on set. Photo assisting is a great way to learn about commercial photography, but it can be grueling. Daniel's shoots were especially challenging as they often involved working on location as opposed to a studio. He worked for a pharmaceutical company that often wanted to feature subjects in outdoor, recreational scenarios. One such scene that we would be creating was a family rowing down a river in a canoe.
The shoot was to take place in a small town in the San Francisco Bay Area with access to a river. Earlier in the morning, the other assistant, Rob, had secured the canoe from a rental company. The team was to meet at the location, a park with river access, at 9a. I arrived at the location and parked my car in the dusty parking lot. I looked around and it wasn't really park-like. There was a lot of dry brush and tall trees. A small foot path cut through what basically looked like an overgrown field. Everyone soon arrived, including the producer of the shoot, who informed us that the park location was actually a mile walk in. We all groaned, looking around at all the equipment, including the canoe, that would have to be walked in. Fortunately we did have a cart and could wheel in a lot of the gear. On the trip to the river, Daniel and Rob dealt with the canoe.
The shoot lasted several hours and was quite tiring as I had to run back and forth several times from the location to the parking lot to grab additional gear. Finally, the client announced they had all the shots they needed and we could wrap up. We started packing everything and taking it to the car. Daniel was busy chatting with the client and subjects. Rob looked at me and said, "You'll have to help me carry the canoe." I didn't think it would be a big deal.
I don't know how much the canoe weighed, but it felt like it was a ton. The mile walk back to the car was very slow going as I could barely lift the canoe and walk more than five minutes before stopping and needing to switch arms. Even when I felt like I could walk a few more steps, Rob would need to stop and give it a minute. At one point he suggested putting the canoe up on our shoulders. At that point in my life, I wasn't too good at standing up for myself, but at that particular moment I said absolutely not. I knew, being the shorter one, I would bear more of the weight of the boat. Rob was exasperated and tried to convince me we could go faster if we went with the shoulder strategy, but I wouldn't budge on it. We continued on the same way, walking for five minutes and then stopping to rest and switch arms. After what felt like an hour, we finally saw the car.
The weight of that canoe is like a phantom in my limbs. I've never forgotten how heavy it was to carry and how angry I was to carry it. I now have a desk job in a nice office, though I don't love my job. Sometimes, well, a lot of times, I feel frustrations that I am not further along in a career, that I'm not making more money, or that I don't feel a sense of purpose in my role. I want more in my career. When I'm dwelling on the idea that my goals and aspirations feel out of reach, I remember that I once had to carry a very heavy canoe on a dusty, overgrown path, for a mile and at least, I can celebrate how far I have come.
Photo by: Andrew McElroy