My Duty as a Photographer

In one weeks time I was reminded three times what one of my roles is as a photographer. 

My first role is to make beautiful, interesting and compelling images that people would like to purchase and hang on their walls. Simple as that, I’m hopefully creating art and selling it as a business. 

My second role – that I was reminded of this week – is as a documentarian. To preserve in photographs what once was. 

I was first reminded of it in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and the destruction it caused all along the East Coast. Especially in my home state ofNew Jerseyand in particular the shore town ofSeasideHeights. The boardwalk and the ocean piers were all destroyed. 

The Seaside Heights Boardwalk as it was


  I had spent countless weekends there from my youth till I left 16 years ago. The memories were all good, all the warm and fuzzies you get from a magical place.

 As I watched the destruction and aftermath on TV I realized I didn’t have one photo from there. Not one. Why? Because, “It would always be there”. Why would you need to shoot it? There would always be another chance. History would prove me wrong. 

I was reminded of my role again as I drove out to the Salton Sea on Sunday for a shoot. About half way on the two hour drive I came to an intersection in San Felipe. I looked over to the right to see one of my favorite sights, the famous “Shoe Tree” of San Felipe

This intersection is the crossroads of many people off for a weekend of fun in the deserts or mountains of San Diego. People would stop here and somehow the tradition of throwing a pair of shoes tied together by the laces and getting it hung up in the branches. It started with a couple and multiplied from there. From Chucks to high heal pumps. I documented it here in a blog post

But this past Sunday as I looked over to see and smile…something was wrong. Where was the tree? It had been consumed by a wildfire this past summer and all that was left was a burned stump. The tree that literally stood there when the pony express followed this route was gone…BUT, I documented it. Because it was important to me.  I almost didn’t the day I shot it, because…It would always be there







And finally I was reminded of my duty as I did my shoot at the Salton Sea. I have been shooting AND documenting the Salton Sea for the past 10 years. It is one of the strangest places in America, an environmental nightmare yet the second largest home to wildlife in the nation. It’s a dichotomy, a paradox. But I love it. It’s important to me. 

My photos from there I believe are beautiful art. But I shoot it for more; I shoot it to document because too many times over the past ten years I have seen what was once there isn’t always there. Many of my images from the Sea are of things that are no longer there, the images you see are just a few. Sometimes nature takes it with the wind and the water. Sometimes a bulldozer does, sometimes vandals do. Some times even evaporation does.


The Sea is drying up. Because of the rerouting of water resources to other areas, water that used to flow into the sea no longer is and eventually, probably slowly but maybe faster than I think, the sea will go from Sea to sink. What it was before, it may be again. But I’ll still be there to document it. Because it’s important to me, because it matters, because it’s my duty.









I wish: I had more pictures of my mom, I wish I had more pictures of my house I grew up in and even one picture of my room. I wish I had pictures of my first car. I wish I had more pictures of the World Trade Centers. I wish I realized better, things wouldn’t always be there.



  1. Ann Higgens November 8, 2012 at 3:52 am #

    So so so so true! What a great blog, very thought provoking, and of course, great photographs to go along with it.

  2. Jbowman November 8, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    Fantastic Peter! An excellent reminder for us all. Sometimes we get so caught up in making “art” that we forget to make memories as well. Thanks for reminding us all that the memories are just important, if not more so.

  3. Sandra November 9, 2012 at 9:31 am #

    A thoughtful piece, Peter. A reminder that most all things are transitory, even digital, film pictures and memories.

    Too bad that hatreds, grudges and vendettas cannot be so easily wiped out.