The great expanse. Perhaps we are naturally drawn to scenes of great distances not just for the beauty of the vista but also because of what such scenes have come to represent within ourselves. The opening, a journey, an adventure. More than anything else the overcoming of the fears that keep us stranded within our starting points and our visions limited and small. Out upon that great expense is our faith. Beyond ourselves a love far greater and more powerful than what we assume keeps us safe and comfortable. The ships of our souls weren’t built to be tied and anchored. They were built for full sails toward the light.
Seek authenticity, marvel in its presence but resist the urge to simply imitate. What is truly authentic should only inspire you to find what is already authentic in you. Doing so has become increasingly challenging in the popular culture of today where the emphasis is on appearance and immediate visual stimulation. Popular culture devours the authentic with an insatiable appetite and then sits in the corner, sad and empty-hearted. Just look what has happened to the most well known art and music “festivals.” There’s the perfect example. Imitation is a disguise for those who can’t – or have failed to – locate their own voice and it doesn’t help that we have entire industries that cater to imitation. Inspiration is the far better journey. Defy popularism. Be true, be inspired and become a source of inspiration versus imitation. That’s where you will find the good and lasting stuff.
Nature is a persistent and patient teacher with the life lesson of change. Having been involved with nature photography for over 40 years has allowed me to observe the power and importance of this lesson. The one thing that doesn’t change has been change itself. It is consistent.
People naturally fight change. They hate it. Honestly I do to. The very thought of ever moving again brings on a sense of dark doom. Change is so disruptive to what most perceive as safety and security. It goes against this inherent human fallacy known as control. But then nature comes along with her lessons, sometimes subtle; sometimes quite harsh. Late summer and into early autumn seems to be the time when mother nature too likes to put school back into session, with vigor and suddenness, particularly for those living in the coastal states.
Ohio’s lessons on change this time of year tend to be far more subtle but there they are, nonetheless. Summer ends, school begins, cool evenings give way to fields and meadows covered in webs and dew. The balance between day and night returns, and life goes on.
The opposite of fighting change within our own lives is to fully embrace it, with courage and faith. To emulate nature not in the struggle but in the quiet acceptance of what is meant to be will be. Ego insists on the struggle and attempts vainly at controlling the inevitable. Nature flows with it. She goes with the confidence of what changes never truly goes away but is returned again and again in new seasons and forms.
But with our modern lives embracing change is easier said than done. Ego and security are often buried generations deep with the help of inherited fears. This dire need for the “bricks and mortar” and monuments to persona do little to assuage wounds never properly healed. The falseness of our beliefs in ourselves and controlling everything prove to be powerful barriers for free spirits to overcome.
Nature continues to teach otherwise. I think it’s why I could never really leave her classroom. My camera has become my pencil and the photographs my growing stack of doodled and dogeared notebooks.
Change in the seasons and in life flow with an energy that when it comes down to it, I never see as negative. It’s continuous and so are the lessons. With energy so immense and eternal how could anything – or anyone – truly “end.”
In our lives we are given this gift of continuous love that we would rather shove into the corner in favor of what’s immediate and more serving of our needs for control and security. It isn’t until the hard lessons are put upon us whereby we return to the treasure behind our here and now. This gift of continuous love can be found and observed in both nature and in each of us. Change is the energy for it to fly in orbits that will never end but only become better and brighter through time and generations.
Last Friday I accompanied my 15 year old daughter as she went to the oral surgeon to have her four wisdom teeth removed. I am very fortunate to have the flexibility and freedom to be able to be there for her. It all went well with even a comical video or two of the after effects of the analgesia. I was happy to be there for her. Chloe is my youngest and lives with me here in Ohio. Her older sister Emma is 17 and will be graduating this year from high school in Texas where she lives with her mom. My son Philip, age 30, is making his own way and living his dream near the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Make a difference where it counts, and lasts. The achievements that will always stand the test of time will be those that positively impacted another person’s life. That’s job #1 in being parent and I fear that in all the political noise we’ve surrounded ourselves with has taken some the focus away from why we’re here and what we’re doing in the first place. And it’s just not the political noise. It’s the noise of our own insecurities and fears often amplified due to the inevitable and constant comparisons being made on social media.
As an independent artist and photographer I’m often challenged to constantly bring in new work in a smaller market where I’m well-established, and with growing competition from influx of new photographers and cell phone cameras. I put pressure on myself to introduce to the fine art print market striking, new imagery representing new locations.
It’s always there on social media, is it not? The hipster photographer traveling the back roads of the American West in his custom SUV or retro Woodie Wagon with a Husky in tow and every week a breathtaking sunrise along the coast or in some grand vista of a National Park.
How many photographers can actually make a living from such a “dream job?” Very, very few. Seriously, if any at all. What still surprises me is the number of people I come in contact with who think that’s me. It is not. In fact I haven’t traveled outside of Ohio since I went to visit my daughter in Dallas last October.
All those images I post everyday to my company Facebook page? Old stuff. Lots of it. Again and again. And you know what? That’s O.K. Just last week I posted a canyon landscape that I captured when I lived in Utah in 1999. Six months from now I will probably post it again.
There are some important points I’m making here. One, selling art is not selling entertainment, and unfortunately that’s what the bent has become for the vast majority of artists pushing themselves on social media these days. To entertain and “engage” by feeding this huge, nebulous audience of followers “new stuff” that shows just how exciting the life is being pursued by the most popular adventuresome hipster artist. I think it’s a shame that this approach is being perpetuated amongst art schools and colleges and in a way falsely convincing students that they will actually be able to make a living traveling, blogging and selfie-stick their way through life. They won’t.
The other point to be made is that when we finally learn to accept the blessings and opportunities that are right outside our front doors we find that often it’s through such local endeavors, no matter how “boring” it may appear on social media, where we find our creative voices and more importantly, the type of face-to-face, personal connections that in the long run will be far more profitable and fulfilling. For me one area of unexpected fulfillment has been expanding my photography practice to the field of teaching photography, through field workshops. To awaken the joy of artistic expression in a new photographer with a camera and with the right guidance is worth any National Geographic expedition to the most exotic locations.
The problem we are all facing today is this constant negative energy of adversarial relationships that arise from so many comfort zones and assumptions, especially between generations. Heck I’m already doing it with the use of the term “hipster.”
We need to return to common ground of learning, growth and collaboration. To remain divisive is to continue to keep generations isolated. That’s not good for anyone.
My other point is the most important. Don’t screw-up priorities. It’s easy to do, especially when you work in a field where there’s quite a few unrealistic expectations. That gets frustrating and it simply is not worth it to try to please all people all the time. Look to where and how your work has made a positive impact, beyond the bottom line and short term profit. Having worked as a photographer since 2003, in a number of different locations and for a wide variety of clients and students, I’ve lost count the times I’ve been told what a difference my photographs have made, how I’ve inspired someone to reach out and grow or how simply sharing an old favorite landscape image with some words of support made someone’s day.
And this gets back to the unexpected joys of parenthood. When my daughter selects one of my images from my web site for a project for her sophomore art class and for me to be there when they perform, maybe not all the time because of how things have worked out with distances, but to be there when it matters and to matter to them when it counts, and sometimes you get a goofy post-wisdom teeth video to share to boot.
I’ve put a lot of expectation for perfection upon myself. Artists tend to do that. But at 52 years of age all I can hope for now is just to make a positive difference each day, with my kids and with anyone I’m blessed to come in contact with.
Plant the seeds that no else sees, and anchor your confidence in the joy of the fruit to be harvested long after you’re gone. It will all be worth it.
The quiet of November. The cold of night slowly releasing to the remaining warmth of the day. Morning mist filling the valleys. Frost-covered leaves and bare branches silhouetting the oranges and purples of early sunsets. There’s a calmness to November; an ease of being, a peaceful disposition before the arrival of winter.
November has always been a welcome respite; that quiet and beautiful month of transition. It is an opportunity to return to my photographic roots among the towering Hemlocks of Hocking Hills and along prairie trails in twilight.
There’s a soft and slightly melancholy feel to the early nightfalls and horizons set to hues between orange and pink and migrating flocks overhead. I welcome the change and I’ve learned not to dread the arrival winter for it is in all the seasons and the in-between months when we are reminded that life is in a constant state of change. The soul was never designed to be a stationary object but flows with tides and the waxing and waning of the Moon.
Change is to be embraced. It’s good. It’s necessary. It’s how we grow. What remains consistent is the energy of love and grace that stays with all the winds of change. Let us all be fully and completely present in all that change brings us and during the calm beauty of November to stop and be grateful for all we’ve be blessed with in our lives.
Only by peace can the human heart gain sovereignty over the darkness of fear and the desires of the ego. The world grasps and holds at what is only temporal, as if life is a mere game of competitive oneupmanship. The winners. The losers. The accounting and counting of what eventually amounts to nothingness. But the truth of the soul is a love that transcends this world, where the only measure is the heart’s capacity for the sheer honesty of its beauty and being and destiny. We are not sent to our fates by a cold and uncaring God. It is rather by our own choosing do we recede into darkness or proceed into light. Only by peace can the heart lead the way forward. The conscious decision to follow that path is a holy power, a divine gift. In the years that fall behind us may we all gain the awareness that is peace and acceptance and join our hearts in the grandeur that is love everlasting.
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