I’m currently an Alumni Helper is a class I took last winter called “Photographing with Heart and Vision“. It was a foundational class for me and really impacted how I see behind the lens. As I’ve been participating in the class discussions and answering student questions about my approach, I thought I’d share a few insights here in the hope of encouraging other photogs (anyone who loves taking photos!) and sharing a piece of me with those who aren’t.
When I first picked up a camera I flailed trying to create beauty. I’d wait for the perfect light, set up the shot, bribe my kids with reckless abandon and 100 frames later I’d usually come away with just the shot I wanted…but it was never quite right. No matter the positive feedback from instructors and peers…I knew I contrived it and, though they’re some of my favorite, something in me cringes every time I look at them.
What revolutionized how I see my family and clients through the lens is the notion of “receiving” beauty. A quote I love and is prominent on my website is by G. K. Chesterton. He said, “Art is born when the temporary touches the eternal”. I love that. I’m not the creator. There’s only one Creator and I’m off the hook – I’m just the lucky observer who gets to press the shutter!
This has freed me to abandon the notion of capturing THE moment. Each and every moment gifted me by family, friends or clients is mine – mine to receive and mine to fully appreciate without the shot to prove it existed.
“Receiving” has trained my heart. I’ve taken classes and workshops for years. When I read an article on “Mastering Photography” anymore, I’m exactly where I was three years ago and nowhere anyone would mistake as mastery. In my own experience, when it comes to photography, mastery of the eye comes much sooner and easier than mastery of the heart. Throw a little money and time at it and wham! – you’re ready to start a business but do your images “freeze time” or elevate it? I long for the later.
I think the hard work of “receiving” precedes picking up your camera. The training ground is our mundane day-to-day and our payoffs are those transcendent moments we capture and might otherwise fail to see. More practically, it’s seeing beauty all around you regardless of whether you’re holding a camera. If you can’t fully appreciate a connection, an expression, a ray of light falling on dirty dishes in a crowded sink…how are you going to scratch the surface when you pick up your camera? For most of a year, I wrote down such moments as a sort of gratitude list. It was what launched my photography journey.
I loved learning from the course instructor the distinction between “kairos” and “chronos” moments. The ancient Greeks understood time to be too complex to be explained with just one word. Chronos time is chronological and sequential time – it’s quantitative and measurable. Kairos time, on the other hand, refers to the right or opportune time. It’s the fullness of time and refers to the quality of a moment.
The Greeks grasped something we need to. Kairos is the only thing that makes chronos matter. I don’t pick up a camera to capture how the kids in my family have grown over the course of a year. I crave more. I want connections. How do I communicate to my viewers the love I feel when we’re separated by time and distance? The fullness of our short time together?
Receiving is reflexive. It’s not a response to the lighting or the setting. It’s also not to the exclusion of those things but it’s taking the shot in spite of them. I find I’m a better photographer when I get out of my own way – when my heart leads, not my head.
I believe the role of the artist is a very humble one. That I’m nothing more than a conduit – an instrument in the hands of the Creator of all beauty, every kairos moment – and my next breath.
May He receive the glory.