“Love is the light in which we see each thing in its truest origin, nature and destiny. If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility and depth.” – John O’Donohue
When I first ventured into photography I assumed it was FOR me. I purchased that first “real” camera, took my first workshop, feasted on the inspiration of others…all for my own growth. The hobby took root and blossomed into a passion and then over time a little space opened up in my heart. I then understood that my knowledge/experience/art was meant to serve a larger purpose…the good of others not just my own edification.
ART IS NOT FOR US
I often wonder if our art ever really belongs to us or if it’s even entirely of us.
I imagine that Inspiration whispers, “Here I am. Give birth to me.” We press the shutter, the work is incarnated and our heart soars at the miracle of it. While the work bears our imprint, it’s not ours. In the moment of creation it belongs to the Universe…to our families, to our clients, to the pool of inspiration we all drink from.
It’s the same in motherhood. Perhaps the heartache of every mother is an acknowledgement of this truth – our children are not ours alone. Successful parenting is defined by its ability to love and let go. It’s a job we work ourselves out of…it sounds tragic but we are working toward our own obviation.
Art, like a child, is created for its own sake, not ours. To grace the world…not us.
ART IS CREATED TO GIVE AWAY
Not only is art created for its own sake, it’s created to give away…created for the sake of others. Photography is a visual language — every author needs an ear….every work of art needs a viewer.
My oldest daughter is in her third year of piano lessons. At her recital last week as one student after another bowed and sat to play, I’ll admit I was getting a little fidgety. Recitals don’t exist to enthrall parents. Recitals exist because every music teacher understands that music is created to give away.
So it is with photography. Sure there are examples like Vivian Maire, an American street photographer who privately documented Chicago and NYC during the second half of the twentieth century. She died in obscurity. Her hauntingly beautiful and massive body of work was discovered in a thrift shop. She never sought to share or publish a single image but she certainly never destroyed them and today over 10,000 prints and negatives have been catalogued and archived. The Universe wanted them to be shared.
You see we don’t create in a vacuum. The images we create are inspired by the beauty all around us. It’s in the DNA of our work and as such it’s not ours to take and hoard from the Universe…only receive, interpret and return. When we photograph it’s a form of thanks. Thanks for the light. Thanks for the subject. Thanks for the setting.
Thanks in action is an act of giving and here we find ourselves….photography is a means of thanksGIVING
PASSION WORK: OUR THANKSGIVING
Five years ago there was a gentle unfolding of my business. I never set out to have a lifestyle family photography and videography business…I often joke it chose me. I remember well the shift that occurred the year I began to charge for my services. I was making next to nothing but suddenly my images were commoditized and something in me grieved it. I was now accountable to the money. Many among us have chosen another path and revel in their title as hobbyist. I applaud you. I find a beautiful purpose in what I do but there are definite trade-offs
The shift in me occurred at a soul-level. There’s an altruism we abandon when we photograph only for ourselves or those who pay us. I believe Inspiration favors altruism and I have a well-tested theory that it rewards those who give back. My greatest growth as a photographer has been during times of least profit.
Let’s pause here. I don’t know a single photographer who doesn’t “give back” in some form. Being sensitive to the human condition, our hearts are easily stirred. Sometimes we just struggle to know what direction we should take. We may even question whether we’ve arrived at a point where our work is good enough to donate or knowledge enough to contribute. Nonsense! What arbitrary point is that and who wouldn’t love to be the recipient of your unique combination of skill and perspective?! We all have something to give.
As you set out to discover your particular passion work, perhaps a starting place would be to ask yourself these questions:
- What aspect of my story makes my heart beat for a cause?
- Who in my community needs encouragement?
- What issues break my heart?
- What photographer needs encouragement on their journey?
Three years ago I sat on a beach with one of my best friends and former roommates. I listened to her growing concern about her five year old son’s symptoms as I watched him run to the beach and jump over the waves. Weeks later an emergency MRI revealed a large tumor at the back of his brain and other smaller ones along his spinal cord. He was in surgery the same night. During the surgery he suffered a stroke. Cancer stole his health. The stroke stole his independence. Today my courageous little friend is in remission but requires assistance for his mobility and support for his learning.
To say my friend’s story has impacted mine is to put it lightly. The pain of their journey has touched every corner of my heart and deeply affected how I see my world…my family…even my clients. There are no “givens” in life…each day is sheer grace, a gift.
Because of my brave little buddy, I’m a volunteer with The Gold Hope Project. A non-profit that provides free portrait sessions for pediatric cancer patients to bring awareness to childhood cancer and provide funding for a cure. It was begun by our own ClickPro Cynthia Dawson who lost her daughter to cancer. I also volunteer my photography once a month at Boston Children’s Hospital photographing chronic and terminally ill kids and their families. My work there does more for my ability to “see” than any workshop I’ve ever taken. For confidentiality reasons some of my best work will never be seen by anyone beyond the families to whom I give it. I’m ok with that…it’s not FOR me.
Who has impacted your story? What events have shifted your perspective? Consider ways you can use your photography to celebrate life/love, offer hope and raise awareness.
I feel a deep humility for whatever small success I’ve achieved in business. Perhaps it’s the conviction I hold that Inspiration is external to me. Perhaps that humility is born of a belief that I’m only mirroring beauty…not creating it. My business has a mission statement and here it is: To bring experiences of transcendent relationship through photography to those in my community who need them most. It’s never really been about the photos for me…it’s about the people and their connections. My photos are only evidence that THEIR beauty exists.
My mission statement is my compass and the driving force behind my WHY. Why I…
- offer free sessions to families I know in crisis (two pictured here)
- offer free sessions to our church ministers and my children’s teachers
- donate sessions each year to local school and charity auctions
I have guidelines on how many free sessions I donate a year and how often a family can repeat. Need is everywhere so there’s a necessary balance we have to strike: for our profit and time margins but mostly for the sake of our families. We aren’t super she-roes and will exhaust ourselves (and starve Inspiration) if we act like we are.
Who is hurting? Who in your community gives and gives and never asks? Who in your community needs to breath deep and press into their family for a time…to have their love mirrored back to them? Who in your community would benefit from photos and maybe can’t afford you? They’ll never ask, so bless them. Bless them as you’ve been blessed.
WHAT BREAKS YOUR HEART
Things that adversely affect children break my heart more than anything. Human/sex trafficking rips it wide open. As we watched our kids play at a water park, a school friend shared her family’s story of loss and how it led them to start a home in Northern Thailand for at-risk girls (ages 4-18). The seed was planted. This past March my family and my camera were invited to meet the thirty-seven beautiful girls rescued from poverty, abuse and neglect and handed hope at Breanna’s House of Joy. It was an invitation I couldn’t turn down.
For 10 days I documented in photos and video the bravest, happiest girls you’ll ever meet. I cuddled, played yard games, sang, adventured and laughed with children who had known more fear, pain, sorrow and loss than any child ever should. One day we drove 4 hours through dense jungle to visit a village much like the hill tribe villages the girls are from. As I walked alone through the village documenting a world so “other” than my own, I was struck by the resiliency of children – their indomitable spirit and ability to overcome the greatest obstacles.
What issues break your heart? What boils your blood and motivates you to action? Your photography is your voice…let it be heard!
WATERING THE FIELD
Every seed needs water to grow. I am the photographer I am today because of other photographers who poured into me.
Photographers like Kelly Lorenz who handed me her old Nikon D700 (the same one she shot our wedding with!) at a playdate and told me to keep it in manual. The same photographer whose confidence in me materialized in an invitation to second shoot an exclusive wedding with her this past weekend. Photographers like CM Mentor Jen Bilodeau, who lovingly helped me curate and fine tune my Click Pro application. Who didn’t stop there but messages me regularly to follow-up on other personal goals and encouraged me to start writing.
These incredibly gifted and very busy photographers, have taken time to champion my strengths and shove me in the direction of my dreams. Kelly and Jen are the reason I’m typing this blog. They’re also the inspiration behind why I…
- mentor three photographers in turn
- teach a children’s photography workshop each year either at our church or our girls’ school
- organized an online P52 photography group
How can you encourage and support photographers on their journey? What unique insights/gifts can you use to nourish the field of photography? Someone, somewhere is looking up to you. Let’s stop fixing our gaze on those “ahead” and give a long, loving look “behind”.
OUR CAMERAS AS INSTRUMENTS OF HOPE & HEALING
If photos aren’t really ours to begin with, I don’t see a lot of wiggle room when it comes to giving back. Indeed, what if the real job of the photographer is to see through all the mundane, ugly or hard to what matters most and to put it right for the world to see real? I believe that our beautiful calling is to affirm meaning. That having been gifted a second sight, we have an obligation to view the world a layer deeper and to offer up our cameras as instruments of hope and healing.
Your camera is inert circuitry apart from you. Go put a soul in your camera and your own will be fed. xo