Never underestimate the power of one decision, one conversation, one risk taken, to completely change the course of your life.
5 years ago this month Within The Frame, my first book, rolled off the presses and into the hands of what would be way more people than I ever imagined. In that time Within The Frame’s been translated into over a dozen languages, including Farsi, Arabic, Korean, Swedish, and Polish among them, and sold all over the world. One of the proudest moments of my life was reading the foreword that Joe NcNally so beautifully wrote, and the moment my mother read the dedication and burst into tears remains one of my favourites. This book literally changed my life, so this month I’m taking 5 Thursdays to celebrate, and with it, to extend my thanks to everyone that’s bought a copy, sent me the fan mail that still makes my head spin and my heart swell, or left a review that in turn has encouraged others to read it. Thank you!
This week I wanted to post an excerpt from the book. Next week I’m hoping I can unveil the first of the giveaways we’re doing this month.
IT’S ABOUT VISION
Vision is the beginning and end of photography. It’s the thing that moves you to pick up the camera, and it determines what you look at and what you see when you do. It determines how you shoot and why. Without vision, the photographer perishes.
Vision is everything, and the photographic journey is about discovering your vision, allowing it to evolve, change, and find expression through your camera and the print. It is not something you find and come to terms with once and for all; it is something that changes and grows with you. The things that impassion you, that anger you, that stir you—they are part of your unique vision. It is about what you—unique among billions—find beautiful, ugly, right, wrong, or harmonious in this world. And as you experience life, your vision changes. The stories you want to tell, the things that resonate with you—they change and so does your vision. Finding and expressing your vision is a journey, not a destination.
You can spend a lifetime chasing your vision, learning not only to see with more clarity, but to express that vision in stronger and stronger ways. It’s important to remember this because it fights against the discouragement that all artists inevitably face. The feeling that we’re seeing nothing new, have nothing to say, or have created our last good photograph. When that happens it’s helpful to remember that the journey isn’t over yet. As long as we’re alive and interacting with life, the world, and the people around us, we’ll have something to say. And as we learn and practice our craft, we’ll have stronger ways—better ways, even—of expressing it.
Vision can be elusive. We may not always have an immediate conscious reaction to the world around us, may not understand our feelings about the story in front of us. In these times, it is often the case that the camera becomes more than a means to record our vision; it becomes a means to help clarify it. The act of looking through the frame, of excluding other angles and elements, of bringing chaos into order, can bring our vision to the surface. This ability to help us see means, in some way, that the camera is a partner with us in the process, and it is what separates photographers from painters. We have a symbiotic relationship—not with the camera technology but with the frame, which, for all the technological changes photography has been through, remains the constant.
Our vision often grows to match our skill. As we gain new tools and skills with which to better express our vision—in deeper and more complete ways—so our vision is given the room to grow deeper and more complete. Furthermore, I think our vision always slightly outpaces our tools. For this reason, we’ll always be a little frustrated by the inability of our tools, or our technique, to match that vision. That’s the journey of the artist, and it’s the reason why our craft sometimes feels so difficult to master. If you don’t love photography for the sheer act of trying to express yourself, and will only find joy in it when you finally get there, yours will be a disappointing journey. Not only will you likely never “get there,” but you’ll have missed how beautiful and exhilarating the journey itself is.
Vision itself, like our eyesight, can be neglected and allowed to degenerate, or it can be made sharper, brought into greater clarity. The more we engage the world and examine our own thoughts and feelings about it, the clearer our vision becomes. We become able to describe feelings and thoughts that were once unconscious. For those of us whose medium is photography, we do that visually. The clearer our vision becomes, the more able we are to find means of expressing it through our choices of optics, exposure, composition, or the digital darkroom.
The photographic life is one of discovering your vision and expressing it in purely visually terms. Sometimes our vision finds us; sometimes we need to chase it down.
In the case of this book, it’s a little of both. The images and stories found here come from the last four years as I’ve traveled and photographed around the globe, as well as a one-month trip around the world taken in January 2009. I visited five countries—Cuba, Egypt, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam—in search of encounters with people, places, and culture, and the chance to find and express my vision in a single, month-long, creative endeavor. The book is about finding and expressing vision, not about the fact that I travel around the world to do so. It might just as easily have happened by staying in my hometown of Vancouver.
My own vision is a global one; I am most excited by people, places, and cultures that have not yet been overtaken by the creeping homogeny of the West. I love the color and texture of those places, the vitality of life, and the ritual and symbolism of cultures not yet tyrannized by the need to wear the same jeans and believe the same things. My images, too, are affected by that outlook and passion and, I hope, reflect it. Had someone else written this book, it might have been shot entirely in New York City or Prague. But I’m chasing my vision, and you will chase yours in the places best suited to that. What’s important is that you chase that vision intentionally and with passion, refusing to let it be anything but yours and yours alone.
This is an excerpt from Within The Frame, The Journey of Photographic Vision, available on Amazon.com here.
Or you can pick up a copy at Peachpit.com and to help us celebrate, Peachpit’s giving us a killer deal – use the coupon code DUCHEMIN and you’ll get 40% off – which means you can get the paperback for $21.59, the eBook version for $17.27, or a bundle with both the paperback and the ebook for only $29.15. That’s a deal so good I might just buy a few!