Rants and Sermons


Photo Feb 21, 7 11 08 AM

“When your hands are full of thorns but you can’t quit groping for the rose…” ~Bruce Cockburn.

I feel myself getting hungry. Or perhaps I’m always hungry but only now recognizing that gnawing feeling for what it is. I get that way when I come out of a time of gorging myself creatively, as I have recently in Kenya. I come back to the emails and Facebook and blogging, and client needs, and eBooks, and the camera sits. The hunger is to create new work, work that opens me to new experiences, and gives me the deep soul-satisfaction of having created something, told a story, touched someone somewhere. You and I aren’t so different, you know. Most of my readers, regardless of whether they make money with photography or not, are rabid amateurs – they do this for the love of it, for the thrill of the chase. And so when you email me, or drop a comment, and it echoes with your longings and your frustrations, I get it.

But here’s the thing, most of those comments seem to want me to give some advice that will help stop the frustration, which is the same thing as extinguishing a fire I’m trying really hard to keep ignited. Sure, you get burned once in a while if you sit too close – but don’t be so hasty to put out the flames that you forget the deep cold we risk when we give up and sit too far from the fire. And no one that cares – and I do – will extinguish that fire for you. And that’s the only way to quench the frustration and satiate the hunger.

The only thing is to allow the hunger. Feed it. Find a way to cherish the growling in the belly when its been a while since you’ve eaten. We do that with new experiences, and personal projects, and never resting on the laurels that we make of our past work and Facebook likes. We do it by changing our perspective on what it means to succeed at all this, and to chase the right things, the things that we will one day look back on with pride and satisfaction, the things worth failing at the first few times. I doubt my generation will be as proud of their Twitter feed as they will be of work the work that they now hunger for.

Don’t you dare disparage the longing for something more, and the effort to get there. Don’t settle. Don’t tire of reaching for the flame. Don’t get lazy, and don’t feel guilty when you do – that’s just more energy preventing you from picking up the camera, the pen, the paintbrush.

“I doubt my generation will be as proud of their Twitter feed as they will be of work the work that they now hunger for.”

The thing about hunger is there is always more than one way to feed it. And since so many of you do embrace the idea that mastery is a journey and the learning is never complete, I want to say one more thing. It’s a Sunday morning, and this is my homily, so bear with me.

“And beginning is what matters. Doing. Making. Trying. Risking. Falling. Trying again. That’s where the real learning happens.”

I’ve noticed something about photographic education, a fork in the road that doesn’t get discussed, and I want to encourage you to consider taking the road less traveled, not because Robert Frost has a thing to say about it, but because I think one path is the better one.

The prevalent path throws junk food at our hunger – a new tip, a new piece of gear, a new technique. Once I learn those things, those magic missing things, only then will I get over my fear and do my work. Only then will I know what I need to know. It’s a path that circles around a lot. It doesn’t really go anywhere.

The other path recognizes that we learn best while we do. It’s got fewer people on it, winds here and there, and once in a while it circles back, but it feeds the hunger with things that grow the soul and put wood on the fire (if the metaphors weren’t mixed before, I think I’ve just thrown them into a blender). That second path acknowledges that the learning never stops and if we wait to graduate before we do our best work – also a journey – we’ll never begin. And beginning is what matters. Doing. Making. Trying. Risking. Falling. Trying again. That’s where the real learning happens. You want easy? Take up stamp collecting.

The hunger is fed when we do our work. And its presence – always there, always gnawing, even in the middle of work that we’re doing right now – is a good thing. Listen to it. But be intentional about how you feed it. And if you’ve read this whole thing wondering why you don’t feel the hunger at all, and you long for it all the same, then that too is a hunger of sorts. Feed it. Begin. It’ll come back. Try a new direction, follow your curiosity, tell some new stories. The inspiration comes from working. The learning comes from failing. Do that.

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