I spoke at Amazon yesterday in the middle of a whirlwind trip to Seattle. Had a great time, met some amazing people. To all of you who came and were so hospitable, thank you!
For those that didn’t come because, well, ahem, you weren’t invited because you don’t work at the Amazon mothership, this is what I said. Or planned to say before I spent 20 minutes just rambling instead. Use your imagination to insert 20 photographs that are almost entirely unrelated to the talk itself 🙂 These are just notes, so if you’re looking for brilliant writing, move along, there is nothing to see here.
I’ve spent the last 5 years traveling the world photographing the world, its people, their culture, and issues of physical and spiritual hunger. And I’ve been writing. By the time my third book, Vision & Voice, is out I will have released 3 books in just over one year. I’m tired!
But I’ve also been learning. Photographers are by nature observers. You can’t photograph what you first can’t see or experience.
Henri-Cartier Bresson said : Photography is nothing – it’s life that interests me. I resonate strongly with that, and I think my books reflect a similar feeling – that photography is not an end in itself but a means by which we see the world, interact with it, and say to the rest of the world, “look at this!” So in the spirit of that, I offer 5 things I’ve seen over the last 5 years.
1. There is an artist and a geek in all of us. One is the heart, one is the brain, and while they exist in different ways in all of us, one can’t get along without the other. The poet or artist is the passionate, emotional place in all of us. the geek is the one obsessed with email. Or a camera. Or lines of code. And they can live without each other, we are more whole and our work is better when they find balance. As a photographer my craft is tended to by the geek, but my vision is nurtured by the artist, my heart. When both are fully engaged I not only have more to say, with greater passion and urgency, but I have greater skills with which to say it.
2. It is our mistakes that fuel our successes. Our victories are the result of failing, making mistakes, and learning from those. No different with a camera in my hand. We love being safe. Traveling to safe places, taking safe photographs, never venturing too far from the beaten path into risk or experimentation. To grow as an artist, a chef, a writer, a computer programmer, we must learn to listen to the voice that whispers to us – WHAT IF? and be willing to fail and make more mistakes in the pursuit of those possibilities.
3. There is a profound difference between making a living and having a life. The subtitle of VisionMongers is Making a Life and Living in Photography, and it was so-named because the point of photography for those of us that are passionate about it, is not making money, it’s to do what we are passionate about and in so-doing to make enough money to keep doing what we love. The job of the artist, of the human being, is to do what we love and with it to make this world a brighter place, and then to sustain that. For some that might be leveraging skills as a photographer to make that living, but for others it might be working at Starbucks. But make no mistake about it, making a living and making a life are often not the same thing. But they can be.
4. Life is Short, Live with Intention. People get confused when I throw the word VISION around as much as I do, so I’ve taken to switching it out and using the word INTENTION. As photographers we are responsible for every element that finds itself in the frame of our image. If it’s there it’s because you put it there or chose to exclude it. Your vision or intention for the image drives what you include or exclude from the frame. You use a different lens to crop something out, you move here, you move there, you wait for the light to change. You have precious moments in which to do so. And so it is with life. You have a frame in which to tell your story, and a brief moment which in hindsight will seem like no longer than the blink that is 1/60th of a second. You can live with intention and vision and create a story within that frame that will endure, or you can let it happen to you, taking the odd snapshot along the way.
5. Leave the place better than you found it. Much of my commercial work is for groups like World Vision and Save the Children. I got my start in Haiti. But I am not a photojournalist. I show the world as it is, but chose also to show it as I have hope that it will be. My subject is hope. I chose to capture universal human emotions at their best, because strength, joy, hope, dignity, beauty, do not happen in the so-called first-world alone, and man is not defined by the circumstances into which he is born. When I was a kid my mother made me clean up the campsite after our summer weekends camping and I had to pick up cigarette buts and bottle caps that we had not left, but I learned a valuable lesson – leave it better than when you arrived. That is the goal of my photography, and as photography is the means by which I express my deeper values, it is the goal of my life. Whether you have a camera in your hand or not, remember that 20% of the world – that’s us – hoardes more than 80% of the world’s resources and the poor are not only out there in deepest darkest Africa. They are among us, live in the alleys and outskirts of our cities, and closer to home still the poor in heart, the downcast and the broken, live next to us, live with us. Our great poverty is not that we do not share, it’s that we often do not see them at all.
For those of you feeling a little disappointed that I didn’t fill my brief time with photographic wisdom instead of this artsy-fartsy stuff then instead of suggesting that your geek to artist ratio is wildly in need of re-alignment, I offer you this:
Know your craft.
Don’t compare yourself to others.
And don’t get so lost in the f-stops and ISO settings that you miss the point of it all – to discover and express your vision, one frame at a time.
“A better camera won’t do anything for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart” Arnold Newman
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I shall refer to this post as “Why I love David DuChemin in 5 Concise Points”. Thank you D.D. for your brightness and for your willingness to communicate it to the rest of us. Those lucky Amazonians!
David! I didn’t know you were so cool. Especially that last point (5). Thank you for being so thoughtful. My kids have the stomach flu and I was just thinking how life is hard but then I read this post and it brought me back to reality and what really matters. Did you mean to do that? Regardless, thank you for helping me see past myself and inspiring me in more ways than one.
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I loved this post. Very inspiring and not just for photographers but for anyone who wants to get more out of life. I’ve ‘Stumbled’ your post and alerted my members to read this!
Thanks for inspiring me today!
I liked the short explaination about how your work is different from photojournalism. It’s a subtle distinction, but significant.
October 26th, 2005
Ok, while I suspect no one reads this thing, I am going to continue posting content – in hopes that one day my readership on this blog will number more than two.”
May have worked. Maybe.
Wow that was great. Thanks for the post. Particularly loved number 5….very inspiring.
Another great post, David. The thing I love about your writings (and since your last post I’ve followed through on my to-do of reading all of those eBooks and books of yours I bought 🙂 and that which seems so rare in the current climate is that you talk, with great humour and eloquence, about the human and philisophical aspects of photography rather than the ‘mundane’ and the technical.
You have a clear vision and purpse and Ireally admire that, and that’s why of all the blogs I read it’s your posts I’m eagerly awaiting.
That said, I must say that sometimes I leave your posts (and books) with a tinge of sadness. I feel like I’m lacking that vision, that passion, that drive and that humanity that you talk about, and I feel the less for it. I know I love taking images (for what they’re worth) but at the moment I don’t quite understand “why” I love taking images, and sometimes wonder if my drive is as altruistic as yours so often sounds like.
I wonder if it’s because I’m immature as an “artist” and still battling with the technicalities and concepts, before I feel discover the the story I have to tell and have the confidence to tell it. Or if I’m just a bad person… 🙂
It’s clear at this stage my “intention” is pretty pictures, and the one thing I take from your writing is that that’s not enough and it makes me more aware; which is your intention after all and for that I’m grateful, even if it makes me feel somewhat lost at the same time! 🙂
Btw Vision is a great, but often overused word with a myriad of connotations, and I think boiling it down to “intention” helps things a lot and suggests that the driver doesn’t have to be as grand as “Vision” suggests.
“strength, joy, hope, dignity, beauty, do not happen in the so-called first-world alone, and man is not defined by the circumstances into which he is born.”
This is so true. Just over a month ago I was in probably the poorest place I have ever been to (let’s just say it’s a good job that web 2.0 doesn’t do odour) but, despite some tragic situations, I’m filled with hope about what is happening there and there is an abundance of smiles and joy in the images I captured and have just finished processing. I think that I’d much rather spend time with the folk there than in quite a few ‘wealthy’ and ‘comfortable’ situations I have known. Of course I also want to see them enjoying a more healthy environment but that is where the hope and the work I was observing and interpreting photographically comes in.
I’m with you on all 5 points but the last one really resonates
David, This entry is touching because it speaks to much more than photography. It speaks to living a meaningful life in this chaotic time. I love making pictures because it keeps me engaged in life, in nature. I am always aware of the sky, the light, the environment and the people around me due to carrying a camera. Please don’t characterize this as “artsy fartsy”. It is a pejorative term frequently used by people who do not have a clue.
Those are some really great points, and I particularly like #2. Congrats on the Amazon thing, and I already have your upcoming release pre-ordered 🙂
Intertwined in every great photo is the vision and intention of a heart that sees more even than most others (even in the most mundane moments)… a heart that feels a million words when there are no words spoken and seek to capture them all in that single image. A heart that has the privilege and awesome responsibility of telling humanity’s story and sharing not only nature’s beauty but humanity’s as well.
To quote you, “Whether you have a camera in your hand or not, remember that 20% of the world – that’s us – hordes more than 80% of the world’s resources and the poor are not only out there in deepest darkest Africa. They are among us, live in the alleys and outskirts of our cities, and closer to home still the poor in heart, the downcast and the broken, live next to us, live with us. Our great poverty is not that we do not share, it’s that we often do not see them at all.”
Oh how I pray that the Lord would tender our hearts to see what is often easier to ignore … and be tender enough and brave enough to use our giftings to do something about it.
I was introduced to your blog today. In the past 2 hours I have read several of your articles, ordered 3 e-books, and ordered your book on Amazon. Your wisdom of words and your glorious body of work have had an impact on me.
Thank you for sharing so that I too may find my vision.
good sh-t, thankyou
It is good to have someone reaffirm thoughts and actions that we as artists/photographers all srtuggle with as we define our vision and seek our path.
“And don’t get so lost in the f-stops and ISO settings that you miss the point of it all – to discover and express your vision, one frame at a time. ”
Well put. Thanks for sharing again.
Again, David, you have underestimated your ability with words. To be able to succinctly distill one’s life philosophy into something short and yet still sweet, is brilliant.
Lucky for those of us who didn’t just move along.
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“These are just notes, so if you’re looking for brilliant writing, move along, there is nothing to see here.”
Somehow I find this statement hard to believe (if not ironic). This is one of the best posts for me, and my first time to comment. Thank you for pointing an “amateur” like me in the right direction. I am likewise growing in my faith. The parallels of wisdom in having vision and intention in the world of photography to that of someone’s Christian walk is just too compelling for me.
Yes, David, with insights like this I will endeavor to “Leave the place better than you found it”.
Such a gift you are to my world.
What great talking points. And can I say dare say how jealous I am of the people at Amazon? 😉
Very well said….
The other day I saw a weathered man sitting alone on a wooden bench on a front porch of a Grange building on the edge of nowhere. As I walked closer after shooting photos of a dilapatated shed across the street I spotted the slew of empty Budweiser cans sitting beside him.
The light was right. A fine mix of compositional ingredients were there for the taking. The scene was a hard hitting visual reminder of the slow death of small town America.
Yet, I turned away.
For the last few days I have been thinking about why I did not take this photo. And when my only lens then broke and I was in deep despair I even asked myself if I would have taken that shot for a new lens. “Wouldn’t I be making the world a better place if I shared this man’s plight?” I asked myself. My answer was “No”.
This morning I read your words,” photography is not an end in itself but a means by which we see the world, interact with it, and say to the rest of the world, “look
at this!”. It hit me that the missing ingredient in that photo op was interaction. And how would my photography personally benefit this man who was facing tough times?
My biggest regret is not that I did not take a photo. It is that I did not say hello. And so, I am going to set my grief aside that my only lens is broken and cash is too tight in our household right now to replace it. I am going for a walk to the Grange to meet a neighbor.
Today I will live with vision and intention to create a story beyond the frame.
Thanks, David, for pointing me in the right direction.
Great to have you out here, David!
Pure inspiration. Thanks for that.
Once again David, for me, you have just nailed it. What a rare combination – you are able to speak from the heart with not just your words but also with your photography. Thank you again for this blog – it keeps me inspired. Lynn
Well put- but I bet someone wanted you to flash them your 1DsMKIII.
Great content, David. Thanks for sharing your art.
Thank you David,
Every time sharing wisdom and inspiration… I’m where I am because of people like you.
I like this: “Photography is nothing – it’s life that interests me.”
As always, a breath of fresh air to get the blood pumping and the eyes searching