This past weekend was something like a rite of passage, of which we have so few in this culture. And those we do have seem to come accidentally; we recognize them in hindsight. Which makes it a little less a rite and a little more merely a milestone. Still, this weekend was that for me, something I’ll always look back on as significant.
When I was sixteen my mother gave me a Pentax Spotmatic and a book, Photography and The Art of Seeing, by Freeman Patterson. Both changed my life and over the last 25 years I’ve had Freeman’s voice echoing in my ears, my mind. It’s from Freeman that I get my emphasis on vision, not gear. If anyone in this art is my photographic father, it’s Freeman. We met once when I was sixteen. He was signing books and I was starry-eyed, not, I think, unlike some of the kids that ask me to sign theirs. I wonder if Freeman felt as proud, and awkward, about the whole thing (signing books, that is) as I now do. When Within The Frame came out I sent Freeman a copy, with my thanks for playing so important a role in my becoming the man, and the photographer, that I am. His reply was enthusiastic, and gracious, which no one that knows Freeman would expect other than.
I think when you’ve got something of a public life, and some books under your belt, that people see your own trajectory differently than you see your own. I’m still that 16 year old kid trying to figure this stuff out. I’m also a man of 41, working out his art with fear and trembling, and finally, after 25+ years, feeling like he’s getting somewhere. Like his ideas are sticking. Like the camera’s not getting in the way quite so much. But I’m still 16 on the inside. And my heroes are still my heroes. So when I was asked to give one of two keynote addresses at the bi-annual conference of the Canadian Association of Photographic Arts, the other of which was to be given by Freeman, my brain kind of exploded a little.
On Friday morning I lined up for breakfast with others in a cafeteria at a forestry college on the other side of the country, the first day of the conference, when I heard my name called. I turned to see Freeman, 25 years older than when I first saw him, standing there. He warmly shook my hand, we talked, he invited me to eat my breakfast with him. My brain blew up again. He did his keynote on Friday. I did mine on Saturday, humbled and a little confused when I finished to a standing ovation and there was Freeman standing with the rest of them. My heart kind of exploded that time. And my brain. Afterwards we shared some wine, told some stories, did what friends do. We both said kind words to each other, though at least one of us had a hard time hearing them. I owe him a debt, and it’s rare you get to thank and befriend your hero. But it feels like I got to connect the ends of circle this weekend, and perhaps begin a new one.
Freeman said something at the beginning of his address: “It is not important how we create, it is important that we create.” I love making photographs, and writing, but more than any of that I hope I am somehow creating what Freeman has created – a life of beautiful legacy. If you ever have a chance to hear him speak, to meet him, or to read his books, do so.
Thank you, Freeman, for sharing who you are and what you do, so faithfully over the years.