Breakfast with Freeman

In Life Is Short, News & Stuff, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons by David34 Comments

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.


  1. A masterful use of the English language to portray thanks, respect and admiration for Martin Freeman. Your writing speaks as much of you as the man you are celebrating. Very well done. I have read MF books and yours and you both inspire others to go beyond the ordinary. Thank you.

    1. Author

      Thank you, Laura, but I’m talking about Freeman Patterson. If you’re not familiar with him you should put one or two of his books beside Michael Freeman’s. 🙂

  2. Ha ha, I thought when I read the title of this post you meant the famous English photog Michael Freeman, probably the one person who influenced me the most growing up!
    As usual a great post, David, so I’m not too disappointed.

  3. Freeman Patterson’s books have been my photographic foundational “bibles”. I read them repeatedly, seeing something new each time I read them. I also see the similarities of his insight and how it may have been a guide to your incredible and insightful work, David. Also, Seven arrived today in the mail fo my tremendous satisfaction. The images and quality are tremendous! Great work! Please continue your great and highly motivational work.

  4. Pingback: Behind Every Written Word is a Real Person « Focused on Light | PEI Photography

  5. Great story, David, thanks for sharing. So wonderful to know that you have people you look up to as well. I’m always so surprised when I hear people don’t know about Freeman. He was the first photographer I learned about years ago and then became fascinated by his work.

  6. Thanks for sharing that David.
    Freeman is an awe inspiring man as are you.

    I started carrying a camera with me a few years ago. I wasn’t technically a photographer, I was just trying to narrow my focus a bit, life had become to chaotic. Traveling with friends through many modes of transportation would always lead to to the comment, “Where was that, I never saw that,” when we shared photos. I liked hearing that. It made me smile.

    I discovered you and Freeman at the same time and in 2010 I took a week long class at Shampers Bluff. He was preaching to the choir until he assigned my personal project to be presented at the end giving me “White on White.” While others walked the woods and the water, I stayed inside, up until late at night folding, bending, rolling, white paper; shooting at night with a flashlight and during the day using the light of the windows. It challenged me and changed me. I still walk and shoot but I am no longer fearful of being locked in a room with nothing but a sheet of paper and my camera.

    You encouraged me to wander and look and he encouraged me to look right where I was. I am thankful for both.

  7. David,
    Thank you for sharing this experience. Beautiful little story and inspirational. It’s good to know that when we are exciting about meeting people that have had a positive impact in our lives, they too might be feeling bit awkward too.

  8. It’s a funny co-incidence but I’ve been re-reading “The photographer’s mind” this week, and was about to set off on a shoot based on “The Reveal” when your article came into my mailbox.
    You and he keep my heart beating to the inspiration beat – thank you!

  9. That’s so great that you had the opportunity to have that experience! I would have to keep pinching myself. Glad to hear you had a memorable weekend and remembered the importance of why you do what you do.

  10. David, as I sit in an airport waiting for a flight to Panama for 3 weeks, about to embark on one of the greatest adventures of my life, I read this post and I actually had my eyes fill up with tears of joy. Those happy tears were both for you, because I was so moved by your reflection on your growth & that moment you saw your mentor joining in your standing ovation. Also tears of joy for me, because I have been similarly inspired by you for years. In fact, you are probably the single most important person who inspired me to take chances and go on travel photography adventures I would previously only have dreamed of. Today I will begin three weeks of photography adventures in Panama, staying in Boquete as the guest of a fellow photographer I met the last time I was on layover in an airport. It has been you, and your posts over the years, which helped fuel my wanderlust and become brave enough to take such a trip. Thanks for the inspiration! Janine, aka As Seen by Janine…. 🙂

  11. What a remarkable experience, meeting and dining with your mentor. My head would have exploded as well! I enjoy your work very much.

  12. David

    You are my Freeman too. Your WTF book just seem to get start everything for me. Things just clicked and made my photography journey just that little bit more fun. Hope someday to meet you in person!

    You Lightroom devolop module kickstarted my love of Lightroom too. Your teaching style just resonates with me.

    I don’t have 25 years to find myself discovered photography late in life and I am on a bit of an accelerated curve to learn. Sometimes fun, sometimes painful but I usually find something in a recent blog of yours that helps 🙂


  13. David, you are my Freeman Patterson, and I was one of the starry eyed followers who was waiting in line to have my book signed. I have followed your work for years, and I can still hardly believe that I actually got to see you in person and hear you share your life and your philosophy. It was an honour, truly. And the thing I think I found the most profoundly moving was that you are the same in person as you come across in all of your writing and sharing. The conference was truly a watershed experience for me. Thank you for making that possible.

  14. I unfortunately will never be able to thank the one who is the biggest foundation of my photography life: Andreas Feininger, passed in 1999.
    Thankfully you are another big inspiration – still alive and who knows … maybe I will get to see you someday? 🙂

  15. in 1995, while i spend a year near boston, i started to get into photography. in the attic of my host family i found “photography and the art of seeing”. no other book ever made such an impact on me and my photography and i cherish it thankfull. there is something about that book that no other book has to offer … not even yours, david 😉

  16. I have had a few very special pleasures in my photographic journey… One Sunday evening I received a phone call from Freeman about a Letter to the Editor I had written… I felt like a 10 year old kid being called out of the blue by Sidney Crosby… and then I had the pleasure of attending his week long work shop in Shamper’s Bluff in 2008… and then a few years ago I was able to provide refuge to a photographic gypsy working his way from Nova Scotia back home to British Columbia.. that too was an incredibly joyous day being able to share my abode with another wonderful artist… even managed to get a photograph of us together…

  17. You and Freeman are both inspirational and it was a pure joy to meet and hear you both this past weekend. You both touched my heart and inspired me to want to create better images.

    You are both warm and gentle souls. Both open, vulnerable, passionate and giving. This, I think, is why your art connects with me so deeply.

    I look forward to our paths crossing again. With any luck, I won’t have wait 25 years.

    Thank you again for a weekend I won’t soon forget.

  18. Thanks for the article, and you’ve got me thinking about how I got into this profession… well, the more important side of what got me started, and I think I am going to have to spend some time with myself reflecting on that time which was even longer ago than your 25 years.
    Thank you so much for sharing your Heart.

  19. Dude. That’s kind of what your books have been to me. And as a peculiar coincidence, I, too, was sixteen at the time I found your books at a Swedish book fair, and I’ve devoured every one ever since. That’s weird. And cool. We should hang out in 25 years. I’m totally game.

      1. Nah mate, thank YOU! Yeah I’d love to hang out, like, yesterday, but then there’s the tiny problem with me living on the other side of the globe. But hey, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood, say… Europe? then lemme know! 😉

  20. You said that. It’s rare to meet and befriend your hero. And you have achieved that. One of the only reasons why I come back to your site is I am not bombarded with gear stuff. I get to listen to the vision stuff more than anywhere else and that makes better sense when you speak. Thanks for sharing!

  21. How cool is that! It’s so great you were able to reconnect, in person after all these years.

    I must sheepishly admit I was not even aware of Freeman’s work or writings, but I certainly check it all out now.

    Sounds like you had a very successful conference, in several ways, congrats!

    Still waiting for seven, but got an email that it’s on the way, so am looking forward to receiving it very soon.

  22. You are, David, to many what Michael Freeman was to you. For myself, you gave me a language through your books and your blogs to articulate my work and my passion that made sense to me and have inspired me to push beyond myself and my fears and insecurities. Thank you!

  23. That’s a great feeling David. Thanks for sharing and describing your emotions. It’s very inspiring to us folk that are still trying to “get there”. The more I practice this art the more I realize that I’ll never be 100% satisfied. This is a good thing. It drives me to keep creating and to keep searching for my next image. This year I hit a milestone, a bucket list item, so to speak. I got my first magazine cover and oddly enough it made me think, “I want more.”

    Here’s to wanting to create and wanting to create more!


  24. I love Freeman’s book, Photography and the Art of Seeing! Your book, Within the Frame, has truly changed the way I approach photography! And it certainly hit a chord with me, since all I have is a Canon 1D Mark IIn and the Canon 50mm f/1.8II “Nifty Fifty.” It is certainly not about the equipment, but one’s vision!

    1. Freeman’s book “The Art of Seeing” changed my life, too. I bought a Rollei 35 when I was a first year medical resident and was thrilled by the pictures, but had no idea what I was doing. I remember the day I bought the book just before going from Pasadena over to Ventura for a getaway at the beach. I was amazed to read about f stop, shutter speed, basic techniques and truly the art of seeing. Now thousands of images and years later, I find the best thing about photography is that I have learned to see and appreciate the world around me. I walk around and wait for the little spark to ignite, then I take a picture never caring what it’s about. So in a sense I’m photographing my autobiography. Sometimes I sell [Tony Stone contract 1995, now Getty] but that’s not the same at all. For me now it’s all personal work. Thanks for your beautiful images and reminding me about “seeing”.

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