Today is one of those days. And this is one of those rambling posts. Feel free to skip it if you’re looking for something with a single coherent point that’s easy to follow.
We’ve just said goodbye to my mother at the airport and I’m settled on the couch in our new place in Victoria, surrounded by light and birdsong outside, books and notebooks surround me on the inside. I’m on the couch with a head cold so I’m doing my best to look pathetic and generate the odd sympathetic look from Cynthia. My head is filled, not only with this cold, but with ideas. Today is a day for catching up with emails, for reading, for coffee, naps, documentary short films, and for dreaming.
I spent 3 days last week at the E.G. Conference in Monterey. I was surrounded by astronauts, oceanographers, philanthropists, wildlife cinematographers, inventors, explorers, artists, and technologists. And my brain nearly exploded. How I will process all this I don’t know.
I’ve heard it said, and believe strongly, that if you’re the most interesting person in the room, you need to find a new room. We all need places where we don’t have a chance in hell of believing our own PR, where we’re surrounded by people with bigger ideas, different ideas, and stories grander than our imaginations. It’s these people that make us believe it’s possible to do more, be more, to stretch our hearts and our thinking beyond the bounds of our comfort or familiarity.
I think the same is true of anything we believe of ourselves. If you’re the most talented person in the room (whatever that means to you) then it’s in rooms where you are not remotely the most talented where you will learn and grow. It’s that idea of mastery being not a destination but a journey – the moment you think you’ve arrived you find that what you have in fact done, is stopped. Stagnated. Plateaued. Being at the EG Conference, I wasn’t even in the same universe as the most interesting people in the room, and it was mind-alteringly refreshing and inspiring.
It’s taken me to 43 years old to take this much delight in not remotely being the most interesting, talented, accomplished, person in the room. It’s all an illusion anyways, and the longer we believe these things about ourselves to keep intact our egos, the longer we are kept from the incredibly possibilities of being always a learner. I think it’s OK, even necessary to feel small and lost once in a while, in the presence of people that inspire us.
I think the single best thing you can do for your photography is not make it the single focus of your life, to expose yourself to new ideas, new directions, new means of expression, new people that challenge your ideas and keep you humble. Humility, curiosity, and creativity are a potent combination.
A couple days ago I relaunched a mentoring opportunity for my audience. Today I emailed a photographer I respect and asked him to mentor me. We never outgrow the need for people to speak into our lives and give us perspective.
There’s something about the creative process and the creative life that I adore for its unpredictability. We move from idea to idea and sometimes we take a hold of it, sometimes it takes a hold of us. Like a dance, it’s probably a little of both most of the time. And right now, after the last year, and the time I spent at EG, I feel like I’m swimming in deep, unfamiliar water, like some new idea – some big new thing – is circling me and no matter how fast I spin or crane my neck to catch a glimpse of it, it’s always just beyond my peripheral vision. I have hints. Hints like the question forming in my mind – as a humanitarian photographer returning to his childhood love for the ocean, what if saving the oceans is the single greatest humanitarian task of this generation? What does look like for my work? Who do I need to learn from, what new directions is this going to take me in? I have no answers, but I think specific answers are seldom the point. It’s the pursuit, the search, the new opportunities, that I relish. For the first time in my life, perhaps, not knowing is part of the joy.
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