Photography As Art

Why do so many people spend so much time photographing things? We take photos of ourselves, our babies, our friends, and our pets. We photograph the things that make us feel, those moments that appear to give our life meaning, to make it worth having lived.

We witness the beauty of nature but quickly separate ourselves from it, sacrificing the purity of that moment, for what? With such haste we dutifully capture as if witnessing some alien landscape, as if we were alien explorers sent to an unknown world to document for a future generation the fleetingly precious moments that make up our transient existence.

We make baseless uneducated assumptions about what importance future generations will place on the interestingness of our lives, while the truth is they'll likely be just as preoccupied with their own existence as we are with ours, doing whatever activity helps them avoid the unbearable thought of their own impending doom.

The self-portrait speaks the loudest to me. It's as if the soul inside turned the camera on itself and cried out, "I am here! I exist! My life has meaning!"

What is it about human nature that attracts so many of us to capturing moments of time? Is there something in our subconscious, something that remains aware of the limit on our lifespan, something that feels driven by a sense of self-preservation to seek out anything that might help slow or preserve time?

And where is all of this heading? For how much longer will the human race be obsessed with this newfound ability to capture reflections of time, to create something that appears to be uniquely ours but in reality whose value and meaning fades as quickly as the memory of its creators' existence?

When I was a teenager I came across a nature calendar that contained the exact same photo I had taken of a particular waterfall in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The photographer must have taken it from the exact same spot that I stood to take mine. But there was one difference: he used a slower shutter speed and that made the waterfall look misty as it came down the rocks. It was more beautiful and aesthetically appealing than mine, which, having been taken with a faster shutter speed, showed the water frozen in its tracks.

At first, the photo in the calendar filled me with a sense of pride. It was proof that I probably had an intuitive eye for composing 'good photos'. But that's where the story ends. I never again looked at that photo in the calendar. I didn't keep a copy of it and I never saw it again. Instead I enlarged my photo of the waterfall, along with several other photos that I deemed 'frame worthy', added it to a cheap frame, and hung it on the wall.

It didn't matter to me that someone else had taken the exact same photo, of the exact same waterfall, at around the exact same time of the year. It didn't matter to me that the other photo was better than mine. My photo meant more to me because I took it, because it was my photo, a frozen moment of my time captured by me.

But is there really any difference between my time and your time? If ten thousand people take a photo of the Taj Mahal, is there really any reason for me to take a photo of it? And then why take any photos in the first place? What happens in the distant future when everything has been photographed? When every single angle that could be captured, has been captured?

These thoughts lead me back to photography as art.

We create art as a way of expressing ourselves, as a way of capturing and communicating to others what we feel, but true art is not created because the artists' feelings have great importance, but rather because what the artist expresses -- the expression itself -- allows others to experience more of life.

If we focus our time and effort on creating art, then that is time well spent. But what is art? Art is not capture (what the camera does) but rather expression (what is done with the camera). The difference is subtle but important. One requires thinking about what you're doing, understanding why you're doing it, and constantly seeking to improve, while the other lets you get away with laziness and ignorance, pointing a device in the direction of your feelings and pressing a button.

After decades of taking photos, I can see that I have the skills to pursue photography as art, but is that what I want to do? Is my time better spent pursuing writing as art? Or is there some intersection of the two that will allow me to create better art?

And with a newborn on the way, I can't help but wonder: How much of my daughter's life will I be a photographer-dad and how much will I be a dad-dad?

Ten thousand years from today

The wind blows today as it once did ten thousand years ago, yet we think about today and it feels special, unique, ours. We await the sunset each day with a sense of anticipation, placing importance on this particular day, on this particular cycle of experience, treating this one conscious moment as if it were ours to command, as if the center of the universe existed beneath our feet.

And perhaps it does, but can we imagine for just one moment the absolute insignificance of our existence?

Billions have come. Billions have gone. Billions more, holding just as much sense of self-importance, will come still, and then be forgotten. They will look at the wind just as I, and wonder just as I, and a few, for slightly longer than average, will be remembered, their thoughts re-thought, their words repeated, their actions reexamined; but they too will fade.

All that remains unchanged, untouched by the vastness of time, is change itself, the heartbeat of the universe, pulsating and breathing like giant creature full of stars and galaxies and universes.

And we? We exist in the belly of that beast, a crucial but unaccountable part of a larger organism, one of far greater scale and embodiment than our feeble imaginations are capable of comprehending.

We are like the billions of microbes living within each of us, unheard and unseen, their struggles in our digestive tract, their trials and tribulations, their pains and hard work, their concerns and worries and frustrations, all meaningless when we change the perspective to that which encompasses their existence.

Will our legacy be like theirs, one of symbiosis, one of attempting to coexist in harmony with its host? Will we search for meaning and seek to understand our place in the universe? Or will we quarrel, amongst ourselves and with ourselves, living out our lives unconscious and ungrateful for the crucial role we play in the fabric of the universe?

The pulse of the universe will go on, oblivious to our ballooned sense of superiority, unaffected by the insignificance of all that we consider of utmost importance. Our place will be replaced by others, some of whom will seek harmony, some of whom will ignore it, and yet others who stare at the wind marveling at its transparent embrace, ten thousand years from today.

Embrace Your Essence

What signifies your existence? What does it mean for you to be alive? When you think about You, what comes to mind? The shape of your smile, the color of your eyes, or the curves of your body? Perhaps your name or the knowledge that you exist in the minds of others?

Who are you? Are you your thoughts or emotions, your history, your successes or failures, or the people you've met along the way? Are you the things that you create? Are those really you?

Breathe. Right now, take a deep breath. Is that you breathing? Look down at your skin. Feel it. Is that your flesh? Put a hand over your heart. Feel your heartbeat. Does that vibration signify you?

If you release all false identity, you'll recognize something that goes much deeper, something more substantial, more concrete.

It's in your smile. It's in the color of your eyes and the curves of your body. It's in your thoughts and emotions, and your successes and failures. It's in every breath, every heartbeat, and every cell of your body. It's in all the people you meet and every thing you create.

Close your eyes. Let go. Allow your essence to emerge. You can sense its presence, the way it saturates everything. You've always felt it, perhaps somewhere in the background hidden behind all that stuff: all the labels added to life, the ideas, the expectations, the subtle judgements.

Your essence is You. It's here, always present, always offering comfort and confidence. It comes from that place where beauty, peace, and love emanate, where dreams originate, where intuition paints a landscape of impossibility with colors of hope.

Your essence has no doubt. It doesn't question itself or feel inadequate. It knows right from wrong and intuitively senses what needs to be done. It rides the line between thinking and feeling, between dreams and reality, between the past and the future.

When you feel your essence, hold it tenderly, embrace it with unconditional love. Stop resisting it. Stop fighting it. Stop judging it. Let go of self-pity and free yourself from the expectation that you are somehow incomplete, lost, or unhappy.

You are complete. You know the answers. You are abundantly enough.

Release your essence. Give it the respect it deserves. Stop trying to change it. Stop regulating its unquenchable thirst for freedom. Stop holding You captive in a cage of reason. Remove the leash, unlock the door, and open your arms. Embrace You.