A Journey - The Created Life
My website carries the tag line “CAPTURE LIFE…CREATE A JOURNEY”, this simple statement took some time to arrive at, but at the moment the words came together, in my head, it instantly felt right in my heart too. The phrase belonged to me and reflected not just my photographic vision but, my passage through this life.
In my previous post in this series “an introduction” I referred to the self-limiting view that I encounter frequently of, “I want to… BUT I am just not that creative” – I commented about the determination, patience and risk of “failed” images that you have to overcome to move forwards.
Joyce commented on the post explaining that it’s possibly about confidence, self-worth and the fear of public scrutiny of images that discourages people. Lucy replied with a beautifully poetic post about courage. “Walking Meditation for Building Courage” that whilst wasn’t specific to photography, certainly applies. Those comments got me thinking more and hence this post is slightly guided by those contributions in subject but are at the very core of this series and may assist anyone’s attempt to improve their creative awareness. Thank you to Lucy and Joyce for those contributions, they are appreciated and I hope others will join in.
The Life we Create
Photography can only reflect the life we create and the life we live today – it’s a reflection of you, your perception, individuality and the life you have created for yourself. Capturing life in the moment gives us the ability to record, share and enjoy what is already history the moment we press the shutter.
If your images are not very interesting, maybe your life is not very interesting! I don’t mean this to sound rude or disrespectful to anyone but given the brevity of human life surely it’s critical to make wise choices about how we use and fill that time.
If we want to make beautiful art of our lives then we need to first start by leading a beautiful life. Of course there are always practicalities to do with the basic human needs - Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs explains how we first need the physiological elements of shelter, food, water and so on. However, in my mind these and the next levels of safety, love, esteem and self-actualisation are not linear and a pre-requisite for the next.
We may be lacking in some yet abundant in others. Life also produces things that we don’t control, expect or foresee and unfortunately these events play to the fear demon that whispers in your ear – “don’t do that, you might fail, you might get hurt, it’s too risky and so on”. Our adversity to change restricts our ability to move forwards.
We all know it’s easier to listen to that fear and play it safe, limit the risk and stick to the tried and tested path. “I won’t do that again, I got burnt last time” – How many times have you fallen in love for it to end at some point – do you play it safe and never allow yourself to love or be loved in fear of being hurt again? I know many people who think that way who chose to focus on the negative consequences rather than the “But What If” in a positive way.
My life followed the road less travelled from an early age – not by conscious design and probably not due to any set of special circumstances – merely because of the decisions I took or found myself having to make meant that I became acutely aware of my own appetite to do things that resonated and felt right rather than what was expected.
The Early Years
When I was 15yrs old I left home, which also meant leaving school, with no formal qualifications or financial hand-out to get me started, I had little choice but to seek employment and provide shelter for myself and a mechanism for living.
My first job was in a factory on the line operating a machine – my 8 hour day involved pressing 2 buttons and pulling a lever in an L shaped direction every 10 seconds, that’s about 3,000 repetitive movements. Not exactly mind taxing so of course I needed to try and find a way of making it interesting for me. Naively I asked the factory foreman to recalibrate the machine to work faster so I could set myself an hourly, daily, weekly and monthly target of pushing my production to even higher levels.
You can imagine how popular I was (not) with everyone else on the line who had been working at a steady pace for the last 20 years but were now being told they needed to keep up with the 16yr old kid who was going hell for leather!
The reason for sharing this early life event is that it was the first time I encountered “judgement” from others that I wasn’t expecting and at the time didn’t understand. As a political activist from around the age of 12, I was familiar and had become used to judgement from those I argued/debated with on ethical and political issues, but this was different. Why were these fellow workers frowning on my actions and suggesting I was motivated by all manner of things other than seeing I was doing this simply for my own sanity.
It was my first lesson in understanding that people judge based on their own reality and projection of their own cynical perspective on others. Is it really that difficult to look at something and not judge it based on our own conditioning, expectations or perceived personal credibility?
Life has taught me that this is actually very hard for so many people. I know my actions were authentic, I now know and understand why my actions threatened the status quo and therefore caused a reaction.
Following your heart
Naturally I chose to move on from the factory not long after, and again took another decision that I would go and do something that felt more aligned to my heart and beliefs in life.
Life can and has at times been a struggle but I believe the bigger the struggle the greater reward and opportunity that arises from it if you are willing to remain positive and face adversity rather than succumb to fear, risk and some form of regret.
When we are prepared to move outside of our comfort zone, and think and act outside of that box we open ourselves up to greater possibilities. Those possibilities of course have risk and plenty of unknown consequences as much as quantified impacts, but they also enable us to achieve a greater sense of personal fulfilment.
The 45 degree line running through the diagram between Risk and Fulfilment represents our Life Journey. We can choose to remain in the safety of comfort and the 'status quo' or embrace whatever changes are presented to us.
Life’s Curve Balls
Everyone will have their own tales to tell when it comes to their major life events that seemed to force a change of direction, and that may have been or felt like an unwanted thing at the time. The adage “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters” certainly places the responsibility for our behaviour and decisions squarely on our shoulders. However this doesn't negate the need for our emotional human reaction to certain events that also heavily influence our thinking.
I can correlate most of the big events in my life to changes in my life journey. Tracing cause and effect is something my mind seems to do without any provocation (that can be a double edge sword at times) but trying to do something about the cause rather than tackling the symptom is something I have always strived to achieve.
Age Event/Cause Effect
12yrs Mum & Dad Split I became rebellious – activism – thrown into an adult world
15yrs Left School/Home Had to seek employment and shelter -
16yrs Moved to London Political activism led me to be in Coventry
18yrs Met my wife Moved to Coventry, took a job in book-keeping
24yrs Dad died unexpectedly Bought a house, got married & started a family
25yrs Married my career Developed my career / climbed the corporate ladder
26yrs Diagnosed with Cancer Major re-think about who I was and what I wanted in life
28yrs Went to work in NYC Personal growth and experience
31yrs Split with my wife Reflection, Awareness, Travelling.
And so on…
As you can see some of the events were my choices and others not – the changes that came were full of uncertainty, risk and definitely always stretched me outside of my comfort zone and moved me along the path of fulfilment. For me, it’s never been just about what I do with my life, but how I do it.
I can honestly tell you that I had no idea what would be when I took those decisions, as I don’t know now about the next decisions I will make – they were taken in that moment of time, without hindsight, without a crystal ball but also without fear.
Anger and joy, happiness and sorrow, anxiety and hope,
laziness and wilfulness, enthusiasm and insolence
like music arising from emptiness or mushrooms sprouting in the dark
they spring before us, night and day.
We do not know from where they come.
Stop thinking about it! How can we ever understand it all in one day.
Chuang Tzu – Tales from the Tao
The Photographic Journey
So what has any of this got to do with photography and art? Well in my opinion, everything. Firstly the art we make is a reflection of our life, our perception, the things we do, places we go and our individual perspective on the subjects we photograph. We are the source of our own creations.
Our ability to become fulfilled by the images we make follows the same 45 degree line in life. It requires a willingness to overcome fear of failure, fear of judgement and the self-limiting view that “I am just not that creative”. To make beautiful art we first have to make a beautiful life. Don’t allow your life story to create itself, you have the choice to live with greater intention and reflect this in your photography.
The fulfilment you seek is unique to you – some aspire to stop at “competent photos” and are fulfilled, for now, with that level of capability. For others it’s an evolving journey that they are happy to participate in not knowing where the destination will be.
Your commitment to that journey is what determines how far you can go. Commitment is not simply about taking courses or workshops, I have used those on the Y axis to illustrate how increased training and support will support your development – however commitment can also be used to describe the raw materials needed to make that journey.
Practise and patience, money and time, results and failures, experimentation and creativity and so on… The biggest obstacle to your progression is fear – your commitment to courage, determination, willingness to try is what will move you further along the line of capability/fulfilment and closer towards the next box and level of attainment.
Your art is not created for others, so don’t concern yourself with what others think. If you take photos for praise to feed your ego then you will never make beautiful art. If you feel like a failure because your art received negative comment then you will always fail. The self-fulfilling attitude of it’s too hard, I can’t do it, I am just not that good, and so on will always limit what you do to mediocrity.
The measure of how hard it is, is also a measure of it’s worth to you. Therefore the frame of reference for your work is the level of improvement and satisfaction it represents to you and the direction of travel is signifies on your photographic journey – not what your Mum thinks or the lovely comments you might get on Facebook, or indeed the uninvited comment from a “know it all egomaniac” who probably describes every photo by the gear and process used to make it.
It’s your life, create it, capture it and create your own personal journey.
Please feel free to join in the discussion and add your comments.