Photography is unique among the arts because the very act of taking a photo is literally just making a copy of something that already existed. That might be over simplifying the truth, but it’s worth grinding away at that kernel for a while because there’s a lot more substance to the idea than you might be willing to admit.
When I stand with a camera in hand and a client at my shoulder there are literally thousands of people I have to be grateful for. I didn’t get there on my own. Nobody does. I may have made a few discoveries along the way, effort and chance will see to that, but they are not “inventions” as much as discovering what already existed.
The ancient Egyptians didn’t invent time, but they did discover the simplicity of a sundial that made it possible to follow how time changed around them during the daylight hours. (You can make one at home by putting a stick in the ground and watching it.)
I couldn’t be a photographer, for example, without the gear. Some amazing geeks in Japan have spent their lives taking the concept of an SLR into the digital realms and in doing so they gave me a career opportunity the likes of which I had never even dreamed of. I now have camera bodies that can shoot in the dark, lenses so sharp I can paint a city block with an image, and a digital darkroom that allows me to deliver a hundreds of fully worked images to my client on the same day I shot them. Those geeks changed my life.
My clients are something I can be equally grateful for, as they constantly feed me with inspiration and material for me to point the camera at. I recently did a pre-dawn walk into the Warby Ranges with only moonlight and stars to light the way, reaching the lookout at Mt Glenrowan just in time for the first rays of light to shower across the landscape. It was amazing just to be there, let alone to capture it on film. And the *only* reason I was in the right place at the right time was because a client of mine wanted to make it happen.
Given the chance I will gladly stay in bed until noon and skip the sunrise, even if it’s a 2 minute walk to see the horizon let alone 2 hours. I am a cat trapped inside a man’s body.
That lovely client of mine, who gives me a decent nudge when I need it, is someone I started working with because of another client who put in a good word for me. Not only did they share some “word of mouth” but they even share some good advice. One project I was quoting on looked like a good fit for me, but when I submitted my quote for the job she gave me a ring and flat out told me I wasn’t charging enough for the work. I needed to ask for more money, I was under paying myself.
If you’re getting a sense of gratitude here then you’re totally correct. I have so many people to be grateful towards I can’t begin to name names. But it goes deeper than that. Everything I do today is connected to events and people who have shaped my world around me. It’s community. It’s brotherhood. It’s friendship. It’s Gaia. But it’s community.
No man is an island, we are all here today because literally thousands of people helped us along the way. I watched a tram driver walking home from the depot last night, a wiry fellow with an easy smile and a quiet confidence. Men like him have helped me get around this city for the last 12 months (or maybe the last 40 years really) and making my life more comfortable. I don’t worry about owning a car, I just hop a tram to Richmond for a meeting. I like that tram driver, he made my day better.
The art of photography itself is a very connected experience, both with your subject and with your creativity. To express your art you need to understand your subject, so there must be connection. But even learning techniques to express yourself is an act of connection, as you walk your creative mind through the years or decades of learning and experience to seize a moment and capture it.
We are filled with influences that impact on our photography. None of us are original, although we can all be unique.
Almost everything you do today with a camera has the potential to be a once off, a moment that will never be repeated. Even though almost everything you know about photography was gifted to you by someone else. It may be an idea you saw in a couture magazine from the 1950s, or a sumptuous image on Instagram taken this morning. Have you spent years studying photography at college and now return to the art with a mature zest to embrace it? Did you come on a workshop and meet a handful of other creative minds to share and re-share with?
Digital photography has increased the rate of learning for all of us, and increased the speed at which ideas can move across the globe. Everything is impossible until somebody does it, and once an idea is out the internet makes sure that everybody can discover it’s power. We’re subjected to a torrent of ideas every day that once would take a year to find their way into our brains. We are immersed in opportunity and drowning in inspiration.
I ask you today to pause the input of ideas for one moment. Take the time to silence the input and reflect on your own output. It wont take long to think of a long list of people who have pushed you along your journey, who have contributed to your life as it is today. If you can think of just one person today for whom a word of thanks might be welcome, then I encourage you to write to them and let them know why.
A moment of expressed gratitude is all I ask. The difference it makes to that person might be more than you realise. I have been lucky in recent years that many of my travellers and colleagues have done just this, and it makes a day worthwhile I can tell you. I have also sent such letters on occasion to some special mentors, years later when their good deeds were mostly forgotten, and have found the process to be rewarding for myself as the writer too.
There’s nothing truly original in this world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be unique. Your photography and your gratitude are both fertile fields for expression.