This post is a bit off the beaten path but there is a point. If you don’t want to go on reading, here is the executive summary. Photography is fun, it’s also very, very important. So do a good job. Watch the video above to get the six-minute version of why photography matters.
For those of you reading on, this may seem off-putting or morbid or even depressing. That is NOT my intention. In fact as I write this, I am in a great and happy mood. I am trying to make a point that has become very important to me as I get closer to the end of my life. My hope is that I can pass this on to those who are further away from that day than I – and that you will make the most of it.
I am much older than the average Photofocus reader. I’ve lived a generally charmed life. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of challenges, and made plenty of mistakes. I’ve had to overcome them all. But I’ve also had tremendous joy and success. The mistakes I made in my life are past. The bad things that happened to me are also past. I learned long ago that I can’t change the past and what matters most is what I do next. That’s where I’ve found success. It’s always in that NEXT moment. It’s one of the advantages of aging (yes there are a few!) I have the wisdom to apply the knowledge I’ve gained throughout my lifetime. In my case, my wisdom is to recognize that the successes I’ve had are all tied one way or another to photography. I’ve learned the importance of helping others by using a camera. I wish I had learned this earlier. I hope you learn it sooner than I did, and that this post gets you headed in that direction.
Almost everything good that has happened to me has happened to me because of (or surrounding) my love of making photographs. Telling people’s stories, capturing special moments, sharing, and protecting them – it’s all been amazing.
But we all owe a debt. Tomorrow is promised to no one. My time will come soon enough. Actually, I have no way to know when I will die, but I suspect it is going to be sooner rather than later. So I’ve been thinking about it. And it’s been quite freeing. Especially since I’ve come to realize, it will be no big deal.
On the day of my death – nothing will really change. The daily newspaper will be delivered, the dry cleaning will still need to be picked up. If it’s a Friday, the detailer will still come out of habit and detail whatever car I have sitting in the driveway – (He’ll be surprised when he rings the doorbell and I’m not there to pay him!) People will argue online about Mac v. Windows, Android v. iPhone. Folks will do their grocery shopping, go to the movies, read a book, drink a coffee and water their lawns. The dog will get his walk and the pool man will come rake the leaves out of the pool. The sun will rise and set as always. Virtually nobody and I mean nobody will notice my passing. Life will go on – except for me – and that’s the way it should be. That is the order of things. I used to wonder about it but now I see it’s beauty and simplicity. The fact that we know we will die incites us to do great things while we are alive.
We each have (on average) 2.5 billion seconds to do what we’re here to do. I have used as many of those seconds as I can making photographs. I have no children. I have no grandchildren. On the day of my death, those photographs will be all that’s really left of me. They are my progeny. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been so intertwined with photography. It’s a way for me to leave some small sliver of myself behind for others. It’s proof of my very existence.
It might be easy to confuse the difference between an insignificant life and an insignificant death. I don’t think my life or any life is insignificant. So please read carefully. I am saying my death will be insignificant. Not my life. The reason for this discussion is simple. I am trying to share the importance of making meaningful images. They will live on past all of us. Whether you have children or not, the images you make today may outlive you AND your children.
My photography is my only chance I have to exercise control over my fate. My photographs are all that will be left of me when I go. I think about this every day. Not in a morbid way. But in a hopeful one. I don’t fear death. I actually embrace the concept. I realize that the tall old trees in the forest need to fall so that light can filter down to the smaller, younger trees. It’s an important part of life’s cycle. Because like all humans, I am self-aware. I think about the chance I have to matter even after I pass.
While the day of my death will be routine – it is my hope that for those who go on past me, their routine may be occasionally – if only for a second – impacted by a memory of one of my photographs, or my books, or my posters, or my training videos or my talks at a photo convention, etc.
What causes me to think about this so often is the fact that many of my subjects are not self-aware. The eagles, bears, mountain lions and wolves I’ve photographed don’t have the curse or the blessing (depending on how you look at it) of knowing they are mortal. They just do what they are supposed to do every day. For them, there is only the now. There is no tomorrow. I wonder what our lives would be like if we could live that way too?
When you make your next photograph, think about how important it just might be. It might be the last photo made of that subject – or YOUR last photo – period. Make sure it’s a good one. That way – whether anybody notices you’re gone or not – they will notice that you were here.
I hope you see just how important this business of memory protection really is and that you will get as much from photography as I have. We will meet at the end of the road one day. I suspect we’ll still be able to see each other’s “portfolio” in that next place. I’m looking forward to seeing what each of you accomplishes on your journey to the end of the road and I hope you make it a meaningful trip.