I have a friend. I call him Neil but many call him Shambu. He’s a talented musician and marketer. He’s also an ex-monk. He is not only someone I rely on as a friend, but someone who’s advice I seek and take seriously.
Recently we got together and had a conversation about our gifts – his music – and mine – photography.
Neil helped me to put into words what I’ve felt for a very long time but was unable to utter.
I asked him why he was so devoted to his music. He said simply and quickly, “To honor the talent I’ve been given.”
That was pretty deep. And it’s right on. I think those of us with creative gifts, whatever they may be, have an outright obligation to honor those talents. We need to create and share. We need to communicate what we’ve been allowed to do as a way to pay homage to the gifts.
For me, especially during the years I photographed in nature, I found this to be particularly true. People ask me how I capture some of the images I do. After showing him my work, Neil says, “It’s almost as if Nature trusts you and you capture it.” I think he’s right. Some of the things that have happened right in front of me have surprised me. Here’s one quick example.
A few years ago when I was at my winter home in Fort Myers Beach, FL, I saw a very rare bird. It was a reddish egret (white phase morph.) This is essentially an albino bird, that is white instead of the usual reddish hue. There are fewer than 1500 nesting pairs of these birds in the world. I’d been looking for one of these for a decade and boom – there he was. As soon as I saw him I fired one of those “Tat-tat-tat” 20-shot bursts thinking he might fly off and I’d never see him again. As luck would have it, he bonded to me immediately. (Birds do sometimes “adopt” or imprint on humans.) He spent almost a week with me. I couldn’t believe it. But as Neil says: “The souls of these animals and birds…so much heart in them. Nature poses in intimate ways for you Scott. It offers its stunning raw beauty to you. You must be very humble before Nature. So It unfolds. Like a gift. In a spiritual sense.”
I don’t take Neil’s words as a compliment so much as instruction. I have always tried to speak for the birds. I have always tried to make photographs that move people to think about the animals I photograph. I hoped people would see these creatures differently after looking at my photos. Whether or not I succeeded time will tell. But this mindset is important. I know this is probably a bit too “Zen” for some of you. But it’s not just ethereal. There’s a down-to-earth message here.
The right motivation for creating art – in any form, yields better-quality work. A recognition that as creatives, we have a debt to the talent, is for me, an epiphany. I hope it is for you too.