I sent out this little video to a lot of my friends, clients, and supporters a few days ago. I’ll post a longer post with a more robust 2012 recap. But to anyone that I left off the email, and to anyone else that has been in any way involved with my life or my work, here’s a little thank you from me to you. Hope you enjoy it.
Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category
Today’s post is one of those Preach To Myself posts. It’s one of those lessons that, while I know it well, I still have to continue to live out well. So if you think I’m writing about you, you’re wrong. This is one of those talking to myself, but out loud to the world kind of moments.
There’s nothing more suffocating, more soul-sucking, more poisonous than comparing yourself to others. It’s pretty easy to get caught up in the web of looking at what everyone else is doing. ”Hey, look at what Photographer X is shooting!” “Look at how much money Photographer Y is making.” ”What great opportunities always come up for Photographer Z!” Meanwhile, you’re stuck there thinking, “Wait…why am I not there?” That’s around the start of what I like to call “The Cycle of Suck”. We all know that cycle, right? It’s the one where you start looking at what one photographer is doing, and you get depressed that that’s not you. Then you keep looking at other photographers until you realize everyone that you just stalked is doing something that you’d like to be doing but you’re not. And you get more depressed. Then you find yourself laying on the couch with no lights on, drinking cheap red wine out of the box with an almost empty bag of Cheeto’s, while watching some old 80′s kung fu flick. You’ve done that before, right? No? Yeah, me either.
Anyways, for some reason, I got that feeling today. I started thinking about what other photographers were doing, and I got a little bit jealous, then a bit down on myself. This time, however, didn’t lead to any orange cheese stains on the couch. I reminded myself that I’m not necessarily in the same fields as Photographer X, Y, and Z (and I may not even want to be). But the old adage that says something like “Great work will get noticed” provided me an opportunity. If I’m not where I want to be, then I sure as hell better get back to producing as much Awesome as I can manage. When you’re working your tail off to capture great images and telling amazing stories, there’s not a lot of time to sit around and mope and complain about how you’re not this or that. Whiners and complainers and self-deprecating Eeyore’s are wasting their time griping when they could be working on being better than they are or at least seeing the world better than they do.
So there you have it Self. Get off the couch, stop drinking crappy wine, and get busy producing Awesome.
Today I head to Zambia. 10 years ago I was in Zimbabwe for my first time on that side of the Atlantic. I remember thinking about how awesome it was to be on this once in a lifetime trip. Ten years later this will now be my 5th time in Africa in as many countries. Even if we zoom in on the timeframe, just last year I made it a goal to get out of the country twice a year. This will be my 3rd of potentially 4 trips this year. Who would’ve ever imagined that I would be where I am? Definitely not me. I count it a blessing and am eager to see what may come in the next year.
But for now, I depart for Zambia to produce a video on the amazing work that CLASP International is doing.
I’ll see you guys when I get back!
By the time this posts, I’ll be on a flight from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa with a team of 9 others from The Village Church. We will be doing medical and construction work, as well as visiting with the locals. However, our primary focus will be to encourage, care for, and love on the Smith family, the missionary family that lives there from our church. Given that little piece of information, here’s a listing of photo gear (and a few miscellaneous items) that I’ll be bringing with me, linked via Amazon Affilliates.
1 Canon 5D Mk II – I’m leaving my 2nd body at home to conserve space/weight as well as in case somehow or another I break this one, I’ll have one to come home to. If my sole (paid) purpose would be to be a visual story teller, I’d be bringing another camera.
Canon 16-35 mm f/2.8L – One of my favorite zooms. It works well for my style of photography.
Canon 50mm f/1.4 – Not L-series, but it’s light and compact and I’m ok if it gets a little beat up. I would say this is a best buy for anyone starting up in the photography world.
Canon 85mm f/1.8 – Again, no L-Series, but it’s cheap, small and compact, and takes great pictures.
Canon 580 EX II
Paul C Buff CyberSync Radio Triggers
Gary Fong Flash Diffuser
Gaff Tape – Of Course
Ball Bungees – You’d be surprised how useful these little guys are!
Canon Selphy Printer – Dye Sublimation printer for good 4×6 prints (plus ink and paper)
Polaroid Pogo Printer – So I can hand out some pictures for the locals
MacBook Pro 17″ – Unfortunately, as much as I love this MBP, it’s the only laptop I have to use. I can’t wait for a 15″ MacBook Air….if that ever happens.
Sennheiser HD-280 Pro headphones
Lowepro Exchange Messenger – For when I’m just walking around the compound
ExOfficio Underwear – Yes, this may be too much information. But Ex Officio makes the best travel undies every. Anti-everything, quick dry, and comfortable as I’ll get out.
Then there’re plenty of other items I’m bringing. But that should suffice for now. I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves. Feel free to keep me and my team in your prayers.
As I’ve alluded to in the past 3 posts, my trip to Ethiopia last year was an enlightening one. Unfortunately, those times of enlightenment came as a result of my mistakes. For your benefit, let me give you a little bit of a backstory on this one.
I was the leader of a medical and construction mission trip from my church. Our job was to help the Smiths with some building projects as well as help in the clinic. I was not only in charge of this team, but I was also the photographer, naturally. So when we were finally on the compound, Allyson highly recommended that I be at the clinic on a particular day to get some good pictures during the infant malnutrition exams. I agreed to it partially because I like spending as much time in the clinics as possible (per my previous post). When the day for the exams came, I followed our medical staff to begin seeing patients. Mind you, I had already been at the compound for a few days and had already pulled cars out of a flooded road, photographed a local wedding, almost got mobbed by an entire village because of a hot headed local, attended a local funeral, and been force hand fed with 2 overly large servings of injera and dora wat. So when I arrived on the scene with the locals sitting around, waiting for our staff to arrive, I felt pretty comfortable with everyone and began just by taking a couple of pictures. The photo above is the mother of the little baby from my first Ooops post about this trip; this was one of my first pictures at the clinic that day.
Once we started going, I knew where the good pictures were going to be. The interaction of the nurses with the infants was so emotion filled. Each mothers’ story was so intricate and intense. I just kept snapping away at the babies that came through. Then after a few patients had come and gone, I stopped for a moment and put my camera down.
I looked around to see a lot of blank faces and questioning stares.
After taking pictures of the lady above, I showed her the picture of her beautiful baby and of herself. We both smiled at each other. But then she asked me some questions which I couldn’t understand or respond to. Eventually I realized she was asking me for those pictures. But I didn’t have a printer with me to give them to her. After that, I stopped conversing with the people I was taking pictures of because I didn’t want to tell them that I couldn’t give them the pictures.
Not only was I not conversing with the subjects of my photography, I stopped taking pictures of anything but the crying babies because those intrigued me the most. I wasn’t trying to tell a story; I was just trying to get a good picture. So when I had a second to look around at these people staring at me, I realized that they probably just thought I was another photographer coming to take pictures and do nothing else. I was a bystandard. Simply just a photojournalist that is trying to be that invisible 3rd party.
I eventually just put down my camera and got in the game with the nurses, charting with them, and helping however I could (which wasn’t a ton). Even though I had literally been knee deep in cow poo water with some of the locals earlier in the week, I still managed to lose sight of why I was there and the people I was trying to serve.
So why do I share this all? It is possible to follow your passions (medical work, missions, etc. for me), and yet you can fail at telling the story because you’ve lost sight of the real story. Never hide behind your camera. Be a part of the story. That’s when you can tell the story, and, if necessary, use your camera.
This past weekend was the Southwestern Photojournalist Conference (www.swpjc.org). If you’re at all involved with telling stories, any kind of stories, via digital media, you need to come to this conference. Anyways, after all the Saturday sessions, a group of humanitarian photographers gathered to talk shop. Amongst us were some graduating undergrads that asked how to get into humanitarian/missions photography. The answer that everyone unanimously gave, without even hearing what the others said, was something like this:
Find an organization that is involved in something that you’re passionate about and first get involved with them before you even start thinking about taking pictures.
Teddy Roosevelt put it this way:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Basically, it boils down to this: just being passionate about something is useless if you don’t get in the game. So get in the game. Before we can tell a story, we have to know what story to tell. And the best way to know the story is by being part of that story. The passion you have for the things you love and care about will be reflected in your pictures. And you do a grave disservice to these organizations and the people and causes they serve by not telling the right story. I say that as one who has done so. I have done the whole photography part of a story without actually connecting with the people and being involved. I became paparazzi and it showed. I took good pictures, but I left the viewer simply thinking they were good pictures, but not really caring about the story behind them. My passion was thus rendered useless because it led to nothing more than a nice picture. Learn from my mistakes.
So after this weekend and it’s wonderfully challenging conversations, I posed this question to some friends, and I pose it to you: What are you so passionate about that you have to get involved? This isn’t a rhetorical. I’m really curious to know. It’s been a while since I’ve really committed myself to a focused organization. So it’s time for me to get back in the game as well. So let me know in the comments section: What are you involved in and what are you so passionate about that you got involved there?
I didn’t post anything yesterday for my standard Friday Blog posts. In case you’re unobservant, I blog every Friday. I failed yesterday. So I’m sorry. In an effort to make up for it, here is my favorite frame from my trip to Ethiopia last year.
I had the honor of leading a medical and construction team to Lake Langano to support the Smith Family, a missionary family from my church. Check out what they do: www.smithsinethiopia.com. This is part of a series of images that I love photographically, but struggle with as a visual peacemaker. More on that later. But I’ll be heading back to Ethiopia in April to hopefully redeem some of this backstory. Hope y’all have a great weekend. I’ll still be chilling at the Southwestern Photojournalist Conference (www.swpjc.org). You should all go next year.
Leading up to this trip, I’ve been pretty hands off. I wasn’t planning it, so I didn’t care. I figured that it would be a walk in the park considering all my Africa trips. What I neglected to acknowledge was the fact that just about every aspect of this trip would be different from the rest. So I just went along thinking I knew what life would be like for the next 2 weeks.
I stood in line in LAX, waiting to board my 15 hour flight to Taipei when a familiarity of international travel hit me. My olfactory sensors were tickled with non American scents. It really excited my fondness of travelling overseas. It was then that my international travel swagger took a step back. These smells were totally different. The people I was with and around were different. The places I was going was different. This was a whole new trip, a totally different experience. And this trip carried more of a weight on it since I would actually blend in for once, yet I couldn’t speak the language that everyone assumes of me.
(Side story: Everyone at the airline talked to me in Chinese. I tried my best to act like I understood. But alas, more than once I had to speak my ignorance and was given the look of shame and disgust from those from my motherland. Thankfully, I still understand Tagalog (Filipino) so I had that going for me.)
I boarded the plane after the revelation that I’m not in my element at all. I would travel around these next two weeks wide eyed, trying to soak it all in and understand as much as possible. The small memories from my childhood and the overly exaggerated stories from my mother were not enough to truly illustrate the Philippines or the Filipino culture to me. I would finally be able to see, hear, smell, and taste it for myself after a 24 year hiatus.
And so I boarded the flight, anxiously awaiting my education in 15+ hours on the other side of the world.
(Photos taken with my iPhone 4, using Instagram)
My view from over the Pacific
Getting docked in the Taipei airport
Gate C3 in Taipei International Airport
I don’t understand the obsession with Hello Kitty in Asia
Finally out of the pink, back in the air for the final leg of the trip
I admit: I am a competitive person. I love sports and games, and I compete (not as well anymore) to win. I like pitting myself and/or my team against another’s. It’s fun. However, when it comes to photography, my photography, the idea of competition becomes silly to me. There are a TON of photographers in my area. Great photographers in a number of fields. Take a look at Lindsey Brittain, Shaun Menary, Austin Mann, Rebecca Lorrine, Brian Braun, Sara & Rocky Garza, Andrew Shepherd, Natalie Montgommery and Lauren Larsen to name a few. I list these photogs, not because I want to name drop, but because they are fantastic photographers in my area that operate in the same fields as me. Do most people consider them my competition? Sure. I’d rather consider them my friends and photographers that I can grow from. If I spend most of my time figuring out what they’re doing so that I can do it better, then I’m wasting my time focusing on everyone else. I would rather sit down with them and talk life and business so that we can both get ideas and be encouraged.
I think the idea that we must compete leaves us alone and isolated. In all aspects of my life, I want to live in community. It is in community that we can grow in positive ways, even when it hurts. That remains true in business. I love Shaun, and Lindsey, and Austin and the rest. I might not necessarily capture life the way they do, and I might not necessarily want to. But just because they’re getting more business than me or I more than them means nothing. We are in this business because we love it and we will strive to be the best we can be and to provide our clients with images that move their hearts. So why should I think that I need to compete with them if the client is getting what they’re wanting and the story is getting told?
The typical answer to that question that most will assume is to make money to pay my bills. Sure, that’s an answer, but if I’m doing my business well and capturing stories well, then the money will come in. My livelihood shouldn’t be predicated on being better than others. My livelihood is made better because of others. They help me grow, they give me ideas, they give me hints, they give me support. And hopefully I do the same for them.
Truly, the only competition in photography is with myself. I must constantly be challenging myself to be better than I was last year, last month, yesterday, and even this morning. But once I go outside myself to other photographers, it ceases to be a race against them, but a race with them.