Creating Inspiration

I’ve gotten away from writing lately, maybe because I’ve been really busy, and maybe because I’ve felt uninspired.  That’s a terrible feeling for me, it’s as if I’m void of any “feeling” at all.  It tends to happen when I’m spending more time doing the things I don’t want to do instead of what I feel I’m here to be doing.

When I woke up this morning I thought, “anything can happen today”.  Temple of Horus, Edfu, EgyptThat thought in it self makes me want to get out of bed. I start thinking about the endless possibilities that can happen on any given day.  I grabbed a cup of coffee, checked my email and read Seth Godin’s blog and it was like it was written for me.  It was called “The moment of highest leverage”.  He was talking about moments when you’ve either lost something or won – when it feels hopeless or when it appears to be a lock.  He said that these were the times you can choose to do what’s in your heart and bring your real work to the world, instead of the lesser version that you think the market wants.

I’ve been struggling with feelings of hopelessness after a slew of rejections and misses. I knew I needed two things:  a change of scenery and some insightful conversation.  I went to Hawaii on impulse and got both.  One day, my good friend PF Bentley was showing me the “film” that he made for National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones.  Dewitt has been shooting extraordinary images for the Natl. Geo for over 40 years and he had hired PF to create inspirational corporate training videos.    The “film” segments were a combination of Dewitt speaking about his life and his career in an inspirational way and b-roll of him shooting in beautiful Hawaiian settings interwoven with his amazing still images.   The piece was so touching; it brought tears to my eyes.  When it was over I started crying and I apologized to PF.  He said, “that’s ok, I know I’ve done my job right”.  PF and Dewitt had done theirs jobs right and they had inspired me.

I’ve had two speaking engagements and a screening of Opening Our Eyes this past weekend and in each situation, I was feeling good and that I had something to say and to share.  It must have come across because at each venue there was at least one person who I inspired – I could tell – I could feel it.  There was one woman at the screening, who had found out about it through one of our subject’s blog, Maggie Doyne. After the movie was over and most people had gone, I talked to her for a long time and I could see that the film had inspired her greatly.  I knew that I had done my job right and it was the best feeling in the world.  It reminded me of what is most important to me in my life and that is to create awareness with my still images or movies and move people or inspire them.

I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook these days but I was looking at my news feed at the end of that long weekend and I noticed a photo that Ethan Browne (Jackson Browne’s son) had posted on his page.  It was a photograph of Jackson with one of his fans and Ethan had commented underneath it  “proud of   my pops – he stokes people for a living”.  I smiled and I thought, “That’s what I want to do”.


Words of Wisdom For and From Young Photographers

I’m on the advisory board of the YPA (Young Photographers Alliance) and while there are times that I feel I am on one too many boards and spreading myself too thin these days, it’s nights like last night that make it all worthwhile.

Last night was the Mentee/Mentor Exhibition and Awards Ceremony at the Calumet Gallery in New York City.  I must confess that I really didn’t want to go for a couple of reasons:  I needed to get up at 3:30AM to leave for the airport (this morning) and I’ve been in a bit of a funk that I can’t seem to shake myself out of and I didn’t want to be one of those negative cynical people bringing the “mood” down.  But I’m also one of those people that everyone can count on – so I did my best to rise to the occasion.

Before the affair, there was a meeting with the young photographers (mentees) and the mentors to receive and give feedback.  One of the students said that they wished some of their time with their mentors had been spent discussing the “business” of photography – something she didn’t feel she was learning in school.  I pointed out that there was a lot of information about business practices on the ASMP website, including contract shares and encouraged the students to check it out.  And then I told them that the best “business” advice I could give them was to be true to themselves and that if they did that and didn’t stray from their “purpose” that would set that apart from their competition because there is only one “you”.

And then I relayed my “Jay Maisel” story as I have dozens of times. Gail at the Great Pyramids 1971 I had gone to see Jay when I was just starting out.  My heart and my passion was in photojournalism, but countless professional photographers had told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – so I when I went to see Jay, I had my “commercial” portfolio with me, which I thought was pretty good.  He looked at it, pushed it back at me and said, “ This is crap – this isn’t what you want to do is it?”  I said no and told him that I wanted to be a photojournalist.  He asked me how old I was to which I replied “25 years old”.  He looked me straight in the face and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”.

I told the kids that it was a turning point in my life and that whenever I strayed from my purpose – and felt it – over the last 35 years – I remembered Jay’s words.  Then one of the students asked me a question that I hadn’t ever been asked when telling that story over the years.  She said “What was it about your work that made him think your heart wasn’t in it?”  I hadn’t really ever thought about that – I had always focused on what I wanted to do instead.  But when she asked that question, I had to reply, “I really don’t know”.

I’ve been thinking about it all morning on my way from Newark to San Francisco and I wonder – was it the work that felt empty or impersonal?  Or was it the way I looked when I handed it to him?  Or was it both?  I’m waiting for my next leg to Honolulu and then on to Molokai to meet up from one of my mentors, PF Bentley who taught me everything I know about how to tell a story in motion. I’ll have another 7 hours to contemplate that question and even if I never come up with the answer, that question pulled me out of my funk.  Just in time to once again put my head in an “open” place to learn and get back on purpose.

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