Change Is Always Coming
Thirty-two years of professional photography and the best advice I can give to any photographer is: Change is always coming…be ready to alter course, reorganize, try something new.
Adaptability and flexibility are crucial attitudes for navigating through abrupt challenges and difficult seasons both personally and professionally. I’ve found that being willing to adjust to unforeseen circumstances can lead to a new assignment, project, or even a new genre of photography I may not have discovered otherwise.
Back in the early 90’s I was loving my job as a photojournalist for a newspaper’s Sunday magazine. I had been in the position almost ten years and assumed the ride would continue forever. It was a golden era for photojournalists.
Then, one day the staff was called in and we could all hear the proverbial pin drop as we were informed that our staff positions were being eliminated. When I called my wife, Vivian, to tell her the unsettling news, she replied with, “How exciting!” She was envisioning an open door to a myriad of thrilling opportunities but all I saw was a grave. A black nothingness of self-pity.
Vivian helped me see this “crisis” as a possible answer to spending more time with our growing family and traveling internationally together. I left the newspaper and we moved to Atlanta. Vivian and I began working full-time on conceptual stock photography (for what later became Getty Images). Looking back, the metamorphosis from employee to small business owner was not really that difficult. It was more like trading a pair of well worn shoes for a new pair that somehow felt already broken-in.
Even so, photographing spinning gears, happy couples running on a pristine beach, or creating the illusion of birds flying in a perfect arrow formation was a definite departure from my photojournalism roots. But the flexibility it gave me for overseas travel opened new avenues for my photography. I got connected with several faith-based groups who were helping people all around the world, and began to document their stories. Within five years of leaving the newspaper magazine, I had traveled to more than 40 countries shooting for various non-profits and NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) aid groups. Once again, staying flexible had led to a new kind of photography. This time, it awakened something inside me.
Shooting for NGO’s and non-profits has become a calling. Like David duChemin describes in Vision Mongers, “It’s as though there’s a voice beckoning us to distraction, a preoccupying whisper that, at some point, we give in to and follow.” I can’t NOT shoot this type of work. Stock is still a way to put bread and butter on the table. More than that, it gives me the freedom to engage a world that is hurting.
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless. Maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4) This verse from the Bible is the “why” that keeps me pursuing humanitarian photography. Do I think I can change the world? Maybe not…but I want to help in whatever ways I can, small or big.
I don’t have the skills of a doctor to ease the suffering of a refugee from Sudan. I am not a logistician that can organize massive airlifts of food to Haiti. I am not a missionary that can comfort a crying child day after day in a Kenyan orphanage. I am not a writer that can craft a book of golden prose to change the course of a nation. I am simply a photographer. However, I am aware that good photography has the power to open closed doors and hearts. Photography can change the destiny of people. By staying adaptable, I have found my own.
Adjusting to change hasn’t just affected the type of photography I do, but most recently, has led to an idea for a fun personal project. Vivian and I call it “Visitors.” With the current emphasis on social media and internet, we wanted to get more “face” time with people. So much of our interaction with others is via Facebook, Twitter, etc. To remedy that, we determined to be more intentional about inviting people into our home. I then decided to take a portrait of everyone that visited, be they family, friends, workmen or random strangers. Now, more than a year later, 150 plus visitors have come into our studio to be photographed. Check out the first 100 in the video below.
Many thanks to Scott and Brad for this opportunity to share. If you have any questions on gear or photo techniques, feel free to ask. I try to be an open book! Oh yea…one more thing…here is a link to my packing list should you be interested. Be blessed and be a blessing!