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!
Your blog is great! It was full of goodies and inspiration too. Now that is a bargain. I liked your packing list. I am going to Photoshop World and i’m having a time just figuring out what to take there. It sure looks like you have a great life, see ya.
What a great surprise to find you here Gary! (this already made my day)
Is incredible how after reading your posts and admiring your photography, peace, hope, love are sentiments that keep coming to my mind and soul.
Thank you for trying to make this world better!
What a great surprise to find you here Gary! (This already made my day)
Is incredible how after reading your words and observing your photography, sentiments as love, compassion, and specially hope comes to mind.
Thank you Gary for making this world a better place!
Great post! Very inspirational and filled with many great tips for all of us.
Thanks for your great words — so beneficial for all us young guys to get a grasp on the radical changes the industry has seen and how important staying flexible really is! Blessings on you and your work!
Very good, inspiring post!!! It’s always hard to see the road ahead when your comfort zone has been eliminated. I feel like I need to print and save this should I ever find myself in that situation professionally (esp. since I work full-time in the newspaper business and part-time as a photographer). I also enjoyed reading your packing list and feel like there must be a story in there somewhere since you listed “Passport Copies” four times on there! lol. Since I only have my one Passport, I think I’ll be making some backup copies to keep with me! Thanks for the post!
Allision…I really, really, want to make sure I have passport copies! Thanks for commenting.
Some really great inspiration here. Wouldn’t agree to you more on the your advice you gave “Change is always coming”. It would be impossible to go ahead in life with the skills you already inherit or have gained without adapting to the latest skill available to you in a certain course for example.
Some amazing photography too, absolutely love the photograph with the birds flying in a perfect arrow.
Keep up the great work!
Great! Be blessed.
Watching the videos and seeing your website / blog as well. Nice read. Lesson to learn about dynamism.
Very nice photographs by the way.
Great post Gary. As much as I loved your images, I love the driving purpose behind it, more.
Continue to keep at it.
“Be blessed and be a blessing!” How cool. Great read, Thanks
Thanks Gary, fun and insightful post.
What a great surprise to find you here today. Thanks for the advise to the ones that are starting out as me. I love your vision and work as photographer.
Good stuff, Gary! I seldom comment, but was compelled to drop by for a word or two. For me, one of the best ‘Guest Blog Wednesday’ entries yet. Your focus on 100 visitors is an inspiring concept and just plain terrific idea!
I LOVE The Visitors Project!!!!!
Gary, thanks for sharing.
Off subject: Check out photo processed with new Photomatix 4.0 beta:
Great photo. Will there be free upgrades?
Yes, updates in the past are free if you ace older version. The beta is out and mine is working fine but a friend of mine who runs Windows7 64 bit had the software crash while processing. There probably are bugs. I also processed by doing a copy of raw and masking the sky to get the blue color.
I stand corrected–it’s not a great photo, it’s an outstanding photo.
Thanks very much, Gary. I have felt for the last while that I ought to quit my job go full time photo. Now as I wrap wup the details of doing so I’m getting nervous. You post is a little boost in the right direction. I’m looking forward to new horizons.
What a great guest post! What I found the most interesting were “different” faces of Gary Chapman. What I mean by that are separate, well developed portfolios for different types of work he is doing, presented in great, interactive way. It was a great school how to present your work in professional way. Thanks a lot, Gary for sharing your work and your vision!
Hi Gary – thank you so much for your guest blog. It really struck home with me. I’ve gone on 3 missionary trips last year to Taiwan and even though I knew I was supposed to be there, I had no clear reason why. But I took my camera with me and it was amazing how doors would open or conversations would start with strangers just because of my “big camera”. Like you said – we can’t all do the work of a missionary or writer – but we can capture it to show the world.
Thank you and God bless you and your family!
Beautiful post, beautiful message. I checked out your site, love the wonderful humanity of your images.
Your work is an inspiration to us all. We can’t all do what you’re doing, of course, but it’s wonderful that you are able to.
I loved this quote: “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
Thanks so much for sharing.
My favorite guest blogger yet!
This blog by Gary, is one of the most inspiring that have read, thanks for sharing it. I do feel blessed by it. I have passed it on to all my students and others. Capt Ray
Thanks for the excellent guest blog, Gary! I’ve passed the link to my past students since 2006 (who loved hearing you teach in person here in Kona), plus many others. :-)
Thanks for the excellent guest blog, Gary! I’ve passed the link on to my past students since 2006 (who’ve heard you teach in person here in Kona), as well as many others.
(This is a repost, since it seemed my first try in leaving a comment didn’t work…)
Without a doubt, one of the best guest blogs ever. Light on words, heavy on love and responsibility.
Wonderful blog. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Gary. Excellent photo of the flock of birds above the clouds. Looking closely, they are Black Skimmers. As their name implies, they lower their bill and skim the surface of a smooth lake for food. Were these birds above the clouds or is it a composite where the water was replaced by clouds? Either way, a most interesting and unique photograph.
Kerry…thanks for letting me know the name of the birds. They were shot in a flock flying about 100 feet over the ocean. They were then composited in PS to form the arrow.
Excellent post, Gary. Very inspirational to anyone that has suffered a loss of employment and are looking to reinvent themselves into something better. I really like the photo of the line of men holding the cups. What is the background story to that photo?
The men are standing in line to receive food at an IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp in Kenya. Post election violence in Jan 2008 left over 1300 dead and 300,000 homeless. I was with an NGO (Non Governmental Org) that was taking aid into Sudan, but when we got to Kenya, the violence had closed our way into Sudan. We then diverted the aid to the aid camps in Kenya.
incredible….ummmm….thank you…having a hard time seeing my screen.
May write to you later
Thanks Scott for introducing me to Gary S. Chapman. I have added him to my favorite blog list and I appreciate the quality and diversity of your Guest bloggers. keep up the great work.
Hey Gary! Charlie here from the 2009 SOP :) I was just informing my wife about how you spoke to us last year. Amazing work.
I read the text, and looked at the pictures availabe on the blog. And one point bothers me a lot; it is the unnatural mix of religion and photography. I definitely find this is wrong.
I love that last video – 100 visitors is a great idea!!!
What can I say …. after looking at the images on your website I am speechless.. truly moving and inspirational. It will be a long time before the stories you are telling about the world as it is will be forgotten by me for one.
Keep up the fantastic work you are doing and long may it continue for the sake of humanity everywhere.
Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your blog regularly. Thanks for the work you do. I work with an NGO and you inspire me on how to do it better.
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Love Gary’s work. And love seeing one of my favourite images here… the school girl in purple. How can you not smile when you see learning happening right in front of your eyes. :)
Just returned from being away for a while…many thanks to all that read the blog and commented. Again…please feel free to contact me directly if you desire.
One of these days we’ll shake hands…and I’m so looking forward to the day. Wonderful words/images!