Friday, October 28, 2011

Learning to See (Part 4)

In the seemingly never ending and ridiculously brisk pace of life it's often difficult to take the advise of others, especially when banal comments like 'Take time to smell the roses' or 'Take some time out for yourself' seem the only offer as the solution to what you might see as a train wreck about to happen or a nuclear holocaust already in progress. In a world where a strong work ethic is God and financial security is the panacea for all ills, time to watch the lawn grow or the paint dry on the walls of your newly renovated suburban castle has been replaced by more mundane pass times such as watching the mortgage grow and the competition's name dry on the office door next to yours. After all, photographers have to eat. Some days it seems as though your very own heart rate can't keep pace with the blood that flows through your clogged arteries.

Yet, for some inane reason that is completely beyond me, I have chosen a profession that requires just that: a pause, momentary as it is, to reflect on the present and the past, to spend some time pondering the life of another human being, to give life to their Truth, their Beauty, to render their purpose purposeful. My life is filled with imagery, photographs taken by myself and others that require a presence, an understanding, a vision to produce and an insight to read. Each one of these images requires of me to 'smell the roses', to give the value they deserve.

But why?
I don't have time for this! I'm a busy man. I have 'things' to do, 'places' to go, 'people' to meet, 'business' to deal with. When do I have time to look at my own images, let alone the myriad of visual stimulation thrown at me on a daily basis, all geared to influence my thinking. Buy this, sell that, the shock of the old and new, now for the news, a touch of beauty mingled with the torment of a nation, sickness and well-being all neatly parcelled in a box and plastered onto the screen or tabloid before me. Stop! Look at me! I'm the best. My photograph is the Truth. It holds the answers to all things. Emulate me and your dreams will come true. Envy me because what you see is unattainable. Dare to like what you see and I will stay with you forever. Hate me and I will have won.

This is a terrible dilemma for us all. We swim through the sea of sensory stimulation willingly, constantly tortured by the savagery of other people's skills. We are the baited fish dragged behind the boat, desperately dodging the snapping jaws of the frenzied school of sharks. Everyone wants their bit of flesh and all we want is to be dragged from the water screaming so we can drown in our own misgivings. Our dream changes from 'I can do that' to 'I wish I could do that'. We wait desperately for our Flickr graph to rise or the blog counter to tick over. When it doesn't we have failed, when it does, other's have failed. 'Nice colour' the comment reads. Is that it? Is that all they can see? 'What lens did you use?' Do they also chase the bait? Is it me they emulate, or it it my photograph they want to copy? I really do need to smell the roses. But where do I find them?

Each day I spend a few moments with the photographers and their work; just staring. I dream of places I have never been. I meet people I do not know, I look at cherished objects and battles fought and lost, a shed in a field, a car crash, a well worn path, a new born baby and a grieving wife at a funeral. I also look at my own images and remind myself of why I do this thing called photography. Above my favourite chair is a framed photograph of some flowers. It holds no special place except to exist for its own sake. It is the answer to all things, the god I seek, the tranquility I need, the space in the chaos, the dream, the 'rose' in my garden. As I look down at the book I am reading I am reminded of what its all about. Its not about the photograph or the winning or the ego that sometimes replaces my common sense, or lack of it. Its about the struggle, the lack of understanding, the inadequacy, the guilt, the search. That's what we do from the moment we eagerly take the first breathe to that fateful and inevitable time we gasp the last; photographers no less than others.

As T.S. Eliot pointed out to us all:

"... Each venture
Is the new beginning...
...what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate - but there is no competition -
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again ......
For us there is only the trying. The rest is not our business"

I still keep trying to see; for myself and for others.


  1. Your words alone have a huge impact on me as a person, Tom, but when coupled with your amazing photography... incredible work, my friend! I always find myself learning about the world I live in through your work, almost slowing down to take in more details; details I would surely have missed before. The world is brighter and full of more wonder because I have had the honor and privilege of meeting you.

  2. Did you use lightroom to edit these?
    That was a joke Tom.
    The concept of being tortured by the savagery of the skills of others, to succeed at the expense of others fascinates me absolutely. I'm not as good with the written word as you, but there is something in what you said that illuminates a core or a pillar or whatever a central part of what it means to be a human working within a human system. An obedience to the structure instead of it's founding principles.
    The fact that people like you exist gladdens my heart.