In recent years, I’ve realized that compelling photographs of people, showing them engaged in challenging endeavors, can serve as reminders of the skills and strengths that they possess, and that these memories can help them to persist against the challenges that they will face in life. But in order for photographs to have this effect, they have to be ever-present. So, I’m not talking about photos that grace Instagram walls or Facebook pages. I’m talking about photos that are good enough to print, frame, and hang above a dresser, so that the subjects will see them every day as they go through life, and so they can serve as a constant reminder of who they are, and what they can achieve.
I firmly believe that in order for people to see themselves as athletes, musicians, scholars, and even business men and women, they need to get frequent positive feedback that reinforces those visions. These days, it is harder than ever for people to see themselves succeeding in those roles, because with instant access to the whole of humanity, everywhere people turn they are faced with negative comparisons of their own performance with those of the elite few. And those who actually build up the gumption to start learning something new are frequently pressed into higher arenas of performance before they are prepared to meet its challenges. All this takes place in an environment where people are faced with continual distractions and temptations towards lesser activities. It is a wonder that anyone sticks with pursuits such as sports, music, or higher education.
In these times, we need to 1) help people recognize and celebrate even their incremental improvements in skill, so they will persist in turning them into successes, and 2) help them recognize that the same skills that helped them to succeed in one arena, can help them to succeed in others as well. I think that high quality photography is a key element of this help, because it allows people to “see” themselves as the athletes, musicians, scholars, and business men and women that they could become.
How I Came To This Opinion
Before my father enlisted in the U.S. Army, he spent several years working as a reporter-photographer. This could be the reason why I now have the early photo of myself at the front of this post, and why, at an early age, my father gave me my first camera, a film cassette Kodak Instamatic 100. Despite the fact that it didn’t provide the instant gratification available from today’s cell phone cameras, I would frequently take my camera to grade school with me and take photos of my friends. Nothing especially useful ever developed from it, but I came to enjoy taking photos, and I frequently carried the camera with me, if for no other reason than to document my adventures.
Then later in life, I made two connections that I didn’t see coming. The first was during my junior year in college, when I decided that college was just too hard for me. I had even started to plan my exit strategy, but for some reason I stopped and I asked myself, “Why am I so competitive in sports, but not in academics?”. It was that abstraction, that connection between sports and academics, that led me to sticking with school. Not only did I end up graduating, but some years later, that same school actually declared me to be a Distinguished Alumni, in recognition of work that I had later performed at NASA.
But it was the second connection that provided the link to photography. During my first summer after graduation, my father came to see me play soccer with a local adult team that I was hoping would pick me up. I don’t even recall him having a camera that day, but soon afterwards he gave me this one photo that showed me beating an opponent to a head ball. I was pretty stunned to see how high I could jump (Others may be stunned by the amount of leg I’m showing.)! Imagine if I had seen this photo earlier. I’m sure I would have challenged for more head balls, even over players that were much taller than myself. It is now 35 years later, but this one photo still serves as a reminder of what I can do when I “leave it on the field”.
Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize the power of photography when my own kids were growing up. I never used the camera for its creative potential, or as a tool to help my kids learn about themselves. When my younger son was in high school, I finally went out and bought a Nikon D5100 DSLR (4 frames/second, cropped sensor) camera, and the NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto lens, to take photos of him play lacrosse. This got me taking photos regularly again, and in the process, I started to learn how to make them more flattering. That’s when these memories of earlier times in my life started to resurface.
Now, even though my kids are all pretty much grown up and making their way in the world, I think it is time for me to start applying this interest that I showed early in life, and applying in ways that will serve to help others to see themselves at their best. My Dad never told me whether these were things that he already knew. But I can say that he gave me a couple of nice photographs, and a camera.
My Wish and Intent
“I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.” – Gordon Parks
There are many forces in the world we live in that push us towards mediocrity or worse. I intend to contribute my efforts to the fight against those forces. And like Gordon Parks, the camera is my weapon of choice.
So, my wish is that I might learn to create flattering images that will inspire and encourage people to be their best. Time will tell whether I can develop the skills and creativity necessary to do this. I’m confident that I can handle the technical aspects, but I need seasoning to consistently achieve the creative result that I aspire to. So, every single day, I intend to do something to move this vision forward. And I intend to capture in this blog what I learn along the way, in a form that I hope will be considered both relevant and valuable to others who may have a similar wish for themselves.
My Invitation and Request
You are invited to come on along and participate in my growth as a photographer. If you have your own observations to contribute, then I ask that you send them by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.