Friday, May 13, 2011

To the journey...

I'm getting my bearings back after a weeklong immersion in photography and life lessons (and a whole lot of partying) at Texas School of Professional Photography in Addison. It was the most incredible experience. I went into it with photography as my hobby and side job (I'm a photographer's assistant at the university and I always find myself in his studio, asking questions, fascinated by it all) and I left feeling inspired and empowered. Not to mention, I made wonderful, supportive friends and was completely in awe of our instructor, Steve Kozak. He's simply amazing.

That week also did something to me that made me re-evaluate what I'm doing with my life and what I want my goals to be. During our class, we were asked to write about a favorite image, one you would rescue out of a burning building, and describe the emotion behind it and why it is significant. I don't know if it was the long night before or lack of Diet Dr. Pepper, but I struggled to think of a single image or feel any emotion. I then listened to the stories our class told, of ordinary images with extraordinary back stories and bittersweet feelings of loss and love. It completely transformed the way you looked at things. I, of course, was a bawling mess. I've been a writer for a long time, but I've always written for something or someone else. Never for me. It's such a different style to express what I feel through words. I guess it's a journalist's flaw to only state the facts and news. I literally couldn't feel anything but sadness and I felt crushed. Writing was my chosen career, what I did for a living, but I couldn't put LIFE into my words. Basically, it was a giant reality check.

On the final day of the conference, we were winding down, getting ready to go back to our everyday lives and practice all the new invaluable skills we'd learned. We had become a little family, and Steve warned us, we'd be crying on the day we learned manual flash, the story day and finally the tears were welling up for the final goodbye. There was a final presentation by Jen Hillenga, one of the instructors and a fabulous photographer from Minnesota. She had been hired for a shoot of a woman's parents, both in their eighties, at their family ranch. The woman wanted images of them living their daily lives, nothing pretentious or posed. She documented how two people made a life, grew old together and still love each other and their family without measure. She shared touching stories of the things the two would do together...bake pies and sew quilts for each of their grandchildren (He'd cut the fabric for her and she would put them together...so sweet!) She said it changed her life. Completely unexpectedly. It made me think of my sweet grandparents and how selfless they are. They worked their entire lives, saved every penny, to make sure that their family had a wonderful life.

What brought me to tears, however, was the beautiful poem and music that accompanied the presentation of the images. The power of music, words and photography all in one. Illustrating a life. Telling a story. And then I realized THAT'S what I want to do. I don't know exactly what that means for me right now, but the combination of those skills has the power to move mountains. And maybe even stir up emotions in someone like me.

Of course, it puts into perspective the wonderful gift photography can be. I spent the next Saturday at my grandparents' house, sprawled on the living room floor laughing and crying over old photographs of my grandparents' grandparents. I was basking in that love, cherishing those fleeting moments. My grandpa's hands, leathered with age, delicately turning the pages of his tattered baby book. Life's precious moments that we too often take for granted. That's what I want to capture. And to write about.

I also realized that, like anything else, practice makes perfect. I can't expect to sit down at my computer every day and golden words to flow from my fingertips anymore than I can expect to pick up the dusty guitar in the corner and play like Stevie Ray. I'm learning to cut myself a break, but learning and practicing as much as I can. I've always been a good student, mostly because I want to know EVERYTHING. If I can try to learn and absorb some of this knowledge from the amazing mentors and resources I have at my convenience, big things are going to happen. Are happening.

I found this great quote that sums up this crossroads kind of experience I'm having now: It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. -Wendell Berry

Whatever this journey brings, I know I have the love and support of the most amazing family and friends along the way. Cheers to the journey.

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