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The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent to the concerns of such puny creatures as we are.
Both work and personal challenges have kept me from being more active online in recent weeks than perhaps I should have been. Although the pandemic has (at least so far) not affected my artistic endeavors much, other things have. In one way or another, these are challenging times for all of us, and I feel compelled to share a few words about living through adversity, and to update you on some of my current efforts.
Perhaps owing as much to my nature as to circumstances, my life has never been free of challenges, at times forcing me to make difficult choices, to come to terms with unexpected setbacks, to give up things I did not want to, and ultimately to accept new and sometimes daunting realities. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, one thing I have learned by such experiences is to be restrained in my hopes.
Hope relies on wishful thinking for some future outcome. When we hope, we hope for change. To hope is to consider our current realities as less worthy than some possible (or impossible) future realities that, no matter how much we may want (or believe we want) them are never within our abilities to predict reliably. Even if hopes do come true, they are never so rosy as we thought they would be.
In hoping we idealize what we don’t have by juxtaposing it against the worst aspects of what we do have. Therefore, in hoping we implicitly focus our attention on the least desirable things in our lives, and distract ourselves from fully appreciating those things that we have that are worthwhile (or even from recognizing their worth). Alas, our real and present experiences, feelings, and perceptions are the only things we can legitimately call living, and no matter how painful they may seem, we still choose them over the alternative because beyond anything else we may feel, we still understand implicitly the value and richness of being conscious and alive, of having sensations, emotions, and perceptions that, no matter how difficult to endure at times, are also in one way or another also beautiful and meaningful and sufficient unto themselves. What we may not all recognize, however, is that it is within our power to make them even more so without relying on any circumstances outside ourselves. In our minds we may make meaning and ascribe beauty to life itself—to the capacity we all possess to feel, to think, to create, to interpret, to learn, to love.
Hope may help us endure some prevailing challenges, but if allowed to supplant reality, to put reality on hold until whatever we hope for may materialize, it may just as well color our perceptions and make our present experiences seem unworthy—just precursors to be suffered or muddled through until things get “better.” Alas, we each only get so many moments of conscious living, and this waiting in hope of something other than what we have right now is, in the most literal sense, to waste life itself.
To hope is to favor experiences we’re not having and may never have over experiences we are having and that we may find beauty and meaning in. Painful and tragic as some experiences may be, and much as we may prefer to not have them, they are nonetheless real and that alone gives them value and demands we should not let them go to waste. To experience is to live; to hope is to defer living (at least to an extent) until some ideal circumstances come to pass. It is also to be in denial of the fact that, at least beyond a certain degree of maturity, no life is ever free of challenge or trepidation about its inevitable fate.
Hope may also blind us to the predictive powers of statistical probabilities. We all like hearing about those who “beat the odds,” who “achieved the impossible,” who “won.” We rarely hear about the great majority who make the odds what they are. It is exactly because our futures are unknown and because our fates are more likely to align with measurable and quantifiable outcomes than with rosy yearnings that we must not only be cautious of hope but also as mindful as we can be of our real experiences in the present. It is exactly because so much is unknown and unpredictable that we must not treat what we have right now—what we are capable of right now, our moment by moment choices—as just some bothersome state to be endured until something better presents itself.
What does this mean in practical terms? If you love photography, go photograph whatever, whenever, and wherever you can, even if it’s in your own home or back yard, even if it’s not in-you-face “epic,” or some must-see hotspot. Don’t rely on things outside yourself to excite you—find ways to excite yourself. If you have time to spare, even if not by choice, invest this time in making yourself better. Use this time to read, research, learn new things, experiment, immerse yourself in art—in paintings, music, photographs, whatever. Catch up on the classics: books, movies, art, etc. Remind yourself of those things you’ve always wanted to do “some day when you have time” and just do them! Start writing a book, put some portfolios together, start a blog, redesign your website, learn to print, etc. The common denominator for such things is that, unlike hope, they reward in real time; you will be better off just for doing them—just for occupying your mind and body with them—regardless of any other event or future outcome.
Taking my own advice, other than my ongoing work on upcoming books (almost there…) I also decided to push myself to find new photographic expressions—something I knew I’ve had to do for a while now. Much as I love my intimate color work, I felt I have reached a plateau and lost some creative momentum, and that my former work had ceased to be expressive of the realities of my present. For a while now I’ve felt like I needed something to excite me to photograph passionately again. This by no means implies that I consider my former work “finished.” Far from it. I very much look forward to reconnecting with beautiful places and experiences again. It’s just that, as satisfying as making such images was in its own right, my head has not been “in it” for a while, and it does not align with my current state of mind—with the person I have become as a result of recent struggles, with new meanings and realizations I have not channeled into my work until now, preferring the comfort of the familiar despite it no longer being expressive.
In hindsight, I can see now that something new has been “incubating” in me these past couple of years. The first expressions of this “something” finally began to take shape a few months ago when certain kinds of subject, compositions, and styles began calling out to me louder and louder, and progressively more consistently. Suddenly I realized I’ve accumulated a sufficiently rich body of work in this vein to recognize that these photographs were not just anecdotal or coincidental one-offs. They began to come together naturally and motivated me to do more of them. You can see what I hope is just the first chapter in this new photographic journey in a new portfolio I’ve tentatively titled, Worlds Within Worlds.
I hesitate to make any strong statements about this new direction right now because I don’t feel I have explored it enough yet, and I don’t want to prejudice or restrict myself. I will very likely share more thoughts about it as I become more conscious of where it is leading me and what it may reveal to me about myself. Suffice to say at this time that I feel creatively inspired, and that is a wonderful thing to be, especially in troubled times.
Beautifully put, Guy. Just the pep talk I needed right now as I sit in my empty shopping center whose traffic has been decimated by pandemic and poor management. What could be more challenging than try9ing to build a brick and mortar photography business in these challenging times? The opposite of hope is despair, and it is perhaps more harmful than hope (cause I’m hoping for a better fall…) But for sure, I need to live more right now and not dwell on the uncontrollable. I definitely need to do some more writing! Your new work is intriguing and I will definitely take a good look!
Great to hear from you, Stan! Who could have imagined all those years ago when we were exchanging critiques what a journey this would turn out to be 🙂
Stay safe, my friend. I hope you’re doing well.
Beautifully put. Hoping for good outcomes for the world, our loved ones and ourselves is one thing. When because of hope we turn away from appreciating what is here is when the trouble starts. I think the lot of the cynicism we find in so many people these days is because of unfulfilled hopes.