Adventures of a Sage—Photography as a Lens for Self-Discovery

To Blog or Not to Blog. Is That the Question?

I have been thinking about creating a photography blog for several years. The project felt daunting on multiple levels:

Personal Commitment

Successful professional bloggers create thoughtful, beautifully crafted, polished content daily. Who are these people? Get a life.
Relative to the pros, my first hurdle was to admit that I will not be writing and posting daily. The probability of me writing a 1,000-word article, every day, with accompanying photos and videos, keyworded, and tagged, is … zero. Too many other important things to do in life. A call with a friend requires at least an hour. Cleaning our robovac requires 15-minutes. Emptying the dishwasher every other day: 10-minutes. Clipping my fingernails every other week: 5-minutes. Life adds up. I had to reach the conclusion that I will never be a one-blog-a-day kind of guy. I’ll try for one or two articles a month and not stress over the fact that I will be 29-articles short from the ‘pros.’

That was hurdle number one.

Competition

The second hurdle was contemplating the mind-numbing number of blogs published on the Internet. Over 500-million, depending on your source.

Who reads all that stuff? Even a devoted mother wouldn’t wade through all of that mindless, I mean, carefully crafted prose. But then I discovered this comforting fact: Over 95% of blogs have been abandoned. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. I feel much better now, down to only 25-million blogs remaining.

25-million is still a daunting number of active blogs, with over 2-million blog posts daily. The corresponding argument therefore is: Why bother? Who will find it? Who will read it? I’ll be wasting my time.

I had to think about the ‘why bother’ for a long time. (A long time as in over a year. OK, yes, I do a lot of thinking.) Overcoming my own objection that this would be a huge waste of time represented another barrier. That forced me to think carefully about what I wanted to say.

Ultimately (or, at least, so far, with this first article) I decided to proceed. I decided to proceed for several reasons.

First, I have always enjoyed the writing process because I have found that it forces personal clarity. Our minds are so full of random stuff bouncing around (Dave Barry calls it “brain sludge”) that it’s often challenging to find time to create a productive, positive thought during the day.

Dave Barry’s example of brain sludge: “Take any group of 100 average Americans, and sing to them, ‘Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Jed.’ At least 97 of them will immediately sing: ‘A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed.’ They will sing this even if they are attending a funeral. They can’t help it.” (Footnote: The last episode of Beverly Hillbillies aired March 23, 1971. If you were born after 1971, substitute your own favorite mind sludge.)

Second, when I realized that I was putting up my own self-defeating roadblock, I just decided that I needed to step up to the challenge.

Third, I do think my angle is unique. More about that below.

The key point here was to understand that I’m not competing with all remaining 25-million blogs. That got me through the competition wall.

Next, onto subject matter:

Focus and Perspective

What to say? Let’s start with what this blog is not. There are probably tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of photo blogs online. Most of the photography blogs are written by men, and most of their subject material is about camera gear and technical issues: the latest camera models, everything you need to know about aperture in two-minutes, lenses that don’t focus well at F16 because of certain atmospheric pressure anomalies at 10,000 feet. And more.

While discussing gear and technique is probably inevitable in a photography blog, what this won’t be is yet one more lens review, advice on upping your technical game (OK, maybe a bit of game-upping), or a comparison of the latest camera bodies. That market is infinitely saturated.

Instead, I intend this blog to be about photography as a pathway to self-knowledge and personal fulfillment—a process that helps reveal your true, authentic, genuine self. After much contemplation, I came up with this title: Adventures of a Sage—Photography as a lens for self-discovery.

The Sage at Work Before Sunrise

So how do you intend to pull this off, Mr. Sage?

The answer is: I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that this will be an exploration of self-discovery for everyone. This is intended to be a group adventure because I think this concept works best as community. Yes, I will provide guidelines, topics, and direction. And while I will likely write the bulk of editorial, I look forward to seeing entries from others as well (whether short comments or longer articles).

There are several reasons I think photography works exceptionally well as a catalyst for self-discovery. I have listed a few of these below:

1. Photography is a Window to Self-Awareness

Any image you capture is a window to your ‘self.’ As anyone develops a collection of thoughtful contemplative images (thoughtful, as opposed to impulsive snap shots), you will gain a sense of yourself that unquestionably becomes a window to your identity. You can see that on platforms like Flickr, Instagram and other photo-sharing websites.

  • Some people create collections of muted, moody, pastels.
  • Others shoot cold, dark images of distant, difficult-to-reach mountain peaks (a lot of that).
  • Still others go in for surreal fantasy scenes. (A lot of that as well.)

Point being, you are what you shoot. And while there are certainly other avenues to self-discovery and self-awareness (travel, golf, fitness, crocheting) photography provides a tangible mirror of what interests you and what captures your imagination—images that you can contemplate, consider, and study. As a thoughtful counselor once said to me, “You’re always taking a picture of yourself.”

2. Breaking Habitual Patterns

Along the way I will suggest opportunities to think about photography in new ways while also proposing personal challenges. Learning to think in new and different patterns helps us question existing models and attitudes—which enables us to break existing patterns of thought. Breaking old thought patterns is critical to constant growth. To me, leaving behind old ways and learning new concepts is an essential part of life. I’ll talk about getting outside your comfort circle where, OMG, we’re all threatened by ambiguity. Fear not, that’s the only place where you can learn!

Force Yourself Outside of Your Comfort Circle

3. Creative Tension

In any artistic endeavor creative tension always exists. It’s the transition between picking up the camera and experiencing that moment of doubt about capturing something worthwhile and transitioning into ‘The Creative Zone.’ The Creative Zone is where you have tuned out everything else so that ideas and creativity flow. I both dread and anticipate creative tension. I dread the pressure of creating something new and meaningful. But I anticipate the process of getting into The Creative Zone where you stop ‘looking’ and start ‘seeing.’ More about “seeing” in a minute.

4. Meditative

When you’re in The Creative Zone—not talking to people, surrendered to your ipod, or stressing about the fact that you haven’t changed your air filters in six months (have you?)—you are more likely to be at one with yourself. If you shoot landscapes, getting outdoors into nature is peaceful, contemplative, self-fulfilling, and meditative of itself. But getting into The Creative Zone requires a larger degree of concentration and focus. That is a different type of meditation. Therefore, ‘zoning’ only works when you’re alone. That can be difficult with spouses, friends, or family. To properly ‘Zone’ it’s important to schedule time for yourself. Aloneness is an important part of the meditative process.

5. Seeing vs. Looking

Professional (non-studio) photographers discuss the difference between ‘looking’ and ‘seeing.’ It’s difficult to make this transition because most of the day we just look at things: a coffee cup, car fob, your smart phone, your smart phone, your smart phone. (Turn that off when you’re shooting.) Transitioning to ‘seeing’ requires quiet, contemplative, reflective acts of interpreting what’s in front of you. You need to experience and perceive composition, colors, mood, relationships, design, depth, relationships, and find those unique moments.

These are my reasons why photography presents opportunities for self-discovery.

Positioning the Blog

From this moment on, this is no longer a blog (a contraction of web-log). While, on one hand, a web-log is an appropriate metaphor for this platform—a ship’s ‘log,’ for example, chronicles a record of the vessel’s voyage. From that perspective a blog could be an accurate descriptor, as this resource will chronicle our exploration together.

On the other hand, most ‘blogs’ have negative connotations to me, because most blogs are self-centered diaries exclusively about the author. As previously stated, I’d like this to be a community dialog about our journey towards self-knowledge, together, using photography as the lens. A ‘blog’ therefore seems an inappropriate label for what I’d like to accomplish.

Instead, I propose a ‘Journal’—a journal that will be a collective, cooperative chronicle of our adventures, events, experiences, and observations together, using the lens of photography for self-discovery.

Guidelines

With that framework in place, I propose several guidelines. While I tend to be an anti-rule kind-of-guy, I think a few standards are important.
Here is my initial list:

1. Stay on topic—While there are an infinite number of subjects and perspectives to be shared within this broad theme, I’d like submissions to stay focused (how Freudian) on photography for self-discovery. While I’m sure your 7-year-old daughter will become a renowned international model, and while your grandchildren are exceptionally talented and beautiful, please discuss how the process of making images of them has given you insights into yourself.

2. Respect—All comments and posts must be respectful of others. In the era of social media when polarization and acidity is the happily accepted norm—not to mention rewarded and praised—that will not happen here. My goal is to add positive value to everyone who visits the site. Participants are expected to do the same. This is not about critiquing someone’s photos, slamming their technique, and attacking their inability to compose anything remotely pleasant. (Leave that to me.) This is about how each of us can gain insights into ourselves.

3. No politics.

Thank you for your interest. Have I articulated this concept clearly? Is this something you’re interested in? Do you have suggestions to add to the vision? I welcome your active participation, and I look forward to your insightful comments.

Know of anyone else who may be interested? Feel free to invite them along.

Leave a comment below.

Questions

  • How does photography provide insights into yourself?
  • What do you see today?

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