Give and Take (Nothing)

For many photographers the concept is fairly simple. Give me money and I’ll take your photograph or sell you one that I’ve taken. The idea of getting paid to take a photograph is not a new concept and quite often becomes the desire of many aspiring photographers, myself included. For some of you who follow my blog on a regular basis, you might recall some of my recent posts when I have talked about wanting to do more with my photography and use it for a greater purpose. Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research on organizations and individuals who are using their talents to take a photograph and get nothing in return. I thought I would pass along a list of organizations that have really impressed me. If you know of another concept or organization that I haven’t mentioned here please feel free to share back with me.

The Maple Leaf Mission is an organization based out of Edmonton Alberta whose mission is to provide portrait photography to families of individuals who are: facing a terminal illness, living with a debilitating illness yet demonstrates a life lived to the fullest, military families celebrating homecomings or deployment, soldiers returning injured from a tour. For more information on The Maple Leaf Mission visit http://themapleleafmission.ca/.

Help Portrait was started by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart. The concept is simple. Find families or groups who would like a portrait but can’t afford to have one taken. Single parents, underprivileged families, families affected by illness, army veterans, or just a neighbor. Go to http://help-portrait.com/ to learn more.

According to their website “Outside the Lens™ (OTL) is a San Diego-based youth media literacy program dedicated to celebrating the vision and voices of children around the world and across cultures. Students (K-12) tell their unique personal stories using photography, writing and other digital media forms while under the guidance of writers, poets, journalists, photographers, filmmakers, artists, and teachers.” I like this concept a lot. The idea of giving a young person a camera should help us see the world in a new perspective. Right now they are participating in a global photography project called Water in Focus which documents the use, waste, conservation and pollution of the world’s water supply. If you are interested in learning more about Outside the Lens visit them at http://www.outsidethelens.org/.

Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep is an organization that has really captured my attention for personal reasons. The mandate of NILMDTS is to help parents recover from the loss of a baby. This might seem like a morbid type of charity but for parents going through a very difficult situation it might be an important part of the healing process. For parents of stillborn babies, and babies that die shortly after birth a photograph might be the only thing they bring home from the hospital. Right now they have over 12000 volunteers in 40 different countries.

Photo Philanthropy is an organization that is all about social change. They connect photographers with non-profit organizations around the world. Projects may include environmental causes, social and economic situations in places like third world countries, or education on a variety of topics. If you are thinking about donating your talents to a cause this might be a good place to start.  You can connect with them at http://photophilanthropy.org/.

If you are interested in learning about more organizations to partner with you may want to look at the website http://shuttermission.org/ or do your own search on philanthropy and photography.

“From what we get, we can make a living;
what we give, however, makes a life.” –
Arthur Ashe

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Worship the Creator While Caring for Creation

It was just a little over a month ago that we celebrated Earth Day but it was in the spring of 1970, that U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson originally had his idea. His plan was for all of us to take one day a year to think about our actions and the influence they are having on the planet. As the father of a daughter with asthma, there is rarely a day I don’t think about my actions, efforts, and sometimes lack of, to make a difference. Long before Senator Nelson, I believe there were many others who were passionate about the environment and all of creation. In Genesis 1:26 God says;
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”


Great Blue Heron – Quispamsis, New Brunswick

Adam and Eve were the original caretakers of the Earth. It was what God had intended. Unfortunately, too many of us have lost sight of this or misinterpreted what it means to rule over the Earth.  It’s not about taking whatever we can because we have the right to do it. We all look to those who lead our countries or cities for many things. In choosing a leader or ruler we look for someone who is wise, just, and will protect us in our time of need. Too many of us have forgotten that as the “rulers of the Earth” we are supposed to be the keeper of the planet as God had intended.

King David mentions his appreciation for God’s creation dozens of times in the book of Psalms. All of creation was his inspiration; the moon, stars, mountains and rivers inspired and created a sense of awe in David’s mind and heart. In Psalm 115 he reminds us that we are take care of the Earth. Was this another reason that David was known as the man after God’s own heart?

Red Rock Canyon – Nevada

I also believe Jesus was concerned about the environment because he saw it in a larger picture. I know there are some who will think I’m taking this too far but I truly believe this. I don’t really like the term environmentalist because it has the connotation that it is only about animals, trees and the air. But really when it comes right down to it, it is about people. Trees are cut or burned in the third world because people need to farm so they can eat. Our oceans are over-fished because people need to eat.  Factories pollute because of our desire (mine included) for more and more stuff. Jesus was compassionate and he cared for people. Whether they were sick, blind, or hungry, Jesus showed his compassion. (See Matthew 9:35-36.) It was always about people.

I read an interesting story online recently in a magazine called Relevant. In this article the writer Aly Lewis talks about an organization called Plant With Purpose which was started to help fight extreme poverty by planting trees. It is such a simple idea. With a little education, and a few trees, this organization is looking to make the difference in the lives of those who struggling with the environmental crisis the most.

My Back Yard (double exposure) – Kingston New Brunswick

As Christians, I don’t believe one day a year is enough to be conscious about the decisions that we make.  It has to be a lifestyle, everyday. Just like Jesus was concerned about people, we need to do the same. The decisions we make daily, not only concern us but they can also have consequence for others. Every decision that I make, both good and bad, reflects how I feel about my relationship with others and God. If I truly believe that God is the Creator and I want to worship Him, then I should worship in all aspects of my life and not just when the music is playing on Sunday morning.

Passion With Purpose

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well. – Martin Luther King Jr.

I’m sitting in the Dulles Airport in Washington DC waiting for my flight home after taking part in a course in Virginia.  I’ve had a few moments to reflect on the time that I’ve spent here.  I arrived last Monday and fortunately I had time to take in some of the sights with some friends.    When asked where we wanted to go by our tour guide I immediately requested to stop and see the Lincoln Memorial.   Our drivers suggested since we were in the area that we might also be interested in the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.  I had no idea that a memorial even existed, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to visit.

Martin Luther King Jr. is someone that I have admired for quite some time.  His biography April 4th 1968 is a powerful book that shares so much insight into his life and purpose.  Those who follow me on Twitter will notice that I often quote him.  I find his words to be so full of wisdom and give me so much to contemplate about life.   He makes me think about my own life and my purpose.

His memorial is so surreal.  You enter the site and cross through a large opening in a boulder.  The piece that has been cut out is the stone that Martin Luther King Jr. has been carved into.   Surrounding the memorial is a granite wall with several of King’s most famous speeches.  You can’t help but stand there and be in awe.

I assume that all of us at one point in our lives have someone that we look up to.  I’ve had several mentors in many areas of my life.  Some have been close personal friends and almost parent-like to me.  Others I haven’t even met.  Martin Luther King Jr. is one of those people who I look up to but have never met.  Unfortunately he died before I was even born.

If you are ever in Washington DC, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial is a must see.  The experience is not about the photographic opportunities. No photograph could do it justice.  It is solely about the experience of being as close as we’ll ever get to such a great individual; someone who changed the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a special man.  I can only hope that my passion allows me to accomplish a fraction of what he has done.

Perspective is everything

Everyone sees drama from his own perspective.
Jean-Marie Le Pen

Photography is all about perspective.  When a photographer creates an image they are saying “This is what I saw, and this is my perspective of what occurred”.  As a photographer I’m biased.  The images I create are telling a story, but from a one person point of view, mine.

Split Rock and Fog

When I’m out looking at a scene, very rarely do I take only one shot, unless it involves wildlife or an event that happens quickly.  I move around and look at different angles, sometimes farther back and sometimes it is higher or lower.  Quite often, I will use a different lens to change the way the finished image looks.   Usually, I have an idea in my mind of how I want the final photograph to look. Sometimes I don’t, so I just keep shooting until I feel like I’ve captured every possible angle.

Sunrise on Split Rock

There are very few places around the world that haven’t been photographed.  As I’ve studied photography as an art, I’m so amazed how the same location and same subject can be photographed in two different ways.  Two of my favorite photographers Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell have both photographed Yosemite’s El Capitan, yet they create such different images.

Split Rock Low Tide

I’ve shared that my favorite place along the Bay of Fundy to take photographs is a place called Split Rock.   Low tide, high tide, fog or sunny there are so many different images to capture. There are countless perspectives to help capture a powerful image. I embrace every opportunity to visit this absolutely amazing area.  Each time I go to this local paradise I look forward to creating a new image that I haven’t captured before.

A change in perspective can help us all; whether we are photographers or not.

Shine

Without light photography would be a lot less exciting, and as
photographers we depend on it. Sometimes there is too much light, other
times there is not enough.  Without it we have no image. Light can expose
the good and it can expose the bad.  Sounds a little like life.

When creating an image I find myself torn at times.  I’d like to think that
most of the time I’m creating a piece of art that will move or inspires the
viewer.  I have to admit it though, far too often I more concerned with how
the photograph will make me look.   Is the composition OK, do I have the
proper exposure, or what kind of a compliment will it generate?

There are also times that I lack inspiration (like in the winter).  The
possibilities are endless but being so familiar with the place I live there
are times I don’t as they say “see the forest for the trees”.   Maybe it’s
not even inspiration as much as it is imagination.   There are times it is
just easier to take a picture of something just for the sake of saying I
did.

I’m not sure who this is for or if it is even for anyone but me.  I’ve had
a rough week, and I have had some failures to endure; some photographically
for clients, some personally and some spiritually.   It’s all been a
journey and a learning experience.  Not pleasant experiences but they have
taught me so much.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Life is a journey and it is the light that
helps us to see the good and bad.  The mistakes we make are a path to
learning.   As a photographer I still have a lot to learn and I think most
of us, regardless of what we are seeking to do, could all likely say the
same thing.

Don’t let where you are determine where you want to be.

Friar’s Head, Campobello Island, New Brunswick

What Will Your Resolution Be?

Been down so long that is seems like up,
I took it now I’ve had enough
Of the life that I’ve been livin’
It feels so cold this far away
So Today I will make a change
I will make a change today
Purge my mind of mud and mire
Cast all my gods away
I am brand new today, I make my resolution

– OC Supertones

Like most people who make New Year’s resolutions, I usually fail to keep them the whole year.  I think there is  part of me that struggles with the idea of an annual commitment when I know that most of us are not likely to succeed in keeping them.  To be honest, I don’t really like the concept of a New Year’s resolution. Why do we wait for one day of the year to commit to doing something to improve our lives or the lives of others?  How much better would the world be if we treated everyday like New Year’s Day?

Now to some the idea of a new resolution everyday may seem flawed.  What is the point of only keeping a resolution one day?  Does it become obsolete the following day when we make a new one?  Can I have the same resolution 2 days in a row?  Is it possible to work on more than one resolution at once?  Wow, this is complicated… or is it?  What if we all decided each day to do something out of the ordinary? Buy a co-worker lunch, send a handwritten note of thanks, send home flowers for no reason, or maybe do something nice for a friend anonymously.

Do something for somebody everyday for which you do not get paid.    Author: Albert Schweitzer

What would happen if a group of people came together to work on a collective resolution?  What could a church, small group, community or a whole city accomplish? How much easier would it be to keep our resolution if we had someone to walk beside us and encourage us and we encourage them in return?

So what is my challenge?  There are many personal goals that are worthwhile and worthy of me pursuing.  For some people it is to quit smoking, eat healthier, or exercise more.  These are all important and I would encourage everyone to look at any lifestyle changes that are going to improve your health.  However, there is a longing inside of me to do something that is external and would mean more to those around me, maybe even in my own home.  This is the year that I hopefully take that giant step and move outside my comfort zone and follow through on my own resolution.

It's a New Day - Dear Island, NB

Like taking a photograph to help us remember a special moment or place, a resolution can be a way to help us remember to make the world better than we found it.


Back to School

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.
John Wooden

I had an opportunity to go back to school this week, not as a student but as the teacher.  I forgot what it was like to walk into a strange school for the first time and have no idea where I was going and not know a single person.  It was déjà vu of school for me except I wasn’t the short freckle faced kid; I was the old guy with a goatee and the furniture seemed a bit smaller than I remember.

I was asked by a friend if I would like to talk to a middle school group of students that get together every week for a club they call Solid Rock. They came to hear me speak about being a Christian, a photographer and as someone who is concerned about environmental issues and how they all tie together for me.  I’ll admit, even though the audience was young and likely had little to no expectations, I was still nervous.  As the father of three, including a middle school boy, I should be able to relate but I spent most of the week before struggling to prepare and wondering what my message should be.

I came to the conclusion that I would just share how I arrived at the point in my life when I decided I wanted to campaign for environmental issues.  I don’t think of myself as an environmentalist.  I think of it as a natural fit as a Christian and how I want to be a good steward of what God created for us.  It is as old as Genesis.  It has also become personal as the father of an asthmatic. I have watched many days and nights as she has struggled not being able to breathe, sometimes even requiring emergency room care.

As it turns out they were all great kids and I was the one who learned something that day.  They were so full of ideas and enthusiastic about the opportunity they had to make a difference.  They talked as a group about cleaning up garbage around their school, doing more recycling, and other changes they could make in their school and neighborhood.  They accomplished more in 45 minutes as 11-13 year olds than some meetings I have been in with adults for several hours.   We all need to be more child-like and just do something.

I read an article recently by Tony Dungy titled “Where Have All the Role Models Gone” in which he shares some insights into the lives of pro athletes and how our youth look up to them only to be let down quite often.  I’ve been there many times myself as a fan of sports.  I don’t usually think of myself as a role model but that day in the classroom the kids seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say.  The defining moment for me was when a young girl named Shannon came to me after the presentation and asked me for my autograph. I obliged and initially laughed it off with a bit of silly humor but after leaving and replaying the day in my head my feelings towards the conversation with Shannon changed. It made me realize the influence we have as adults on our youth with the words we speak and the way we act.  It was at this moment I realized we as adults are all role models whether or not we want to. We just need to decide what kind of a role model we are going to be.

Do you know who is watching you?

Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Be willing to be uncomfortable. Be comfortable being uncomfortable. It may get tough, but it’s a small price to pay for living a dream.  –  Peter McWilliams

Several years ago I had the privilege of attending a two day personal development session on leadership.  The goals were simple; to help expand upon our strengths and to assist us with recognizing our weaknesses. One of the facilitators assisting with the training was a lady named Debbie.   Debbie shared some of the greatest wisdom I heard during those two days, and left me with a statement that has become a constant reminder for me when I face different challenges in my life.  Debbie’s insight was what she called her “Top Ten Lessons of Leadership”.  It was her second point “Be comfortable being uncomfortable” that impacted me the most and changed the way I deal with difficult circumstances.

Sometimes looking up is the only thing you can do

By nature I’m not one to embrace change or deal well with uncomfortable situations. While growing up and right into my 20’s there were definitely moments of terror and anxiety when faced with situations that took me out of my comfort zone.  For many years the fear was overwhelming especially when faced with crowds or in a situation where I was required to speak publicly.  I struggled many days with; “What if this happens”, “What if I’m not good enough” or “What will people think”.  Debbie’s speech was the pinnacle of a turning point in my life. Along with the support of a great family, wonderful friends and a lot of prayer, I reached the point of finally being able to say that I’m comfortable being uncomfortable.  Do I enjoy it? No, but I’m finding it much easier.

Well, here I am several years later sharing some of my innermost thoughts and experiences along with my artistic expression, my photography.   Why now? I’m not sure.  It might be for someone who reads this or possibly just for me.  Photography helped me escape from those “dark times”.  Getting away from pressures of life and into nature was my outlet at that moment.  Now I can look back and see that it was also teaching me that there was so much more to life than what I was dealing with.  Life became a lot bigger than just the here and now.   Photography also gave me something to get excited about and it was only for me.  If I wanted to share an image I could but if I failed no one had to know.  Prior to switching from film to digital there was also a period of anticipation waiting for the film or slide processing. That time in between allowed me to reflect on the moment I had captured and it taught me that the end result wasn’t the only goal but also what I had experienced or learned along the way.

Sometimes going with the flow is easier than fighting the tide

Do I worry about what people think? Of course; I think that it is human nature and most people do.  Artistic expression is very subjective and I feel like I still have so much to learn about photography but more than that, the questions I struggle the most with are “What is my purpose?” and “Why do I want to continue with photography?”,  “Who is my audience?” and “What is my message?”. Sometimes it is clear but quite often it is not.   Even though there are moments of insecurity with my photography there are also times of satisfaction.  On occasions it has been a satisfied client who received work that would build my confidence and other times it is self-satisfied, not in a arrogant way, but in a moment of thinking to myself I finally achieved what I envisioned before I began to create an image.  Sometimes just being there in a moment to see something amazing is also enough to make me continue.

Now as I approach middle age I realize more and more that being uncomfortable at different times in our life is normal.  I have been uncomfortable because I have done nothing and I have been uncomfortable because I have done something but in the end not really sure if I’ve done it well.   The conclusion that I’ve come to is that if I’m going to be uncomfortable it should be for doing something rather than nothing.  I’d rather fail at doing something than succeed at doing nothing.

What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail? – Robert H. Schuller