This past year I’ve begun following photographer David duChemin. He is a wonderful photographer and I love his images, his approach. But I have been stunned at how his words about photography sound at times like Orthodox Christian Monastic and Patristic writings.
I find his approach to photography to resonate very strongly with my own. I hope you enjoy his words and images. (Emphasis added…)
Excerpts from Vision is Better
Remember when every frame was golden and filled with wonder? Remember being so in love with the strange, beautiful alchemy of this craft that we weren’t looking for atta-boys or Facebook likes? When our joy came from the creation, not the feedback? Remember how that joy led to curious, creative play, and the way the hours would pass while we were on our knees with a camera in the grass, or watching images come alive in the darkroom? Remember when the name on our gear didn’t matter because it was just all so mind-blowingly magical and we didn’t care what others thought about us? I do…
Learning to be a photographer is learning to see. It’s about receptivity. Perception. An openness to the world around us. Wonder. Curiosity. And yes, the growing ability to wield these clumsy black boxes to turn the light into an image.
My biggest obstacle these days is not my lack of craft, or the need for better gear. It’s the noise from without and the noise from within. It’s distraction. It’s ego. Authenticity struggles and dies kicking for breath when we choke it by listening more to the voices of others than to our muse, our own imagination and voice.
Learning to use a camera is easy compared to learning to be human.
[St. Ignatius of Antioch would have liked the above quote! – RS]
Whatever your dream is, find a way to make it happen. Your kids can come with you. Your job can wait. You can find someone to feed the cat. I know, I know, there are so many reasons we can’t and some of those reasons are valid. Life is not only short, it is also sometimes profoundly hard. But I think sometimes our reasons are in fact only excuses. If that’s the case, take stock. I talk a lot about living the dream, and I’m an idealist, I know it. But it’s not self-help, positive thinking, wish- upon-a-star. It’s the realization that life is short and no one is going to live my life on my behalf. And one day soon—because it’ll seem that way, I know it—my candle will burn out; I want it to burn hot and bright while it’s still lit. I want it to light fires and set others ablaze.
[Here duChemin uses words strongly reminiscent of Orthodox theology. We see a sense of calling, the remembrance of death, and a phrase which reminds us of the Road to Emmaus. For an Orthodox Christian, this is powerful writing! – RS]
…Failure teaches me better lessons than mediocrity ever could, and it makes me a different person, a stronger person, a person who one day takes flight instead of stumbling…
I don’t know how to put it into words. Each time I try I feel like I’m flailing. But I feel like I need to try, at least once more, to remind myself and anyone that’ll listen, that we are the artists of our own lives and like any art, it is messy and full of questions and uncertainty, but it is an act of intentionality. Who we are, what we do, who we become, is our art. Sure, it can be accidental, the life that looks like an absent-minded doodle, the life that became what it was while the artist, pen in hand, was busy talking on the phone. That’s one choice, or it’s a refusal to choose. Hell, maybe we never knew we had a choice. But it can also be intentional. A fiery act of passionate brush strokes made in wild reds and yellows across the canvas. We have no idea how large that canvas is, we could reach its edges before we ever imagined, but those colours are no less intense for being on a smaller canvas. And when the paint goes awry, we scrape it off and do it again. Or we leave it and let it slide over the edges, more beautiful for its passion and imperfection.
But God help us, born to this canvas and paint, if we do nothing with it, sign our name on its empty off-white surface and hang it on the wall, after a long succession of lookalike days leads us to our graves, content merely not to have made a mess of the canvas. Who will gaze on that unmarked rectangle on the wall, next to the million others, all of them differentiated only by the names scribbled in the corners, and do anything but sigh? Perfectly safe. Tragically wasted.
Like everyone, I am afraid, and probably afraid of so many of the same things. We share the same night terrors, you and I; I’m sure of it. But if fear is an artist then I’ll learn from it, and when it whispers, I’ll lean in and whisper back a reminder. I won’t be stopped by fear of things tangible, real, and undeniable, but trivial next to the fear of going to my grave safe, my canvas unmarked.
[The disciples were gripped with fear during the storm when Jesus came walking to them on the waves. But Peter had a powerful moment of utterly total faith and asked Jesus to bid him to come to him on the water, and Jesus did. But after a few steps, Peter saw the waves and the fear returned, and he began to sink. When Jesus reached out to save him, He said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt.” The Greek word for doubt means to waver, to be double minded. There is something fearful about the Thebaid Project, stepping out in faith when I as yet do not have the full funding required to complete the project. But Jesus’ call is clear. He longs for us to come to Him on the waters. In spite of the fear, to be single-minded in trusting and looking to Him. – RS]
Fill your canvas. Let us hear your voice. Whatever the colour on your palette, however misshapen your stretcher bars. Fill it. If it’s been so long since you’ve used your brushes that the bristles are hard and paralyzed then throw them away and paint with your hands. But paint unhindered by your fear and when its voice gets loud again, lean in, and paint harder.
If these thoughts on what photography is about, and what the Thebaid Project is about, inspire or stir you, please consider supporting the Project with a financial contribution. Thank you!