Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Lighter Load - Looking Back


Without a doubt, the most significant thing that has influenced me was my father's death.  I was eighteen at the time and he was a force, not a big man but a very solid guy.  He was a good man, a musician, he  never drank to excess.  He was predictable, had a sense of humour, and a strong sense of right and wrong.  He was an only child and wanted a big family but I think he was overwhelmed with the life that he chose.   We were six kids and pretty average for the time, three girls and three boys.  I was the eldest.

When he died our lives came crashing down.  The family crumbled and I was struck by the fragility of our existence.  People told me that I shouldn't try to step into his shoes but then they seemed to disappear.   I felt alone and, in very short order, a failure.

I was fired from my first job for going home when I should have been working.   The fact was that my mother was in a very fragile state and needed me so that I was torn between the job I loved and the woman who meant so much to me.   It was a terrible blow.

I discovered photography shortly after his death.  The phone rang one day and it was  Bob Goodall of Goodall Photo asking when my dad was going to come in to pick up his camera.  It was like a message telling me what to do.  I went to the shop, where Bob refused to charge me and gave me two rolls of Tri X.

It was February in Winnipeg, minus 20 and I went out to do some pictures.  I took them back to Goodall and got my prints the next day.  (I wish I still had those prints.)   Anyway, I loved them and felt that I had found my calling so I called my girlfriend of the time and told her I was coming over to do her portrait.   Unfortunately, the pictures we did were terrible and we broke up in short order.  I decided that once again I was given proof of my lack of talent and stopped taking pictures for the next six years.

Later on, I came back to it and have been devoted to it ever since.

Fast forward 40 years and I along with many others have an inventory problem.   I've gone through my prints, negatives and transparencies so many times, trying to sort the good from the bad, which is not too hard.   But the real challenge is the emotional attachment.   I have photographed my life, from 1974 to the present.   I have done many, many projects and pursued many interests over that time.  I have been through several relationships and still love each person who has shared a bit of their life with me.   My photographs aren't just an attempt at artistic expression, they are a record of a life that is unique.

Reviewing photos from the last four decades is quite overwhelming.   My dreams, the people I loved, the experiences I had and the places I've been are all recorded on film.   My innocence, my naiveté, reveal themselves in unexpected ways sometimes jabbing me in the heart or the belly.

In retrospect, I wish I had trusted myself more, believed in myself and my ability to learn.   My father's death introduced me to worry and I held on like a life raft in the ocean.   I seldom felt comfortable.  I felt like a fraud.

Over the years,  I have learned to trust my feelings and to share them when appropriate.   I have embraced each day, often in frustration at being part of the machine, trying to balance my priorities with my responsibilities.

I have sought help when I could and suffered when I couldn't.  In many ways I am rich and in others I am poor.  I live in paradise but I'm uneasy.   Most of the time, I feel like I am floating on a log, trying to keep my balance. And you know, I really don't think I am that unusual.  In our industrialized society, meritocracy is a sham.   I was faced with being a player or living a life.   I chose the latter.

My pictures are precious to me because they allow me to revisit the life that I have lived, to see myself with the compassion of an aging soul.   I realize that digital is the way now but I hold my prints, my negatives and my slides dear.   I have always written but unfortunately, I have torn, burned and thrown away most of my notebooks.

At 67 I am grateful to still be alive.  Many of my friends are gone, but they live with me still as pictures, slices from time.   I wonder what will become of them when I am gone.   I suppose the best place to store them is on the Internet as it is the only thing that I am sure will survive me.   But context is everything so I must write and continue to try to express the things I have learned, dreamed and experienced for anyone who might come after.

My hope is that we don't destroy the planet.  We seem bent on doing so at this point but I still have hope and faith that the generations to follow will cherish and guard this, our paradise, floating in space.

As we move to the post industrial age, I am reminded of a film which seemed prescient of our future.  Frankly, I hope not.   It is called "Silent Running" and should be on the list of required films for every human.  

The Oligarchy that is our world now, is based on the cold ruthlessness of wealth and power.   We have been sold a belief that consumption leads to happiness.   It does not.  Being in the moment, being the best that we can be, loving ourselves and our fellow creatures, developing compassion and generosity, these are the true paths to happiness.   The most joyful moments of my life all contain these truths and I offer them to you as the only real gift I have to offer.   Be well, dear reader, live your love and celebrate each day for it is a priceless gift.

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