The innocent love of creating

I’ve been struggling since I decided to re-start my visual exploration. It is the same struggle I felt when I started in college, the same one that made me quit 15 years ago. I come from a working class family. We work for a living. Everything has a purpose and that purpose is focused on making a living. It’s a cycle that I can’t seem to break free of.

I fell in love with photography as a Boy Scout working on my Photography merit badge. I still remember standing in that darkroom and watching an image appear on the blank sheet of paper. It was magic – a magic that I could do. And that sense of wonder never went away. I lived for the moment when I put the exposed paper into the developer and watched an image appear. Every one of the thousands of times I did that I loved it. I miss that moment now, but there are other moments that the digital world provides that are almost as powerful.

I love exploring and finding that hidden image. Just walking around, camera in hand, looking, seeking and eventually finding. Or that image that I grabbed as I was walking by. I wasn’t really looking, but I had a camera in my hand I saw something significant, I grabbed it and moved on. Seldom do I realized at that moment that what I caught was great, but later, when I’m going through my shots and I see it – wow, I love that moment.

I love the moment of my life that I can capture and hang on a wall. Not just the picture – but the memory of that moment. It is there forever. The smells, the sounds, my feelings. I remember that moment more clearly than any other moment in my life.

And I hope my work has some of the same impact on others. I can’t speak for them, but I hope it does. I’ve won a few awards and enough comments that I believe it does.

But I keep getting caught up in the why. The how will I make a living at this. I need to pay for it – I need it to have a purpose that relates to the material needs of  life. Yeah, I read the quotes of how art lifts and inspires. How it is what pulls us up out of our earth-bound realm and allows us to see greater possibilities. And I believe them. But I have a hard time maintaining that for the long term.

It’s like when I’m involved in something spiritual, when my mind and heart are touched by that greater realm and I’m filled with that peace and joy and hope. Then I walk into my door, eager to share it. Then reality smacks me in the face. My kids are yelling, the dog is barking, I fall over something left on the floor and it’s gone. And there’s just a big hole where a moment before there was an all encompassing light and I feel worse for the loss.

I keep losing the true why to the noise of the earthly material why. At heart I’m overtly practical and art isn’t practical. It rises above practical and I find myself trying to make it practical. And every time I fall into that pit I don’t like it anymore.

Here are a couple of quotes from photographer Paul Caponigro, son of John Paul Caponigro. I’ve been spending a lot of time on John Paul Caponigro’s site because I’m impressed by his grasp of art, his approach to it, his peace with it. Something I seek but am having a hard time finding. These quotes talk about maintaining that innocence, about ‘Not Doing’ so you can step away from the process and be free to create. It really hit home with what I’ve been struggling with.

The full conversation was first published in the May/June, 1995 issue of View Camera magazine: www.viewcamera.com

Castaneda and Don Juan have a perfectly wonderful dialog together on the business of ‘not doing’ as opposed to ‘doing.’ Don Juan tells Castaneda that he must learn to ‘not do.’ Castaneda says, how do I not do? Life is doing. Yes, that’s precisely the problem. Everything that you do is based on something you already know. It has already been handed to you. Everybody is doing according to a formula and that’s what keeps it all in place. This is all too obvious. Not doing means that you’re aware that that process exists and you step away from it in order to see clearly. The ability to be free, from that process, even though you are a part of it, enables you to ‘see.’ Then it’s not difficult at all. Then the essence becomes available.

Photography attracted me before I ever knew that it was a part of a structured world. I saw a camera which my grandmother wielded. I thought it was fascinating. I didn’t know about famous artists and museums and magazines. I innocently met that process. And I excitedly engaged it to the best of my ability. Later, because my excitement was so strong, I realized that this could be a medium through which I could work. Then I had to meet the whole world of photography; manufacturers, materials, hype, galleries, dealers, critics, etc. Somehow I did not lose sight of that initial innocence. I realized that unless I could stay free, unidentified, unless I could keep my personality from going crazy with the adulation or the lack of it I was not going to maintain that innocence. I realized that the innocence was the important state that called forth the inspiration into the process.

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