If you had minutes to flee a disaster and could take only one item, what would you choose? Most people name a possession that can be impossible to replace: their photos. Photographer Allison Kwesell traveled to Japan last November, armed with two cameras and donated Fuji instant film. Her goal: to help survivors of the earthquake and 20-foot tsunami build new photo albums by asking survivors if they’d like to pose and then giving them the instant prints. In an interview with The Rotarian, Allison recalls photographing a woman with her grandchildren in front of their temporary home. “She told me she was happy I chose to photograph her there, because it gave her the courage to move forward.”
Now hold those thoughts as you fly from Japan, across the Pacific Ocean, to Kodiak Island where I live. I’m in a grocery store, high-grading bananas, when a fellow shopper starts chatting about digital photography. “So, why do you take pictures, Marion? Are you going to sell them or something?”
I stared at the bananas. Why do photographers take photos? Why do artists dab paint, write poems or knit hats? Is it to say something, call attention to ourselves, or prompt others to take the road less traveled? Of course, only you can answer why, but reading about Allison’s work gave me pause to dig deeper.
Later that day, while sampling an apple muffin, I pondered “photography” which, to me, is all about looking for great light and then finding something to put into it. So why do I take pictures? Two thoughts came to mind:
Thought No. 1: Practicing my art gives me an excuse to enjoy nature more intimately. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods calls it Nature Therapy. Meanwhile, it forces me to slow down (even the finest tea spills out of a jostled cup) and concentrate (“What’s for dinner”? has no place behind the tripod). Grace and guidance flows continuously within and without us, whether or not we’re conscious of it. Sometimes it manages to filter through in quiet prods like, “Look over there, drive down that road, tilt your camera down a bit.”
And many times, nudging me like a bird tapping my shoulder, is a comment from Galen Rowell’s provocative book, Mountain Light:
“One of the shocking realizations of adult life is that most of us are not fulfilling the most closely held dreams of our youth. Instead of pursuing dreams that were once integral parts of our personalities, we end up in one way or another fulfilling someone else’s ideas about who and what we should be, usually at the expense of our creative urges.”
Still with me? Here’s the kicker. Read this slowly. More than once:
Thought No. 2: All true religions tell us we are made in the image of God. Therefore, God is the very Essence of our being and “we cannot truly express ourselves until we learn to manifest His presence within us,” wrote Paramahansa Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi.
When I hear Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, my heart swells with hope. When I read about people like Allison Kwesell, I am inspired to create less from my head and more from my heart. Thanks, Allison.