It is said that in abundance we can get lazy but scarcity breeds innovation. This might well be true. I was happy photographing anything that came at me back in the U.S. and in a short period had a promising business under my belt. I focused on weddings in part because they are varied and exciting, as well as being pretty demanding – which I welcome. I had great plans, schemed big ideas and began to lay a wide net to catch as much business as I could. I wouldn’t say that I was becoming lazy – far from it – but I certainly sought abundance.
Just as things were taking off, my wife got a job here in India. It was a great opportunity for her to employ her considerable ability to some big issues. It has proven so far to be the right decision. Of course, it severed my business mid-flow long before we even arrived here and I have to admit that I have struggled to know how to take my photography forward. Were do I go from here? How can the business re-start once I get a work visa? Weddings and events in the U.S. self-defined me as a photographer and this mask, this identity, was just assumed and never questioned. Once settled here in India I quickly realised that I had never stopped to think deeply about my work, and what it means to me to be a photographer. I just set about growing the business in a way that would ultimately make me as much money as possible. Who am I as a photographer? What is the point of my business? I did not ask these questions of myself until quite recently.
I’ve had some time to reflect and figure out the type of work I wish I was out there doing right now, to think about what I really want to do with the camera. Weddings may be creatively and technically ablaze with photographic challenges, and they are fun; I want to continue shooting weddings, but perhaps in a more focused and selective manner. My past, though, is rooted not in the commercial world but in the public sector , especially education; I’ll continue to teach my classes, workshops and offer my photo-walks and seminars to bring the joy of photography to others. Most recently and for the longest period of time, I have worked with schools that work on the margins of cities to catch those who would fall through the gaps. Improving communities one person, one child, one house, one small group at a time. I asked myself, why am I not bringing my camera to this?
So I did, and here I am, in Delhi, suddenly happy that I cannot work, freed from the daily planning of elaborate marketing plans – which will return but now I understand, for a different cause – and able to volunteer my camera to help change the lives of people. However small my impact, I want my lens to have one. The classical music maestro, Gustavo Dudamel said recently in an interview with The Economist Intelligent Life magazine, that he believed that art can transform lives. I agree. Many things can transform lives and they all begin with making what you do, what you love, accessable and helpful to others. With this in mind I joined the American Welfare Association and their Outreach Committee.
My first meeting with the group was inspiring to say the least, and I was excited to go out with them on a site visit. Nervous too. We visited Nia Disha, a learning centre that helps kids who have fallen out of school. They feed them (perhaps their only meal of the day), tutor them, get them back up to grade level, inspire them to want to stay on in school and to value education, and then place them back into the city school system. This last point is of course a bittersweet moment, and often the kids return of their own accord to have extra lessons – which in itself is another sign of the school’s success. Changing the community through education is one of the most far reaching, sustainable and impactive ways of improving the world. I’ve seen it work in three countries now.
This post has been too long. But it is the first post proper of my own nia disha, of taking my camera and ultimately my business in this new direction. Innovating in my own scarcity, inspired by those who achieve so much with theirs.
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