Tag Archives: MKF10

Natures bow

View of the pacific ocean and sea cliffs on the north shore of the island of Molokai from the Mo'omomi Nature Preserve.
View of the pacific ocean and sea cliffs on the north shore of the island of Molokai from the Mo'omomi Nature Preserve.

On a recent trip to Beijing, China I met a fabulous violinist named Lin.  As a violin player myself there was an instant connection and through the course of the evening I got to hear Lin’s story.  Lin, had always wanted to play the violin, but came of age during the cultural revolution when the Chinese government was destroying every western instrument in sight.  Rather than giving up his dream to play, shortly after the cultural revolution ended, Lin was able to get his hands on an instrument.  Even though he was well into adulthood at this point in his life, and did not have anyone to formally teach him, Lin dove in with both feet.  Practicing for hours every day, Lin taught himself to read music and play by listening to the recordings of other musicians.  With many years of formal lessons behind me, I can tell you this is an extraordinarily impressive feat.  Lin did all this while simultaneously starting a company and becoming a successful businessman in Beijing.  Listening to Lin play, I could close my eyes and easily imagine myself listening to a violin soloist practicing for a concert at the Lincoln Center.  In fact Lin’s skills have progressed to the point that one of the most famous luthiers in Beijing now gives him violins to play – both to get a sense of how much they are worth, as well as to give him a chance to break in the instruments.

Walking across the wild landscape of Mo’omomi Nature Preserve at dawn on the island of Molokai with giant untamed ocean waves pounding their bass drums on the shore, I wonder at the similarities between Lin playing the luthiers violins; and God, nature, the universe – whatever you want to call it – playing the scene before me.  Violins are endowed by the hand of the luthier with a voice at their creation, just as my eyes are have been endowed with their own perspective on the world. The violins voice develops and sweetens over time and practice until the gentlest brush stroke of bow on string brings forth notes of graceful music, just as my eyes become more adept at resonating to the brush stroke of natures brilliant music.  The violin cannot accomplish this without the violinist, just as my eyes cannot see the beauty before me without the hand of nature pulling its bow across my soul to resonate ever more sweetly in its presence.  The hands of the master reach for the Stradivarius.  One day may my eyes be that instrument.

Photoshop for the Soul

Sunrise at Mo'omomi, Molokai, Hawaii.
Sunrise at Mo'omomi, Molokai, Hawaii.

I’m sitting in front of my laptop computer as is often the case after a photo shoot trying to sort the keepers from the flops.  I’m so tired from rising up before the sun to bump down a red dirt road in order to be in the place of maximum potential this morning that its hard to keep my eyes from closing into a peaceful sleep.  Despite the excitement of wanting to see my images scroll by in the filmstrip at the bottom of the computer, my eyes grow heavy.  Then – an image catches my eye.  Its not dynamite, but it has potential.  It is a wide angle view of one of the wildest spots on the island of Molokai, the Mo’omomi nature preserve.  The shot tells the story of the untamed coast line, it has good light, interesting clouds, and a foreground.  All the right elements for a wide angle shot – but somehow the image falls flat.  There is no drama due to the digital photographers curse of RAW files, like day old beer, being a tad bit on the flat side.  No problem I think to myself as my fingers begin gliding down the controls available to ‘fix’ the image in Photoshop.  Moments later after a few clicks and slides the image finds its voice. I mark it with two stars as a keeper and triumphantly continue my edit.

Scrolling through the next batch of images, I think to myself, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Photoshop for the soul?’  Wouldn’t it be nice if, just as we fix images on our computer hard drives, there was a way to ‘fix‘ the traumas in the hard drives of our brains.  Well – according to professor of psychology Jonathan Haidt – there may be a photoshop for the soul – and its called writing.  In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, Haidt sites research contending that people who write about difficult events in their lives, and as a result of the process of writing about this event gain increased insight, show a dramatic improvement in physical health over the next year. To paraphrase the book, he suggests that one writes continuously for fifteen minutes a day, for several days without editing or censoring ones self; and without worrying about grammar or sentence structure;…the crucial thing is to get ones thoughts and feelings out without imposing any order on therm – but in such a way that, after a few days, some order is likely to emerge on its own.  Before one concludes… one needs to be sure to answer the following two questions: Why did this happen? and What good might I derive from it?

In 2005, after being diagnosed with and then cured of pancreatic cancer, Apple computer’s Steve Jobs shared the following thoughts at a graduation ceremony:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.  You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.  Believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path, and that will make all the difference.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backward!  AND THAT WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.  There is photoshop for our souls – and its called connecting the dots with words!

As these insights come to me, another image from the filmstrip catches my eye.  Like the last one, it only needs a few adjustments in photoshop to start to sing.  I pray my life only needs the small slide of the clarity tool to do the same.

Life without filters

Waves, Papohaku beach, Molokai Hawaii.
Waves, Papohaku beach, Molokai Hawaii.
Dewitt Jones photographing waves, Papohaku beach, Molokai Hawaii.
Dewitt Jones photographing waves, Papohaku beach, Molokai Hawaii.

The following is a quote from a great photographer and friend, Aaron Raymond:

Reality is personal, subjective, and fluid.  It changes, as memory changes, with time and experience.  Our perception of events and even our interpretation of color are altered by our environment and factors as arbitrary as our mood.  The sensory data from which one’s personal reality is created is extremely limited and unreliable.  We can see only a narrow band of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Worse, we are limited to only a single point of view.  Even compared to senses found in the rest of the animal kingdom, ours are pathetic, limited, and incomplete…

Reality is a fluid thing.  When I see and photograph an event, I may not see things that the camera does.  From that point on, the event exists only in my memory and in the photograph.  If they differ, our instinct is to say that the photograph must be the accurate representation of the event.  By this logic there is no accurate reality without photography because our memory can obviously not be trusted and the event itself no longer exist.

It is a common misconception that photography accurately portrays reality.  Photography utilizes only an even narrower band of the electro-magnetic spectrum than our eyes and completely eliminates all other sensory data we have available to us.  As photographers we take the subject out of context by choosing a frame.  We distort the spatial relationships by choosing a lens and we eliminate time all together. We choose how sharp or soft we want the images and completely change the contrast and color by choosing film, filters, and output method.  Photography renders a 4d reality in 2d.  I do not believe it is the purpose of photography to portray reality, for if that is its purpose photography is painfully ill-equipped to do so.

Aaron Raymond

Filling the cup

A hula dancer smells a lei of plumeria flowers on Molokai, Hawaii.
A hula dancer smells a lei of plumeria flowers on Molokai, Hawaii.

Something that really clicked for me yesterday was the idea that there are two ways to fill my cup.  I can fill it with external things like possessions, peoples approval and accomplishments – but these always seem to drain out quickly and I wind up on a never ending treadmill of trying to get more of them.  Or, as Dewitt says, I can fill the cup from the inside from a source that will never be depleted and will never exhaust me in its pursuit.  The source?  Love.  Love for my fellow man, love for my vocation, love for the 1/100 of a second in time when the light graces a lei of plumeria flowers transforming the moment into a banquet of joy.

Showing up for my life

Mammatus clouds over Molokai, Hawaii.

The front porch of the Hi Hoolana neatly frames a stunning panorama from the island of Lanai, to the King Kamehameha palm grove all the way over to the west end of the island of Molokai.  For those of you who haven’t visited the Hui for a photo workshop, the front porch is not only home to one of the best vista’s on the island, but also serves as an open air classroom and hosts some of the finest dining on the Island.  It was here that Dewitt, Rikki (aka The Bear) and I were sitting to debrief the mornings classes.  We were continuing the discussion of what is the greatest life lesson that photography has taught us when The Bear, like a Buddha dropping nuggets of wisdom, shared his greatest life lesson from photography.  He said “Ultimately, this is about showing up for your own life.”

Wow.  That is a thought I will be chewing on for the rest of the week.  How am I showing up for my life?  How am I being present and not worrying about tomorrow – for tomorrow has enough worries of its own?  Sometimes for me this only happens at 1/100th of a second.  I had a brief moment of showing up for my life as I was walking back from photographing some amazing colored birds when this stunning mammatus cloud briefly appeared over the town of Kaunakakai.  A giant brushwork of art in the sky, only to be gone 30 seconds later.

What is the most important life lesson I have learned from my photography?

White-Spotted Rose Anemone, Channel Islands National Park, California.

See The Light, a workshop I am teaching with Dewitt Jones on Molokai has begun, and Dewitt started the week off with a question: What is the most important life lesson you have learned from your photography?  I can think of hundreds of life lessons I have learned from my photography, but one of the lessons that floats to the top of the edit is something I learned doing underwater photography thanks to a great mentor of mine, Ralph Clevenger.  As I was just learning the technical side of making photographs underwater, Ralph told me one of his secrets to its artistic side.  He said, and I am going to paraphrase here, ‘You have limited resources when you are underwater because eventually your air’s going to run out.  So don’t spend your time wasting air and energy swimming around.  Find a pretty spot and stay there.  Look around.  There is a sub-sea city full of wonder all around you. ’  I thought a lot about what Ralph said and later, during my travels, began to apply the same technique of finding a pretty spot and waiting.  I never though of this in a metaphorical sense until many years later when Dewitt was talking with me about finding the place of maximum potential, and then, no pun intended, it clicked.  In photography I knowingly or unknowingly, have always tried to put myself in the place of maximum potential for the shot.  Then I would wait, watch and decisively act when the time was right.  As Dewitt was speaking many years ago, I realized the same statute applies in my life.  Ever since that day, in life and photography, I often find myself asking the question – what is the place of maximum potential, and can I be patient enough to wait for the right moment to act?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the most important life lessons photography has taught you…