Jun 21 2011

Port Townsend Artists’ Round Table

Reach

If you know me at all, you know I like to try to be clever. My first instinct for this post was to create a clever title, throw in a few clever turns of phrase and make you laugh a little and think “how clever.” But I don’t want to. Not about this.

So I’m going to tell you the truth.

I went into this long weekend feeling that something was wrong. Despite my recent photographic successes, things felt a little hollow; a little false. I had no idea why, but I had a feeling coming to ART could help, although my participation was a last minute thing. I had really wanted to come and I didn’t think it would work out, but in the end, a few things in my life rearranged themselves and I found that I had the time. To say that I’m glad I did would be vastly understating what happened here.

From the beginning, I knew this was something special. Of course, I know Ray and Sabrina pretty well, and I also knew that they would do their best to make sure everyone came away with what they needed. Not what they needed to hear, necessarily, but what each of us needed to take the next step in this journey. (More on that in a bit.)

I also knew the other participants electronically, through Twitter mostly, and I was eager to meet them. I felt it would be an interesting mix of people and I thought they would be some very strong voices at the round table. I was also right about that. The work we did together over three days was clear and strong and purposeful. The contributions from Sabrina, Ray, and our guest presenters stimulated a lot of thought and created fascinating discussions about recognizing our individual voices and expressing that in our art.

But it was the conversation that trumped it all. It started the first day and never let up. It was clear and honest and empathetic. It made us think and reflect and even cry. We turned to each other to help each other find not only our photographic voice, but perhaps even our life’s direction and to discover the work it would take to fulfill it—even if for some of us, that work ultimately might not be photography. This was not a workshop, but a revelation.

For me personally, all of it came to a rather dramatic climax at dinner Saturday night. It was one of our final chances to talk about all of the things we’d experienced during the weekend and I knew was still fighting something. I listened and watched and talked for three days about photography and art, and I felt I was creeping closer to an answer. There was something trying to get through, but I still couldn’t identify it.

All week, several folks—especially Ray—had been telling me that they thought I had been making “other people’s photographs.” In other words, my voice was being obscured by my influences. I was reinterpreting photographs I had seen others make, thinking they were my own. I was not making photographs that said what I wanted to say and that reflected what I wanted to do and what I wanted to give to the world.

To be honest, I didn’t believe it. I was still on the defensive about it and I thought it was a bit of much ado about nothing. Then I had dinner with Anita, Ray, Sabrina, and Ellie on Saturday. At some point in the evening, I said to Ray and Anita something along the lines of “If the photographs I’ve been making aren’t mine, what do I do now? Where do I go from here?” I opened the door… and Anita dragged me through it.

“Well, what is it you want to say? What is it you want to do with your photography?”

I was lost for a moment. I didn’t know what to say because that seemed to be a pretty big answer. My first instinct was to rattle off something glib… or clever. But something told me that the answer was important and it wasn’t just about photography. It wasn’t about making photographs at all, but finding my reason for making photographs. My photographs. And I said the thing I’ve never been able to say.

I want to save the world.

No one laughed. No one made a joke or a sarcastic remark. In fact, no one said anything. And in that moment, I believed it. I knew it was true because I had said it out loud and no one said it was crazy. No one said I couldn’t do it; that it was impossible or I was out of my mind. They believed I could do it… and now, so did I.

I don’t yet know how I’m going to do it (but I have some ideas), and “saving the world” raises a lot of questions (Save it from what?). But I am going to figure out what I can do and then spend the rest of my life doing it. Yes, there will be people who will laugh. There will be people who say I’m crazy. There will even be people who will try to stop me. But I’m going to continue to move forward; to do the work. To save the world.

It’s time to take off the glasses. This is a job for… me.