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Never give up

I bought myself a new handbag the other day. It is big and I am still not used to carrying it around. It feels like a modern day black leather version of Mary Poppin’s bottomless carpet bag.

I have been searching for the ‘right’ bag for a while now. My new bag had to meet some very specific criteria; it needed to be big enough to hold my two cameras along with a journal and all the other minutiae we women need to carry with us everywhere we go. As you might imagine this new bag is not a handbag for wimps. Every time I lift up my laden bag and slide the strap over my shoulder the weight of the contents automatically triggers the same question in my brain: “Why do you lug these things around with you every day?”

It’s a good question. Why do I do this? Why do I need to carry both my cameras? After all the smaller point was all I had before I gifted myself the bigger and flasher Canon camera.

Susan Sontag comments in her book On Photography:

The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied (p. 179)

I’m not so sure this is about lust for me. I agree with Susan Sontag on the grounds that there is an insatiable connection with the infinite possibilities of photography enabled through possession of a camera. However, lust seems so superficial and short lived. My relationship with my cameras is much deeper. It goes beyond the cameras themselves into the realm of where the camera can take me. It is about a driving passion that comes from deep within.

For me taking photographs has become a way of capturing the stories of the everyday. Through the viewfinder I am experiencing my world in new ways. I am learning to see and not ignore what is there in front of me. Taking photographs of the ordinary fascinates me and I am determined to get better at doing it.

As much as I dislike having to carry my cameras with me everywhere I go I am learning to accept that if I want to take photos I need the tools with me to do that. When I see professional photographers carrying all their camera equipment around it makes my pathetic little bundle insignificant by comparison.

Another key aspect of my photography skill development is to learn from the work of others. This morning I was watching the TED talk by photojournalist James Nachtwey. He was a TED prize winner in 2007. He has devoted his life work to documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues through photography and is considered to be one of the greatest war photographers of recent decades. As a student of the 60s pictures had a powerful influence on him: “Our political and military leaders were telling us one thing and photographers were telling us another. I believed the photographers and so did millions of other Americans.”

As a photojournalist James Nachtwey set about documenting the everyday struggles of humanity so that he might be able to wake people up and stir them into action.

I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.
James Nachtwey

I sat spell bound in front of my screen watching this talk – the sound of James’s voice and the pace at which he spoke, his photographs, my emotional reaction to it all, the thoughts whizzing around in my head – it all reminded me that the one things I wasn’t focusing on was the quality of the images. I was hooked into the story of the photogrpagher and his relationship to the subjects of his photographs. Many different aspects of the photographs spoke to me. What was present and what was missing. The colours or the lack of colour. The photographer’s eye being used to connect with me the viewer and help me to see what he saw. I felt as though I was there with him.

James Nachtwey: Famine victim in a feeding center
Sudan, 1993 – Famine victim in a feeding center.
Source: Witness photography by James Nachtwey http://www.jamesnachtwey.com/

Starvation was being used as a weapon of mass destruction. Primitive but extremely effective. Hundreds of thousands of people were exterminated, slowly and painfully. The international community responded with massive humanitarian relief and hundreds of thousands of more lives were saved … I am a witness and I want my testimony to be honest and uncensored. I also want it to be powerful and eloquent and to do as much justice as possible to the experience of the people I am photographing. This man was in an NGO feeding centre being helped as much as he could be helped. He literally had nothing. He was a virtual skeleton. Yet he could still summon the courage and the will to move. He had not given up and if he didn’t give up how could anyone in the outside world ever dream of losing hope.

Here’s the full talk, Share a vital story with the world

Inspired by James’s talk and his TED wish designer Bas Groenendaal has created a prototype camera which places emphasis on the looking and framing aspects of capturing a photogragh. Bas presents the interesting concept of photography from within with his protoype: “I believe that photography from within, made by the people/children themselves, can make a powerful impact on not only the outside world, but also on the people themselves.”

Bas Groenendaal

The work of people like James Nachtwey has such far reaching consequences. It is easy to sit there and say this is nice but it isn’t relevant to me or I can’t do anything about it or contribute anything. All too often passing the buck is the easiest option; it is someone else’s problem to solve.

I believe we all have a role to play and every little bit counts. It’s all about the process because by concentrating on the process achieving the desired outcome is inevitable. If each of us did something to bring about change in our lives and the lives of others we are making a contribution. Changing the world is a huge job. It requires collective action. Changing our world is our responsibility. It begins with us.

I have learnt a lot this morning. Never give up. Try. Fail. Try again. It’s okay. Being idealistic is okay. Have the dreams. Hold on to your dreams. Keep going. Become aware and do what you can. We all have the capacity to make a difference in some way for someone. Live passionately and act accordingly.

Ulitmately I look at that picture of the famine victim and the all consuming message this incredible human being is sending to me is “Never give up. Never. There is always hope.” I feel ashamed to have started this post by complaining about carrying around cameras in my handbag. How totally decadent of me. We need reminders on a daily basis to help us put things into perspective.

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2 Responses to “Never give up”

  1. on 13 Sep 2008 at 9:07 pm Matthew Dalton

    Thank-you for posting this. It is truly inspirational.

  2. on 14 Sep 2008 at 12:41 am Marica

    Thank you Matthew. I need constant reminders to keep me going because sometimes it is so incredibly hard. I am glad we are able to connect in this way. I hope life is good for you.
    Best wishes,
    Marica

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