The Photographer’s Heart

Michael Freeman is a great photographer and also the author of many books including “The Photographer’s Eye”, “The Photographer’s Mind” and “The Photographer’s Vision”. Since he hasn’t copyrighted “The Photographer’s Heart”, I’m using it for this blog.

This will (I think) be a longish blog (and as a caveat, this blog is for everyone, not for photographers only).  I’ll also break my own rule and name people in this – after all, it is my rule and my blog. I just realized that I’ve written about lessons for life that people I’ve met and photographed on my travels have taught me, but I’ve never said a word on the lessons for life I’ve learnt from those who taught (and continue to teach) me photography. This is my attempt to set that right.

Flashback two years – I’d just purchased my camera and happened to be chatting with Willy Foo (www.willyfoo.com), quite easily among the best photographers in Singapore.  In response to a question of mine on a photograph of his, Willy proceeded to explain to me in absolute depth and complete detail, the story and the technicalities behind it. This was quite surprising for me – the photography equivalent of the “cat out of the bag”. So I said to Willy: “How is it that you’re telling me everything?” I don’t remember his exact words in response, but in effect he said that he was not only a photographer, but also a teacher and this was his duty. In these two years I met many others – I disturbed them at odd hours, all sorts of times, requested unedited files to see how those are prior to processing, compared edited photographs, asked for critiques, wanted them to teach and help me, and not once did I hear a “no” in response. Some, of course, have had significant influence on my craft – Laxmi Kaul showed me the beauty of monochrome and of the portrait, a debt I shall never be able to repay. Recently I’ve connected with many immensely talented photographers because of my photo-blog (in no particular order): Glenn Capers (wingedoracle.1x.com), Heidger Marx (heidgermarx.com), Chris Faust (chrisfaustphoto.com), Bruno Chalifour (brunochalifour.com), Matthew Pace (matthewpace.photoshelter.com), Greg Buck (winkandblinkphotography.com.au), Roy Money (rwmj.smugmug.com), Kim Ayres (kimayres.co.uk) Panta Astiazaran (panta-astiazaran.smugmug.com), Marcus Thomas (marcthomasphotography.com), Laura Kaczmarek (atgimages.zenfolio.com), and many others, none lesser than those named. The reason I’ve added their websites is rather simple – when you see their photographs, you’ll soon realize that in comparison to theirs, my images are a child’s “crayon-on-the-wall” drawing compared to a Matisse. But all of them, without fail, made time for me. So who said the world is different today and we don’t have time for each other? And the amazing bit is that other than Willy and Laxmi, for the rest I am just a LinkedIN or Facebook profile. Yet they showed me the way – for which I am, and shall always be, grateful.

Lesson for life #1: Give. The most precious thing you have is your time – give some of it, more if you can, to another. Sometimes your time is more valuable to them than to you. Lesson for life #2: Help. Help however, with whatever you can. You never know how much of a difference it makes to the other. Lesson for life #3: Teach. The greatest gift you can give someone is knowledge. Sow its seeds and watch people blossom. You will never get a better reward ever. Lesson for life #4: Share. Let your experience and wisdom be free. And here the mathematicians will squirm (or turn in their graves) – when you share, you don’t divide – you multiply.

And to the naysayer mathematicians, let me narrate from the Bible, Matthew 14:15-21 (Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand):

“As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

“Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to Heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.”

So these are lessons for life that photographers have taught me. But we aren’t any different from anyone else, which is why I said this blog is for everyone.  We have just the same insecurities as any of those I’ve made portraits of, the same pain, the same fear. We’re also just as good as our last image. Perhaps the only difference that I can think of is that we see things with a difference. Therein lies the paradox, the irony – in that difference that we see, is also our likeness.

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” (Khalil Gibran)

“Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean,” said the little old man.” (Shel Silverstein)

“In times of grief and sorrow I will hold you and rock you and take your grief and make it my own. When you cry I cry and when you hurt I hurt. And together we will try to hold back the floods to tears and despair and make it through the potholed street of life.” (Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook)

Have you never felt these emotions? There is no difference between me and the people I photograph, but for a fraction of a second, and the side of the frame that we’re at.  When I see them up close and personal through my lens, I am reminded that all I can do always is to love, and love unconditionally. Yes, at times it hurts, but that doesn’t mean I stop loving.

Mother Teresa once said: “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.” I’ll rephrase that and say: “I am a little pixel in the hand of a creating God who is sending a picture postcard to the world.” This is what I have to say. This is from:

The Photographer’s Heart.

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18 Comments

  1. Greg Buck June 16, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    The images in this article are quite stunning.

    They tell a story within each history filled line of there faces.
    Stories of struggle, determination, hard work, love, family, good times, bad times and life in general.

    These images are life as it is, real and open for all to see.
    This is reality not a model painted up or dressed to look something its not, bit truth about each ones life.

    Excellent images that capture the moment in all its wonderful reality.

    Thank you
    Greg

  2. Sonny June 16, 2012 at 10:58 am #

    I really liked this blog……because, though i had seen the pictures yesterday….i always like understanding the photographers notes and thoughts , as to what goes on inside his head when he clicks and when he looks at them later on….why he shoots , what he shoots…….because even though at times , what with the onslaught of photography as a medium, we get bored with cliched subject matter…..WHAT CATCHES ONE’S EYE AND MAKES A GOOD PICTURE…..is the subject in the photographers head ….:)

    the line that really caught my eye…is….that you are only as good as your last picture…..that my dear D , depends wholly on why you make pictures…..for yourself, or for recognition…..

    Now while there is nothing wrong in wanting to be a success in whatever we pursue…….i will tell you my biggest lesson, i gleaned from writing and sharing, discussing photographs with numerous people across the world……humility . Even though i knew , i am an absolute amateur at this medium…..i used to look at some people’s pictures and snort to myself ………thinking….how can anybody like this !…………….BUT….surprisingly…..hundreds of people around the world would chose that very picture…….!

    It taught me…..that the common man judges a picture based on what he would like to put on his wall and see again and again……which doesn’t really have to be the artsy fartsy stuff….

    and—i have to capture subjects and subject matters…..for myself……and if it brought contentment to me…..then i am as good as every frame i capture….there are going to be those who will not like what i shoot and there will be those who’ll love it…..

    there’s room for everything and all of it….:)

    …but i also have to be humble enough to learn learn learn…..ask endless questions….doubt myself……..:)

  3. Sonny June 16, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    Want to share something…….a few days ago, a very sweet photographer offered to take me along on a shoot , I wanted to watch him work, learn …….but i wasn’t sure…..what if i go and make an ass of myself……?…..so i asked my friends…..and apart from other things….there is a story, one of my friends shared……..

    So couple of years ago one of my favorite places trying to increase visits and get some annual passes sold. One of their promotions was a 10 week “photography class” with the purchase of an annual pass. I took my $35 and my point and shoot with fully charged batteries and my tripod and marched into the place. I noticed 2 things really quickly. 1) I was the only one there under 60. 2) I was the only one there with a P&S.

    This was supposed to be a class for all. HOWEVER, the first words out of the instructor’s mouth was, ” You are welcome to stay, but you aren’t going to get much out of this class.” Why? My baby camera. Well….as he went around the room asking folks about their cameras and their abilities. I discovered two more things. They had expensive toys and they had no clue how to use them!! There were folks there reading the manual to learn how to turn them on!!!

    Our first “lesson” was shooting in low light WITHOUT a tripod! WHAT? Oh yes…that is what he said. I was the only one that printed anything to bring back the next week. I only had 10 “good” shots. But hey…I had them. His comments..see if you had a better camera, you might have gotten better shots. My reply…with a tripod too!

    Long story short, by the 3rd week he was saying I was getting lucky. By the 6th, he said, ” When you go on a shoot, you should shoot 1000 pictures hope for 10 good ones and 1 you could frame.” He looked at me and said, “your numbers will be higher”. By the last class, he was begging me to get a better camera. He was really impressed with my abilities even with a “no good P&S”. Later that day, after the class, he called me. He told me he had a camera he wanted me to see. He had just bought it for his wife, but she was injured and couldn’t use it. I was to use it for a few weeks and let him know if I wanted to buy it for $400.

    That’s how I got my DSLR and the respect of a snotty old man that thought he knew best about cameras! My P&S and knowledge from right here with Gator, Rita, Heather…etc. taught me all I needed to know! You know it too….now go learn more!

  4. Rohit Bhardwaj June 16, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    A very intricately woven mesh of thoughts and images. It is difficult to say what is better, the write up or the images.
    Let me share this with you..we all start as Eklavya and end up as Abhimanyu….in doing we are happy, in living we are happy … and in sharing we are happiest…

  5. Laura Kaczmarek June 17, 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Debesh – gorgeous, emotive images. Thank you for sharing them. And your words really struck a chord within me. Your “life lessons” seem so fundamental, yet at times it is easy for me to get wrapped up in myself. Thank you for the reminder. And @Sonny, I agree about humility; it is paramount in life.

  6. Sonny June 18, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    @Laura…..i went and looked at your website…and what i especially adored was your description of what you like photographing…..:))…….you see, just the other day i was explaining to debesh about how much i like shooting the ordinary scenes around me….and bringing out what my eye sees in them…..:)

  7. Heidger Marx June 18, 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Dear Debesh,

    Your blogs continue to amaze me, one after the other, both from a photographic perspective as well as through your personal style of writing. I cannot see a wannabe photographer, but only an extremely sensitive observer with a camera, your portraits speak for themselves!

    Your message is simple yet deep and honest: make time, help, teach, share, and do so unconditionally!
    I personally teach a lot of aspiring photographers and it gives me the greatest pleasure to share my knowledge and see them advance in their skills or refine their vision.
    At the end of the day, our life should be a life of service.

    Thank you so very much,

    Heidger

  8. Cyretha June 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Debesh, what a powerful and emotional entry!!!!! I read some of the comments left by others and I agree with them. Please let us know when you publish your book.

  9. Tim Peters June 18, 2012 at 8:36 pm #

    Dear Debesh,

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing from your heart. Your words and wisdom have penetrated deep into my soul and have moved me emotionally. Your insight has given me a fresh outlook and has helped to hone my prospective.

    True love has no conditions attached and the things you do and they way you do them are a direct reflection on whom you serve.

    I know that in my life many times I have failed and fallen and I realize that falling down isn’t graceful but I am thankful that falling is full of grace.

    The comments of your readers have blessed me and they have said many things that I feel after reading your blog and looking deep into the portraits you have posted. Beautiful work…beautiful words.

    Again, thank you!

    Tim

  10. Shelle Budiselic June 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    Beautiful images with soulful words! Powerful combination!!

  11. Sandy June 19, 2012 at 1:17 am #

    I had only read the post the first time around in my mailbox…Love the way little relevant snippets of crucial information forms as much a picture as the ones you post.
    Someday, I would like to lose myself into that kind of world. Working on it….not that there is really is an end to the number of things we want in life.
    However, having said that, I am greedy…and I shall always be.
    Ever notice how much I mention about me when I go through your site? The pictures do that…the writing on your wall does that…it make me look within, look without, smile, think, want, need and crave for more out of life.
    Everyday.
    Thank you!
    (now you may turn that smile of yours into a grin)

  12. Swapnil June 19, 2012 at 11:24 pm #

    Debesh, As always absolutely stunning portraits that convey everything about each life’s journey (by way of expressions).

    If only we imbibe and learn to live by the “Lessons of Life”, this world will be an even wonderful place !

    Photography for you, indeed comes from the heart and it shows in your images and writing. Thank you for showing us the way.

  13. Ken June 20, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    WOW! How beautiful and meaningful. You have opened your heart and in so doing allowed us all to share your joy and feel your emotions.
    Thank you for sharing your heart.

    Ken Felt

  14. Anna June 20, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    I just say wow – your work surprises me more and more each and every day. Here I am in Europe – thinking ok – yet another guy trying to become a writer, and with all these ideas and creativity driving him forward. Best of luck to him – and he lives in India among billions of other trying to become. Debesh, you really proved me wrong – though you are just 1 of 6 billion you over shadow the rest. No doubt in my mind about that. As this writing here above can only describe your humble, and amazing approach towards life. I am really honored to know you and get to be inspired by you every day – and just when I think you can´t surprise me more – then you pull another master work out from your creative mind. Love how you interpret and respect the stories behind each individual. Coming from a psychologist perspective that listens to individuals stories almost daily – some sad and another happy . To you I only say Namaste ..Anna

  15. Debesh June 20, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Thank you so much everyone for your so kind and gracious words – as I say always, I’m not entirely sure if I deserve such praise, but I shall accept it with grace nevertheless.

    Greg, thanks a lot. I am appreciative of your support my friend and I agree with you about wanting to capture reality as opposed to something ersatz.

    Thanks so much Sonika; I only make images for myself – and my biggest critique is also me. If my photographs aren’t sensitive to either whom I photograph or make someone “feel” as compared to think, then I am not doing justice to what I have set out to you. Maybe at times I compensate for my weakness or shortcoming by my writing, but this is my datum for myself. You’ve very rightly said what you did about humility – unfortunately in today’s world arrogance is more the order of the day. In Hindi there is a saying, wonder if you’ve heard it: “The more fruit a tree bears, the more it bends”. Think about it. Do go ahead with your “sweet photographer friend” for some photography – remember if the camera told us where to shoot, we could have walked around with closed eyes!

    Rohit sir, many thanks for your words of encouragement; may I say also (and this isn’t quid pro quo) that your blog inspires me.

    Laura my friend, thank you! I write also because it reminds me about what is my path in life – when you write such words, it reaffirms that I’m on the right one.

    Heidger, your beautiful photographs and your words encourage me and make me want to write more and better. Even though we haven’t met, it seems as if I know you and can completely understand where you’re coming from. Thank you my friend.

    Cyretha, I am touched by your words. I am happy you enjoyed reading my post. Thank you very much.

    Tim, how beautifully you have expressed: “I know that in my life many times I have failed and fallen and I realize that falling down isn’t graceful but I am thankful that falling is full of grace.” I couldn’t agree with you more. I am really grateful for your kind words, and am happy that mine touched you in some way.

    Thanks a lot Shelle! Appreciate it.

    Sandy, unless you find your own self, you’ll never be able to find whatever else you’re looking for. So it is ok to talk about you. Think about it…

    Thanks a lot Swapnil. I’m afraid we’re all in this together, finding our own individual ways – but yes, we are blessed because when we start losing direction, there is someone else to point out where we need to go. Sometimes me, other times you…ces’t la vie mon ami.

    Ken, thank you so much…it is so nice to hear from you. You’re absolutely right sir – its straight from the heart, and I can’t have it any other way.

    Many thanks Anna for writing. I am not trying to be a writer, or a photographer for that matter. What actually I am doing is much harder than that – I’m just trying to be me. This is one quest I shall succeed in.

  16. Nancy de Flon July 16, 2012 at 4:23 am #

    Debesh, these photos are amazing and your reflections … well … You really are a treasure with both word and image.

  17. GypsyWhim July 26, 2012 at 10:50 pm #

    Stunning portrait pictures throughout your entire website! Amazing how the face is art itself — emotion, history, and thought all caught up in a sort of architecture. Your photos have resonance. You are very talented and I wish you all the best!

  18. Debesh August 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    Thank you so much Amy for being so gracious. I really appreciate it. Yes indeed, the face is art itself which is why most of my portraits focus on the face, pun intended.

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