"Every child is born an artist. The trick is remaining one as an adult."
In part one of the essay we talked about the challenge of disconnection and its impact on our individual and collective well-being and how landscape photography is one tool that can lead us down the path of reconnecting. We described just a few of the benefits of spending time in nature to our wellness. One of the aspects of disconnection that we described is disconnection from ourselves. While this might seem a little strange, it's easy to see and not difficult to understand the implications. One of the most important and beloved books of the 20th century is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. In the book, Frankl describes his remarkable journey of surviving the concentration camps of World War II and man's ultimate inhumanity to man. In spite of being stripped of all his external identity and being reduced to a mere number, Frankl was somehow able to survive by creating meaning within the midst of madness. Out of this experience, Frankl created logo therapy, his approach to helping people live authentic and meaningful lives. It's a book full of inspiration that we need to return to over the years. In order to live in an authentic and meaningful way, we must first understand who we are and what is uniquely meaningful to us.
One of the first steps we take in helping people find connection through career is to help them connect to self, first. Through questions and reflection exercises we help people explore their interests, values, personality, and the experiences and relationships that shape who they are and how they derive meaning from life. Many of us don't actively take time to reflect and so we help career decision-makers connect to self as the first step to find meaning in career. It's difficult to know how you fit within the world of work, if you first don't know who you are and how you find meaning through work.
In a similar way, photography (or any artistic pursuit) ultimately forces us to reconnect with who we are, what makes us unique, and what we have to offer or say to the world. For the first time (for many of us), art allows us to do something that is for us alone, not for income and not for anyone else, at least in the beginning. Through artistic expression, we find a way to connect with our own thoughts and emotions and express ourselves through photographs. Regardless of how we find our way to artistic expression, we eventually are confronted with creating something, and something unique to ourselves. We're forced to connect to our creative selves once again.
At some point, many of us tell ourselves we're "not creative". Maybe we took an art class or a music class and didn't find interest or ability there and that's where we begin to limit our understanding of our creativity to singing, drawing, or maybe even writing. That's usually the beginning of where we lose connection to creativity and our creative selves. We tend not to think of all the ways we can be creative from simply generating ideas, to speaking, to teaching for example. Clearly though, one of the things that make us uniquely human is our ability to create. Earliest cave paintings go back over 35,000 years, for example. The other roadblock that stands in our way is that often times, we lack the tools in order to be creatively expressive. So while we all are hard wired to create and have a need to express ourselves, unless we have some understanding of the tools and techniques to be creative, we get stuck or simply revert back to our self talk that tells us we're "not creative". In a wonderful series of books/workbooks starting with the Artist's Way, Julia Cameron developed exercises designed to help people reconnect to creativity. She followed up later in the series with a another title aimed at retirees and people at mid-life with exercises like morning pages, artist dates, and walks, all aimed at reconnecting with the creative self.
And this is an interesting place where photography enters the picture, so to speak...Photography tends to attract people from all walks of life but in particular, photography attracts people with technical backgrounds and professions. There is a certain amount of technical mastery/proficiency and interest in the tools of photography that tends to draw people from science and technical backgrounds like medicine, engineering and information technology, for example. But what really gets them excited is the opportunity that photography provides to be creative and self-expressive, which may not be or have been a big part of their work life. Regardless of our path to photography, we find an opportunity to reconnect with our creative selves.
The first step toward creative expression in landscape photography is to become visually literate. This means learning the principles of 2-D design and how these might be applied in a photograph. Second, strategies for composition are explored as ways of using the design elements to build an image that allows the photographic artist to express something. And this is the point where many people get stuck on their artistic journey. Early on, it's helpful to look around at other work and pursue styles or approaches that we find inspiring. This helps as we begin to master the technical and artistic tools. But, we must eventually confront ourselves and identify the general and specific expressions of our photographic art. This is what makes it art after all, that it is personally expressive. And it's through this process of discovering what we want to express artistically that we begin to reconnect with ourselves. It's in the process of reconnecting to self and to our creativity that we all have, that we begin the journey back to wellness.
"If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice well be silenced."
--Vincent Van Gogh