This photo changed me. It was not only a once in my lifetime opportunity to capture the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction, but it empowered me in an unexpected way.
Before I took this photo, I was visiting with a friend who asked me to look at a collage she was making. She said she wanted my opinion “as an artist”. When I laughed and told her I wasn’t an artist, she looked me in the eye and said, “Yes, you are. Now come take a look at this.”
I had laughed because “artist” is not a word I would use to describe myself. I always thought artists were people who created with paint and canvas, wood and tools. My mother-in-law is an amazing artist; I am simply an engineer who loves photography. A few days later, my niece told me she wanted to buy one of my prints. I told her she did not have to pay for the print, I would give it to her. She declined, saying, “You are an artist and your work has worth! I won’t take advantage of you and your work!”
There was that unsolicited word again. Artist.
A couple of weeks after I took this photo, I was direct messaging with a professional photographer and instructor. I’ve taken a few classes from him through my local photography store. I reached out to him and invited his critique of this image as he was literally the one who taught me how to take photos in the dark. His response? “I’m not sure what I can tell you to improve if these are the photos you set out to create. How do YOU think they could be improved? How would YOU want to improve them?”
His comments were unexpected. They stopped me in my tracks, so to speak. When I considered his words, the truth was I was happy with the photos I had “created”, so I did not change them.
His words changed me, though. I realized that I was looking at my photos as pictures rather than a creation. I was looking at the technical aspects of the photo- because, you know, that engineer thing- but he was looking at the art and asking me if what I had captured was what I had set out to create. His questions made me feel like an equal even though I know we are not. He made me feel respected just as Katherine did. Something in me shifted with his comments. Instead of offering any kind of critique or suggestions for improvement, he gave that back to me. He empowered me to own my own work, to trust myself with my own…dare I say it…art. He encouraged me to change it- or not- according to my own vision of what I set out to capture.
Perhaps photography is an art form, a creation, unique to the person. Instead of paints and brushes, we use cameras and glass. We often carefully scout out our “canvas”, whether it be a place in nature, a place in the city, or a room full of people. We plan and compose the photo, wait for the lighting, consider the colors, the elements, the timing, post process it. I don’t believe any two photographers can take the same photo, because we are each trying to capture what our own hearts see through the lens.
The sincere words that Kim, Katherine, and Marc spoke to me deeply changed my perspective, and how I approach photography. Each of them shined a bit of light into my life, and the cumulative effect of that light was joy.
It’s not about being called an artist, though that was really nice! It’s about being offered encouragement to trust in myself, to pursue something that I love, and to own it. I feel more empowered than ever to pursue, practice, and develop my craft, my art.
These days any bit of light we can shine on others with an encouraging word is so important. It changes people. I’d dare to go so far as to call it priceless.
Our words have the power to heal, to encourage, to show love, compassion, kindness, and worth. Words have the power to build up or to destroy. They should be chosen wisely as they have the power to echo forever. Let’s all strive to be intentional with how we speak, be quick to offer a smile, to sincerely shine that light when we can, build each other up. And, also let’s strive to be humble and sincere, to apologize when necessary.
What words can we all choose today to encourage someone, to build them up?
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”St. Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God. Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)