I returned home to wade through plenty of my own personal baggage that I encountered during my time at Standing Rock. It’s been heavy and not at all comfortable witnessing this unfolding of events. I went there with questions, seeking answers–and came back with more questions. I have a few more posts that I am working on which will extrapolate the details of the time I spent there and show you the images I made–but right now, I want to share something seemingly unrelated that has helped me find my center in the midst of all this tension: gratitude for film photography.
My emotional baggage wasn’t the only thing that was waiting for me when I arrived home. I had sent a years worth of film in to be developed before I left for North Dakota and just as I had done while shooting it–I let it slip from my mind. As I was in the process of unpacking my bags and cleaning up my camera gear I got an email with a link to the scanned negatives. Clicking through these “lost” moments from the preceding months was like a reprieve from the inexorable passage of time. It filled me with gratitude for everything I’ve been able to experience and share–and that feeling of gratitude lifted the burden of baggage. It’s enough of a privilege to live my life enjoying technology and travel–adventure and photography–it’s even more of a gift to have the opportunity to create little time capsules that distill the journey. It’s also a complete privilege to have you reading this because as I’ve said before, no one is entitled to an audience.
As I clicked through, I found pictures of my friends Rob and Chris–just being themselves. I found pictures of Lilo from when she was much smaller. I found pictures of Stefanie from little moments that had held no great significance other than the fact that they’d never come again. I found the last photographs of my friend Pittman before he took his life. Looking at each image I was taken back to a moment in the past that I felt something worth capturing–usually a sense of tension and finality as I pushed the shutter button. I didn’t know what I’d make or how the photograph would turn out. Once you push that button it’s too late to edit or second guess. It’s done. I was afraid of trying to capture something intangible and just barely missing it–tasting the success just enough to make the failure that much more sour.
I know that people are afraid of a lot of things in these uncertain days. I am too, I guess. Regardless of your social or political views, things are pretty dark out there. That’s something we can all agree on. I don’t know that pointing a camera at things will make anything better objectively. I don’t even know what is better objectively. I do know that I have a lot to be thankful for and that fear and ignorance are not good enough reasons to stop creating and exploring. Diabetes taught me over the years that life is what we make it and that creation is the opposite of destruction. That is, and will always be the truth that drives me to keep creating even if I miss the mark by miles. It’s not the mark that matters in the end–goals, targets and objectives always change. It’s the willingness to take aim and try that I’m thankful for.
Film photography isn’t about perfection. It’s simply not the best way to make the most technically precise photographs. There is too much left to chance and variables that are difficult, if not impossible to predict with regularity. Still, the process of letting go and eventually getting a return is incredibly satisfying. Maybe it’s because there are no guarantees or do-overs. You get one chance to get it right and when you do, it feels that much better.