The last few weeks I have been feeling in/out/and besides my sorts. I can’t seem to equalize all the turmoil, but Christmas is arising and I am off to see America and grandchildren, and life is slowly returning to an equilibrium. So, before I become so mellow and slip into a meditative trance, I thought I would write you a few more words of wisdom to lead us into the upcoming year. I have told this story in the past, so for those who have heard it before, please forgive, and place those new reindeer earmuffs over your ears as I tell it again.
People are often asking me what influenced my life that made me choose the life of a photographer. Here below is one of my answers.
When thinking about what were the most important experiences in my life, particularly those that had an effect on me as a photographer, here is one in particular story that stands out. This may sound peculiar to you, but it seems perfectly normal to me. The experience I’m about to relate has nothing to do with photography. In thinking about this, this seems to be a pattern in my life. I studied theology with the intention of being a photographer. At first glance, one would think they have nothing to do with each other. But, in fact, they are intimately and intricately entwined.
About 30 years ago, give or take a year or two, I had the good fortune to attend a lecture by Jerzy Kosinksi. For those of you who don’t know who he is, or rather, I should say was, as he committed suicide some years ago, he was a director and writer of one of my favorite films, Being There. At that time I had just become a fellow at Timothy Dwight College at Yale University. A few times a year, the master of the college would invite people to lecture to other fellows. It was a group of about 50-75 people. As I lived in New York, it was hard for me to get to New Haven, but luckily that night I made it. I’ll try to recap the lecture or perhaps I should call it a story.
Jerzy (after this lecture, I became so interested in him, we actually became quite good friends) began the lecture talking about sitting by a swimming pool in some hotel in Thailand. He said he was sitting there peacefully reading a newspaper, when a number of Buddhist monks walked into the pool and began a conversation amongst themselves in the deep end of the pool. As he described it, they were not standing in the pool, nor treading water. He described it as having achieved buoyancy. For hours, they did not struggle to float, but rather were able to stand in the water in this buoyant state.
The remainder of the lecture was his personal odyssey to try and learn how these men were able to do this. He described his upbringing in a small Polish village in the middle of Poland with no water around it whose name, when translated into English, meant ‘The Boat.’ He always thought that ironic, because there was no water anywhere in sight. Also, he described his upbringing in which he personally was terrified of drowning. He said that even when he took a shower he was scared to hold his face under the showerhead in fear of drowning in the water.
His first efforts when he returned back to the United States, was to replicate what these monks had done was to find an Olympic swimmer to see if he was capable of doing this. He was not. Not even close. Jerzy realized it was not a question of physical strength, but rather something else. Over the course of the next year, he described this elaborate odyssey to try and find someone somehow who could replicate what he had seen in Thailand. No one could. The lecture concludes with him taking everyone to the Yale pool where he began to show us what he had learned. He was able to do what no one else was. He was able to stand in the deep water at the deep end of the pool, with the water line slightly above his waist, carrying on a conversation with no effort. The next day, this event was being photographed for Life Magazine where I think they actually did an article on this. This process took him almost two years where he was finally able to get himself psychologically attuned enough to the undertaking to realize it in a pool in Switzerland. He himself had finally achieved a buoyancy that was critical for his life. There are many other details I won’t bore you with. But I thought, for some of you, the story might be helpful.
Many of you are not in the right relationship with your subjects. You think the solution comes from knowing the right camera, the right film, the right techniques, and the right secrets. These are all beside the point. You must realize your own wisdom. It’s not that you don’t have talent. It’s just that you haven’t risked enough. Please remember that next year as you begin your personal journey to find buoyancy, it most probably will not be found at photography conventions, camera demonstrations, with the use of new megapixles, but rather deep within your soul. With these thoughts I wish you all a Happy Holiday Season and more content New Year.