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Why This?

I realize this post on the Artist Round Table is long overdue as some of you have been waiting patiently to hear what I had to say about the whole experience. Truth is I just wasn’t ready to say anything because I was quite overwhelmed by results of the Round Table and I found myself in the position of asking the same question as the participants: “What’s next?”.

Let me back up. The idea for the Artist Round Table was born out of the ongoing conversations I’ve had with Ray as part of my mentoring. We both realized how difficult it was to talk about many aspects of art and photography in 140 characters or even through email or on the phone. What is often needed is a free flowing exchange and we wanted to have that with like-minded people. ART was structured in an organic way to encourage the discovery of our authentic visual voice and I couldn’t have asked for a better mix people with whom to have this conversation. I won’t go into the details of what we did because you can read what Chris Plante had to say about it. I’m not even going to talk about the life-changing aspects that Stuart Sipahigil and others experienced, although that did take me by complete surprise. Instead I’m going to share what happened to me at ART.

My role was to make sure things ran smoothly. We had carefully crafted the itinerary to have a blend of art, photography, discussions, exercise (?), and of course fabulous food. As a pseudo-participant at ART, I sat in on the sessions with the two presenters, David Noble and Wes Cecil. In fact the image above is from David’s performance of Bhuto during an exercise on visual voice. From my previous posts, you know that I’ve seen David perform before but I wasn’t as familiar with Wes or his work as a writer. The title of today’s post is a question that Wes posed to us at the beginning of his session.

Why do we chose photography? Why make images rather than something else?

I’ve heard this question asked of photographers before and there are many responses. If we are honest with ourselves, I don’t think it is an easy question to answer. Sometimes the answers that come seem rote or given because it’s what we think we should say to suitably impress others. Wes shared that he tried to write smart things because he wanted people to think he was smart and every time he did this, he didn’t like anything he wrote. He talked about doing things with integrity, having courage, and being honest. It was a brilliant session and one that left me stumped because if I was honest with myself, I did not have an answer to the question “Why this?”.

It’s a scary place to be if I consider how much I’ve invested emotionally in my photography. Following ART, I went through short moments and longer periods of questioning why I even considered myself a photographer and wondering if I have a future as one. I shared with Ray that perhaps my role was just to help photographers rather than be one especially when I thought about how well ART had gone. That almost sent him off the deep-end, I think. He has always said that others see my progress but he sees my potential and I am sure this kind of talk was very frustrating for him. Fortunately I headed out on a road trip immediately after ART and despite all these thoughts and questions swirling in around in my head, I kept on photographing. Not a lot but then I’ve never been one to press the shutter indiscriminately. All the while thinking–consciously and subconsciously–about this question.

I don’t have an answer to Wes’ question yet but I do know one thing for certain. After spending several days with six genuine, caring, bright, funny, and talented people at ART and two weeks on the road with an incredible mentor who is compassionate, smart, patient, and who has so much to share with this world, the fellowship is a big part of why I do this. There is a word in Greek, Koinonia, which is defined as “communion by intimate participation”–an ideal version of community. It’s the only word I know to describe how I feel when I am doing photography even when I’m by myself. When I’m with photographers like Ellie, Anita, Matt, Chris, and Stuart, the experience is heightened. To go deeper with people where there is trust, where you can be transparent, is rare. To have that environment to explore your art and your voice, is a gift.

When I look back on my life, I see I’ve tried many different things and with most of them, I just dabbled. When it came to photography though, my whole world changed. It was as if all the pieces of my life started to come together, to make sense and to have a purpose. Over the past year I’ve begun to lay the foundation to make a life–and a bit of a living–with my photography and the photographic community. It isn’t the usual path you might see other photographers take like selling prints or exhibiting in galleries. Instead I’ve worked slowly on my photography and spent time assisting other photographers with their businesses, and now with ART, a new place to contribute to others. At the heart of all of it is the desire for koinonia. I’ve uncovered where this comes from and I see now that it is also present in my photographs. It is part of my voice. Always has been. As Wes said to us :”You don’t have to define your voice, you just have to use.”

I cannot think of any other way to end this post than to thank Ray, Anita, Ellie, Stuart, Matt and Chris for one of most inspiring conversations on art and photography I’ve ever had. You have no idea how much your willingness to share who you are, your fears and doubts, your dreams and aspirations, has deeply touched me and will be one of the defining moments in my journey. ~oxo~

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33 Comments

  1. Ed
    July 15, 2011

    What a perfect time for me to read this. Sabrina, I love that Greek word (ah, the Greeks) and yes, I definitely see that in your photography and in you! This is possibly the most important thing you could get from any workshop, one that you participate in and/or organize. I do think it can be as life-changing as other revelations. When you find a part of yourself, you find a peace too. Thank you so much for this introspective and descriptive post on ART. I do hope there will be another…!

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      I’m pleased you dropped by before you leave on your own adventure, Ed. I just love what you said here about finding peace. That is exactly what it feels like.

      Looking forward to hearing all about Buenos Aires when you return!

  2. Stuart Sipahigil
    July 15, 2011

    Oh, Sabrina. Where do I begin? We’ve probably bored people to tears with “ART as a life-changing experience”, but good lord it was. David, Wes, you , and Ray all provided the perfect environment for the conversation to start and grow and I know all of us are better photographers and better people for it. We’re not just being sycophants; it really was life-changing.

    To everyone who reads this, if you’re interested getting past the gear and the techniques and all the other crap, and getting to the heart of WHY you want to be a photographer (“Why this?”), this is the workshop to attend. It’s not a workshop about photography; it’s a workshop about you.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      Thank you Stuart. It’s a privilege to be a witness to someone hurtling toward their destiny. We all deserve a life with purpose but few are courageous enough to do what it takes. Bravo my friend!

  3. Maureen Murphy
    July 15, 2011

    I love the Greek word – and as you know, community is a big part of my life. The idea of Ray going off the deep end sends giggles into my head. When I think about why I want to photograph, another word that enters my mind is ‘connections’ – of one person to another, of me to the other person/place/thing (mostly persons), of the viewer to the person/place/thing, of emotions to thoughts, of my head to my heart…..

    It a thought-provoking question Sabrina – one that deserves some time and attention – as many of your questions and writings are.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      It was no coincidence Maureen that we clicked as soon as met in Kenya. I think we both draw similar things from photography albeit from a different place. I have always been impressed with your connections not just in photography but in everything that you do. They aren’t superficial but deep and real. No wonder you make the images that you do.

  4. Craig Ferguson
    July 15, 2011

    Why do we chose photography?

    I didn’t. Photography chose me.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      That’s really interesting, Craig. I would love to hear more how that happened!

  5. Dorothy Brown
    July 15, 2011

    This post brings tears to my eyes. What I most want to say is I’m so glad I know you, Sabrina. I still marvel at the generosity, insightfulness, kindness, and humor of this community that has found its way to you, and I’m so grateful to be a part of it. And I’m happy to read that ART wasn’t just something you facilitated for others, but something that fed you too. You know what you’ve done, don’t you? More ART please! And soon!

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      Oh Dorothy…if you don’t know it already, you are a very big part of why I do this. I will never forget how we met and now look at us. I have to admit I cried after I wrote this and it touches me that it brought you to tears too. We are kindred spirits!

      As for another edition of ART, we shall see. There have been lots of requests for it so that makes it difficult to say no.

  6. Chris Plante
    July 15, 2011

    I think the wait for this post was worth it. It’s the most important one you have done yet. Dr. Ray has worked wonders with you… and the rest of us. I think we all found some self discovery with our photography.

    btw. I loved the Bhuto. It’s like the dance was invented for photographers.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      It certainly feels like a milestone, Chris. I was worried about you and the Bhuto piece when I read about you and opera but you proved me wrong. And what a way to do it…”dance invented for photographers”. You should talk to Ellie about that…

    • Chris Plante
      July 16, 2011

      I admit Bhuto was a pleasant surprise. I hesitate to call it dance though. I feel it’s more of a “stage performance”. 🙂

  7. Deborah Howard
    July 15, 2011

    Why this? Because ‘this’ is the best form of expresing myself I have. I’ve had a creative impusle since forever – poetry as a primary school child, art classes, ballet classes, writing, pottery, needlework, macrame etc etc etc. You name it, I’ve probably tried it in a search for ‘my’ way of expression. BUT… they weren’t ‘me’. Either I was really terrible at them (anyone want some really crooked cups and vases?), or they felt too restrictive, or … 100 hundred other reasons. My urge to create was always there and when I really started to get into photography it felt right. I can add my writing to it, but the writing is really a vehicle for the photographs to be used. 🙂

    This is why.

    It is an important question, and one that gives what we do meaning, shapes how we look at what we do.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      Definitely an important question and for the very reasons you mention. I think you and I are similar when it comes to writing and photography 🙂

  8. Jeff
    July 15, 2011

    When, oh when are you coming back to SF for another visit?

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 15, 2011

      LOL…when I can get Stuart out there for a collaboration between all of us 😉

  9. Jerod Foster
    July 15, 2011

    Yours and Stuart’s honesty in your posts is really essential to not only your own growth and development as photographers, artists, creatives, communicators, and whatever else you want to throw in there, but it’s also essential for others to learn more about their own photographic route. No matter where you see yourself, you’re always going to be helping other photographers with this type of honesty, and you’ll always be progressing and moving forward as a photographer the more honest you are with yourself. I believe the community is benefiting from this type of experiential disclosure, as well as the more deep discussions you and Ray, and others, continue to throw out there!

    Great post, Sabrina!

    Reply
    • Rayk
      July 16, 2011

      Would of loved to have you there for the discussions Jerod.

    • Sabrina
      July 16, 2011

      Thank you Jerod. I agree with Ray; it would have been wonderful to have you there with us. I hope we will have the chance to meet and have a similar discussion one day soon.

  10. Flemming Bo Jensen
    July 15, 2011

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts and feelings Sabrina, this is a special post that inspired and moved me. One day I will meet all you guys and I look very much forward to it.

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 16, 2011

      Looking forward to meeting you soon, Flemming!

  11. Monte Stevens
    July 16, 2011

    Again, a well written post with wonderful content. A note rang true in my life when you mentioned you dabbled in things. For me it has been a repeated pattern of failure to follow through. The dabbling never seemed to find fruition or fullness or whatever you want to describe it. As Wes states, so many of us fail to use our voice.

    You also mention a facet of my photography what is almost no existent: the community (koinonia.) I’ve really not shared time in the field with many photographers, preferring to shoot alone. In religious communities solitude is important but so is the larger community. Alcoholics Anonymous stresses the fellowship of AA. Families celebrating birthdays and holidays. In a healthy community we become students and teachers. I’m going to need to ponder that some more.

    Again, well done, young lady!

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 16, 2011

      I know for some, photography is a solitary pursuit Monte and there is nothing wrong with that at all. I think you just have to figure out what works for you. If you were anything like me, the dabbling was just a way of getting one step closer to finding the “this”. It felt like not finishing something I started but in retrospect it all makes sense to me now.

  12. Craig Ferguson
    July 16, 2011

    The short answer to how it happened was that I started playing around with cameras when I was very young, maybe 5 or 6. I’d always want to use my Dad’s camera (he was a Christmas / vacation photographer only). I even had an old broken camera with no film it it that I used to play with pretending to take photos. Add that to the fact that I can’t draw, can’t sing (my wife says I can’t even sing Happy Birthday in tune) and have no other creative talent, and photography chose me. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 16, 2011

      What wonderful memories you have, Craig. I can see why you feel photography chose you 🙂

  13. Charlene
    July 17, 2011

    It seems that for you, helping photographers could be a fallback/comfort zone thing. You’ve clearly had plenty of past experience facilitating events and people, it’s something that you get a lot out of, and you’re damned good at it.

    But I think you don’t give yourself enough credit for having something important to say through your images. Every time you post a pic (or 3, if we’re lucky, heh), I find myself thinking “she’s on the verge of something there” but you never really “say it out loud,” if that makes sense? Like you’re holding yourself back from making that statement. The picture in this post is a perfect example. I look at it and think “go on, show us more, I want to know what you want to tell me” It’s a little bit separated from your words though, cause those are telling me plenty in this post.

    Maybe it’s the nature of the internet, that we have to hold ourselves back (i do the same), because being open/vulnerable online can be dangerous and often unproductive. And the internet is all I know you through.

    Thank you for yet another great post, and for letting me into your community. It’s been nothing short of great. I just wished I lived a continent nearer!

    Reply
    • Sabrina
      July 17, 2011

      I don’t know so much if it’s a fallback thing, Charlene. The challenge has always been trying to move forward with photography while working full-time. It’s a delicate balance.

      I find your comment about never really saying it out loud strangely reassuring. How we say something is our voice and I do know why I never say anything out loud. It is connected to my desire for community and that is strongly rooted in my childhood experiences.

    • Charlene
      July 17, 2011

      My apologies, the fallback comment was in response to this bit: “perhaps my role was just to help photographers rather than be one.” You ARE a photographer, don’t have to give that up to help others, unless you want to of course 🙂

      Good point re your reticience. I’ve been so sucked into the whole “What do you want to SAY” side of things that I often forget that what you don’t say is equally important.

  14. Ellie Ericson
    July 17, 2011

    Sabrina – like Stuart – I also don’t even know where to begin. Two things I do know: I am filled with the most humble gratitude to you and Ray for putting ART together and feel inordinately blessed to have been a part of it. Secondly, I am still in the process of sifting through and endeavoring to formulate my own post on my experience at ART. It feels like it’s taking forever…and patience is not exactly my strongest virtue.

    You are a powerful voice in helping others in photography (you know my thoughts on this from previous discussions) – AND I want to encourage you not to short change yourself or your ability as a photographer – these two skills go hand in hand for you.

    I love your mention of community and fellowship – this struck a deep chord with me. I too have found this in my own journey. Similarly, I have dabbled with trying several other things along the way earlier in my life but it was photography and my delving into creativity that changed everything. I felt like I had finally landed somewhere where I could feel truly comfortable and feel like I “belonged” when I was surrounded by likeminded creatives. I come to liken this journey I am on as a pilgrimage of sorts – ART was a safe space to be vulnerable, share the fears, doubts, revelations, and come to know that all of you “had my back” and that I am never alone in the process. Thank you.

    Reply
  15. anita
    July 18, 2011

    Sabrina, this post was definitely worth waiting for.

    I remember that Wes had some specific and compelling reasons for his “why this” of gardening. It seems harder, though, to uncover the “why” for photography. Another question that Wes asked was: “Why can’t I stop?” Perhaps asking that question will help lead us closer to discovering “why this.” I have my fair share of incomplete projects and things I’ve dabbled in. Why is it that I could stop doing those things, but not this? ..interesting question.

    You are very gifted at contributing to others. Our experience at ART was a direct reflection of the koinonia you create with those who are fortunate enough to get to know you.

    ART was absolutely a defining moment in my journey. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. A.R.T. | Ellie Ericson Photography
    November 27, 2011

    […] own experiences and thoughts on their blogs prior to me – you can check them out HERE, HERE, HERE and […]

    Reply
  17. ART 2011 | Artist Round Table
    April 3, 2014

    […] “I cannot think of any other way to end this post than to thank Ray, Anita, Ellie, Stuart, Matt and Chris for one of most inspiring conversations on art and photography I’ve ever had. You have no idea how much your willingness to share who you are, your fears and doubts, your dreams and aspirations, has deeply touched me and will be one of the defining moments in my journey.” ~ Sabrina Henry […]

    Reply

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