Last night I read an interview by Brooks Jensen ( Lenswork ) with the great American photographer, Clyde Butcher. Butcher is best known for his incredible black and white photographs of the Everglades landscape near his home in the Big Cypress National Preserve. His large format prints, some as large as 5ft. x 9ft., draw the viewer in creating an awe-inspiring visceral experience. These days Bucher makes a fine living printing and selling his creative works, something that very few black & white photographers ever manage. Although he had started in black in white, he migrated to color in the 1980s. Leaving his roots, he worked in color because that’s what was selling. Along the way, although successful, he began to grow weary of making big prints that designers could sell based more on matching the colors of furnishings, walls & fabrics of clients rather than the compositions themselves. Clyde longed to get back to black and white photography, where his true creative impulses flourished. He feared, though, that he wouldn’t be able to sell enough to support himself.
Then, a life-changing tragedy occurred. He and his wife lost their son, who was killed by a drunk driver. In the interview, Clyde tells Brooks, “When that sort of thing happens you have to make decisions about what’s important in life. It was a life-changing event. I decided to go back to my black-and-white roots. So, I took $3-400,000 worth of (color) prints, mats and frames to the dump…” In his grief, he returned to the Everglades and began to photograph again in black and white. He and his wife doubted that they could support themselves with sales from the black and whites. Nevertheless, having faced the pain of the loss of life in his family, Clyde felt it was he must pay heed to the callings of his heart. Unexpectedly, his new creations in black and white became even more in demand. He and his photography have received many accolades and honors. The complete interview, as well as a collection of Butcher’s fine photography, is in Lenswork #118, May – June 2015.
It’s a fine line that we working artists straddle. On the one side lies the longings of the heart, those delicious stirrings of passion that draw us nearer to what we love, what fascinates us in the most personal and intimate way. These are the reflections that resonate deep inside us, that are most naturally attuned to who and what we are. They include spiritual longings, natural rhythms, the stuff that good dreams are made of. Like Butcher, we long to exercise these creative muscles and follow our muse, but the our life’s responsibilities, both real and self-imposed, often prevent us from doing so. I think we all can find our own example of this inner battle being waged between our minds and hearts.
Sometimes we’re seduced by the golden carrot. We chase it, hoping that if we can catch it, financial security will be ours. Here are the scenes, events & landscapes, that if we photograph them well, can help us pay our bills, make us successful, perhaps even give us fame. They stretch out in front of us, always just a little out of our reach. These sought-after photographs are a moving target, based on the news of the day, fashionable trends promoted by social and entertainment media. We may end up photographing weddings or other events, when in reality our heart’s desire is to explore the contours of wind-swept dunes or clouds. We exercise our photographic muscles, but not our creative ones. Then to top it all off, we either pay someone to market us, or we roll up our sleeves and attempt to do it ourselves. Competition must be reckoned with, contacts need to be made, and whether we like it or not, new images must be created at an ever-accelerating rate. Such are the pitfalls of the photographer/businessperson. These are the “shoulds” we must reckon with.
Coming to grips with and finding balance between these two worlds is a huge challenge. There are no guarantees. Somehow, we must make the time to shoot for ourselves and trust that this “right action” of an artist, will pay off in the second area of supporting ourselves, rendering a degree of security we also need to remain healthy, in harmony with our lives. And even if our authentic, creative efforts don’t completely support us financially, it is essential we do it anyway if we are to keep our heart and spirit alive. It is said that if we follow our hearts, listen to our inner muse, and become authentically ourselves the financial part will take care of itself.
Although I’ve written here from the perspective of a photographer/artist, I know that the lessons and gifts of listening to our heart apply to any and all walks of life. I hope that wherever you find yourself in life’s journey I hope you’ll take some time today to listen to and follow the stirrings of your own heart.