“Love is the light in which we see each thing in its truest origin, nature and destiny. If we could look at the world in a loving way, then the world would rise up before us full of invitation, possibility and depth.” – John O’Donohue
When I first ventured into photography I assumed it was exclusively for me. The first real camera I purchased was just for me. I took my first workshop for my own personal growth. I feasted on the inspiration of others for my own enjoyment. What began as a hobby took root and blossomed into a full-fledged personal passion.
Over time, however, a little space opened up in my heart. I began to see ways that my photography could be as much for others as it is for myself. What if my knowledge, experience, and art could serve a larger purpose?
What I found is that photography can be simultaneously for us and for others. In fact, when we share what we do, we become better artists.
Art is not just for us
Does art ever really belong to us?
Inspiration whispers, “Here I am. Create with me.” We press the shutter, the work is incarnated and our heart soars at the miracle of it. While the work bears our imprint, it is not really not ours.
In the moment of creation it belongs to the universe. It belongs to our families, to our clients, and to the pool of inspiration we all drink from.
It’s much like motherhood, really. Perhaps the heartache of every mother is an acknowledgement of this truth – our children are not ours alone. Successful parenting is defined by its ability to love and let go. It’s a job we work ourselves out of. It sounds a bit tragic but we are working toward our own absolution.
Art, like a child, is created for its own sake, not ours.
Art is created to give away
Not only is art created for its own sake, it’s created to give away. Every artist works to create for others. It can be for the enjoyment of others, the validation from others, or any number of potential motivations.
Of course there are examples like Vivian Maire. She was an American street photographer who privately documented Chicago and NYC during the second half of the twentieth century. And she never shared her images during her lifetime.
Her massive body of work was discovered in a thrift shop. While she never sought to share or publish a single image, she also never destroyed them. Today over 10,000 prints and negatives have been catalogued and archived. The universe wanted her art to be shared.
You see, we don’t create in a vacuum. The images we create are inspired by the beauty all around us. We receive, interpret and return what we observe. When we photograph it’s a form of thanks. And gratitude cannot exist without a recipient.
My greatest growth as a photographer has been during times of least profit.
That might make you go, “HUH?!” But truly, I have found that when we are only creating for a business or for personal gain, our creativity suffers.
I will never tell you that running a profitable business with your photography is a bad idea. In fact, it’s often a very good idea! However, I do believe that when we abandon the idea of “giving back” with our photography, we close ourselves off to real inspiration.
As creatives we are made to have our hearts easily stirred. When we are only focused on transactions or self-centered pursuits, we do not allow ourselves to feel. It’s the emotion of any given scene that helps us to create memorable imagery and we need to be sure to be open to that as we use our cameras.
So how do we give back? Where do we start to find a way to allow us to stay inspired? I would tell you to start by asking these four questions:
1. What aspect of my story makes needs to be shared?
2. Who in my community needs encouragement?
3. What issues touch my heart?
4. What photographer could use encouragement on her journey?
Share your story
My dear friend’s son was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. I watched as their family navigated the challenges and hardships of treatment. He is in remission today, but the impact of his cancer is still present in his day-to-day life.
His story has impacted my own in a most profound way. It has deeply affected how I see my world, my family, my clients, and every person I encounter. There are no “givens” in life. Each day is truly is a gift.
Inspired by my brave friend and her brave son, I’m a volunteer with the Gold Hope Project. Gold Hope is a non-profit that provides free portrait sessions for pediatric cancer patients. I also volunteer my photography once a month at Boston Children’s Hospital to photograph chronic and terminally ill kids and their families.
Related: 35 Photographs inspired by Gold Hope
Who has impacted your story? What events have shifted your perspective? Chances are, your creativity would be a gift to someone in need. Consider ways you can use your photography to celebrate life and love, to offer hope, and to raise awareness.
Give back to your local community
My business mission statement is to bring experiences of transcendent relationship through photography to those in my community who need them most. In addition to running a for-profit business, I work to give back to my community in an intentional way.
These are simple ways that I give back that you can do in your own communities:
- offer free sessions to families in crisis
- offer free sessions to church ministers and your children’s teachers
- donate sessions each year to local school and charity auctions
I have guidelines on how many free sessions I donate a year. We aren’t super she-roes and will exhaust ourselves if we try to take on all of the need without taking care of ourselves. You must take the time to figure out how to create balance with your business, your family, and your nonprofit work.
Identify what unique touches your heart
Issues that adversely affect children break my heart more than anything. It is what led me to work for Gold Hope and why I took my camera to Thailand to document Breanna’s House of Joy for 10 days. When I heard about the work that was being done there to rescue and empower girls, I knew I was meant to be there.
What issues stir your heart? What motivates you to action? Your photography is your voice. Even better, your photography can be a tool to help bring awareness, funding, and/or resolution to the issues that matter to you.
Reach out to the nonprofits and see if there is anything you can do to support their cause. Perhaps it is documenting the nonprofit in action. Maybe it is auctioning one of your prints to help fund the nonprofit. Or perhaps there is another way that you and your camera can support the cause. In the end, creating for causes that move you will make you a better, more fulfilled photographer.
Help other photographers on their own journeys
Every living thing needs nurturing to grow. I am the photographer I am today because of other photographers who poured into me.
It can be tempting to keep all of our knowledge and expertise to ourselves. We don’t want to fuel the competition, do we?! However, I promise that when you encourage others and share with them, you will also be encouraging your own growth.
How can you encourage and support photographers on their journey? What unique insights/gifts can you use to nourish the field of photography?
One of the best aspects of the Clickin Moms community is that it is focused on encouraging others and working together to become the best photographers we can be. It’s where I met my own encourager, Clickin Moms mentor Jen Bilodeau. Her generosity has encouraged me to be just as generous with others.
Use your camera to reveal beauty
If photos aren’t really ours to begin with, I don’t see a lot of wiggle room when it comes to giving back. Indeed, I believe the real job of the photographer is to see through all the mundane, ugly, and hard. We are meant to see what matters most and to put it right for the world to see.
I believe that our beautiful calling is to affirm meaning.
We have been gifted a unique was of seeing the world. Therefore, we have an obligation to share that unique perspective with a world that might feel weary otherwise.
So I encourage you to use your camera for pursuits outside of your own personal gain. Seek out ways to help others with your creativity. I promise you will discover that you are just as encouraged and inspired as a result.