Pain and Courage | The Glorious Life Of A Creative Spirit

A penguin climbs to the top of an ice covered hillside on Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

Over the years my work as a photography teacher has brought me into contact with a lot of interesting and highly motivated people. It's always great when, in such a tough industry, those who undertake formal studies as a means to find employment are able to transit from the world of a well-tendered student to that of an independent working photographer.

Some, because of their own personality, talent and tenacity are able to make that transition without even completing formal studies. Others are good students but, not being able to find one of very few full-time positions in the industry and without the capabilities or desire to run their own business, flounder. For those folks jobs on the fringe of the industry (e.g. camera stores, distributors) or, alternatively, in an aligned industry are often the best solution.

During my time as a photography teacher I've worked with literally thousands of people. Usually the relationship is mutually beneficial: they learn and I revel in that journey. Sometimes the student/teacher experience is so powerful, so very much in the moment, that time seems to stand still as critical understanding is experienced. I've experienced this both as a student and as a teacher.

Photography As A Student

I'II never forget my own favorite teachers over the years and the sacrifices they made to help me along my own, very independent path.

Bob Shaw

A standout in my high school years. Bob was positive, enthusiastic and treated his students with respect. I have no doubt he genuinely cared and made all the difference in my Accounting class, a class without him I probably would not have passed.

Meryl Johnson

A kind and encouraging tutor in my first year of formal, tertiary level photography education.

Dr. Les Walkling

A phenomenal support and inspiration. Whatever I wanted to do he allowed, encouraged and helped make possible. I studied under Les for 7 years culminating in a Masters of Arts  (Photography) at RMIT, Melbourne.

You just don't forget that kind of support and it must, as a consequence, inform your own relationships with those you teach.

As a Teacher

During my time as a teacher I've experienced many out of time moments when the blessed trinity of information, delivery and connection seem to gel within an entire group of people. Such moments are highly palpable, even blissful.

Hardship and Hope

Every now and again a favorite student has to prematurely leave a course of study. This can be a great sadness for student, peers and teacher alike. I remember a message I received from such a student, let's call her C, whom I'd taught for several years at a photographic college at which I'd previously worked. Due to a significant illness she had to leave her studies and return to her parents home to re-cooperate. The nature of the illness dictated a slow, careful recovery in a peaceful, nurturing environment.

I remember at the time thinking that C had made a decision that was both correct and courageous. After all one's happiness and health are paramount.

And formal studies are but one way by which we can live a photographic life.

I very much believe in the following notion:

To heal the world you first need to heal yourself

In other words you can't live a productive life and bring joy to others until you are happy and healthy yourself. Our modern world can be such a hard, difficult place and many do all they can just to survive. They spend the best years of their life swimming against the tide or, at best, treading water.

After making the arduous climb up the hill overlooking Paradise Harbour in Antarctica it's an absolute thrill to slide down, in a fraction of the time.

Life is What You Make of It

We're all presented with choices along life's path. But I've learned to understand that we often miss the point of those choices. Why take on a so-called promotion when the job promises elevated levels of stress, significantly longer working hours, a loss of personal freedom and leisure. Often the so-called financial rewards simply aren't there. We need an escape plan and I now believe that such choices present us with just that.

Why spend our life running to keep up with a train that does little more than take us in circles? Maybe the right choice is the one outside of the box? Consider leaving the track and taking a nice, slow relaxed walk on the grass. And why not stop for an ice-cream and a snooze along the way? You may not make as much money but, with a more enlightened view of money and the cost it has on your life, you'd likely experience better health and fitness, more fulfilling relationships and an ability to see and experience more of the beauty and joy that surrounds us all.

The really smart people, the wise ones, are able to do just that. It takes courage, but only in the spaces between the madness of our modern world can you find time to really know yourself, breathe and begin to understand why you're actually here. I believe that we all have a purpose in life, but few of us take the necessary action to realize that purpose. And, for some, that action requires distancing themselves from the rat race so as to find their own path.

What's Your Scene?

Whether your creativity is expressed through writing, music or photography its important to allocate the time, energy and finances required to nurture that talent. And, through the power of social media, why not share your journey and outcomes with the world. So, by healing yourself you can then contribute and make a positive difference to the health of so many other people and, as a consequence, to the world itself.

What About Happiness?

Depending on your generation and your upbringing you may or may not have been told that you are unique, talented and able to do anything you want. I once referred to a former students as a child of the universe who glows with a luminous quality. And I meant it!

The point is you don't actually acquire or achieve happiness. You experience it.

I doubt that true happiness will come as a result of keeping your boss happy by entering data and moving numbers around in cyberspace. Happiness surrounds us all, it's our state of mind, the way we perceive what's going on around us that determines our reality and, as a consequence, our ability to experience happiness.

Life is not the cards we are dealt, nor is it the way we play those cards. That's because such a game, by definition, results in winners and losers.

The secret to life is the ability to determine what the cards actually are.

We all have the ability to make an ace from a joker, a flush from a pair. And once we understand that fact the need to play the hand is replaced with the desire to share our cards, openly, with others.  

A heavy snowstorm sweeps over Whalers Bay and Port Foster on Deception Island in Antarctica.

And What of Sadness and Loss

Sadness, anxiety and even heartache are temporary if we choose them to be so. They are also necessary. Without loss how could we understand love, without despair we would undervalue bliss. No one lives in a bubble, and the outside world does impact our life. But that doesn't mean we have to allow it to do so at the expense of our own happiness. If you have a horrible boss it seems to me there are three choices available to you:

  • Stay mad and miserable in this seemingly hopeless situation. This is the easiest choice and many folks find a sense of identify and significance in identifying themselves as a victim. I know this from personal experience and its one of the reasons why people choose to enter or remain in destructive relationships.
  • Learn to better understand your bosses point of view and motivations. You may find you pity them or, better yet, begin to understand why they're behaving like they are. As a result the boss/employee power relationship will change and you may find a sense of freedom from the stress you'd previously believed they were responsible for causing.
  • Get out and get on with life. This takes real courage, which is why few of us, including our bosses, do it.

When I heard the news of C's illness and move back to her parents home I decided to dedicate a photo to her. It's from Antarctica. The little penguin was photographed near the top of a hill on Cuverville Island, Antarctica I like the photo and the fact that it's emotive power has probably been emphasized when viewed in relation to this article.

A close up view of a penguin's feet on the icy slopes of Cuverville Island, Antarctica.

The Road Ahead 

All indications I've received are that C is well on the road to recovery. Indeed she's developing into a very good photographer working in a part of the industry to which she feels an affinity. Its always rewarding when someone you know is able to realize their own potential and live a happy, meaningful life. And I'm so pleased that the light I witnessed within C, while temporarily dimmed, is burning bright again.

Perhaps our primary purpose in life is to bring happiness into the lives of others. But to be able to do that in a sustained, meaningful way we first need to find happiness in our own lives. The road is never easy but the choices we make, ultimately, are what determine the road we take and the reality we create.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru