Downsizing, Better Photography…Correlated?

If you’ve read any of my latest entries you already know I’ve recently been immersed in downsizing and de-cluttering lots of things. Just this weekend we took two Toyota Tacoma loads of stuff to places like ARC, Goodwill and the Broomfield Public Library. The books were still difficult for me to part with, but I have to admit that seeing the glee on the library staff’s faces after receiving almost 100 books was well worth the donation. Other stuff wasn’t so difficult nor as rewarding. At the ARC donation center they pretty much just pointed at an already immense stack of items and emotionlessly said, “just pile it there”.

Equally rewarding was taking an entirely full pickup bed of stuff to the landfill. Most of what I took was scrap lumber that I always thought I might use someday, but never did. I also disassembled the crappy workbench that our house’s previous owners had constructed and hauled that away. Other stuff was just junk that had cleverly crept into the nooks and crannies of our house over time and had managed to escape our eyes and attention. It felt so good to toss all this stuff and feel the weight literally be lifted off our shoulders. However, it almost wasn’t that positive experience when I tried to leave the landfill. It was snowing like crazy and where I’d backed down to toss the stuff was super deep with mud. It took putting my truck into four-wheel-drive and slowly and patiently working my way up a hill. All I could think of was how embarrassing it would have been to a) slide back into the open pit at the dump, or b) flag down a trash truck and have them pull me out! Fortunately neither happened.

So once everything was properly tossed, distributed and donated, I set to the task of building a functional workspace in the garage by constructing a new workbench, hanging old cabinets to use for storage and essentially getting what little remained into some sort of order. Our garage is now clean, uncluttered, neat and useable. That was Saturday (and all of last week going through stuff and deciding what needed to be tossed). Yesterday when I went out for my long run I was thinking how liberating it felt to de-clutter all aspects of our lives. I could honestly think more clearly and life just seemed “lighter”. Even my gait seemed livelier!

Being on a domestically productive roll, and because I had a little more than two hours during my run to think about it, I remembered that I still had some photos from my recent trip to Ouray that I needed to finish up, organize and get onto my website. Of course photography is one of my favorite pastimes so the thought of having to work on the photos certainly didn’t seem like a chore, however, it was still another task I needed to tackle.

The odd thing is that even while I was running and focused on that task, I could remember almost every one of the 150 useable photos I took that weekend in Ouray. Then, that made me start thinking about why I could remember the details of thousands of photos I’ve taken over time and yet didn’t remember to bring my hydration pack for my run that morning! Yep, for the second time in as many months, I’d forgotten it. Had it been a 5-6 mile run it wouldn’t have been a big deal, but going beyond a half marathon distance starts to make the oversight a little more relevant. Fortunately I’m used to going longer distances and it didn’t prove to be all that much of a factor…though I was definitely feeling it a little toward the end.

So back to why I could remember the details of thousands of photos. The thought kind of consumed me yesterday and eventually proved to be quite insightful. The answer/theory finally came to me when I was sifting through the aforementioned Ouray pics. I could remember the details because typically when I take photos I “zone out” and only focus on the photo or situation at hand. It’s similar to climbing, running, snowboarding or whatever else in that when I’m immersed in those activities I shut out the rest of the world and can live in only that very moment.  In other words, I de-clutter my mind of all the things that really don’t matter at that moment and enjoy what I’m doing at the 100% level.

Then I started thinking about some of my favorite photos and that really emphasized the point. One of my favorite photos is the very first one you see when you click onto my website — the one of the Quechua woman. Although I can’t see the woman’s face nor much of the surrounding market, the photo instantly takes me back to the village of Pisaq, Peru where I can literally see those colours again, hear the voices of vendors hocking their wares, smell the rustic truchas al mojo de ajo wafting from a food vendor’s comal and physically feel the frenetic energy of that high Andean market. Why can I still do this? The answer is because at the time of taking the photo(s) I wasn’t thinking about Boulder, CO, answering a cell phone, work or trivial things like mowing the grass. Instead, I was truly living in the moment and sincerely “feeling” what I was trying so desperately to capture. Nothing else existed. And the result of doing that was capturing an image that I think may singularly define my work as a photographer.

From that single photo, I then started looking back at ALL the photos on my website and thinking about why I chose them to publicly represent my work. The answer was the same. Every photo there was taken at a time when I was able to unload the burdens of outside clutter and truly focus on what I was seeing and experiencing at the time. Naturally I will never be able to capture the “feeling”, but what I hopefully can do is capture enough of the visual representation so that I can evoke a memory of how it felt to be there or possibly give someone else the ability to “imagine” the feeling.

I loved looking back through those images and bringing back memories like the feeling of standing at almost 19,000 feet above sea level at daybreak and seeing the shadow the mountain on which I was standing being cast across a valley more than 10,000 vertical feet below. Standing at the Sun Gate on the Inca Trail and watching the sun rise over Machu Picchu. Waking up early at one of the 10th Mountain Division Huts here in Colorado and seeing the myriad of colours in a sunrise that only nature can produce. Standing at a food cart in Bangkok, sweating in life threatening heat and humidity, eating Pad Thai as fantastically delicious as you can only experience in Thailand. The list goes on and on but it was those unique moments (and images!) that could only come about when I had tossed aside the weight of clutter (be it material or mental) and truly lived in the moment.

Now back to de-cluttering my house. Even though I didn’t rid myself of every material item I own, getting marginally lighter in the ownership department definitely helped open up my mind and I instantly felt compelled to do more, see more and live more. For example, I love to cook new and interesting ethnic foods, something I haven’t done much of lately. This weekend though, I once again had out the cookbooks dreaming of traveling the world via our kitchen.

Funny how one thing leads to another and a cycle of complacency can quickly be broken. Had we not recently been talking to Jason about his de-materializing and subsequent re-tooling of careers, we may still be living status quo and unnecessarily accepting (and adding to) the clutter. But the spark was sparked and that’s seriously all it took. We’re once again getting leaner, meaner and freer to do more things like traveling, climbing and adventuring.

So in the end, for me at least,, there really is a direct correlation between living a downsized and de-cluttered life and taking better photos. Without the distractions I do better work. With better work I’m more inspired. With more inspiration I push farther. The farther I go the more I can experience. The more I experience the better and more understanding of a person I can hopefully become. And if I can become a better person, hopefully I can spread that feeling and help make the entire world a better place.

Downsizing (de-cluttering) = better photography = better world. Pretty cool.

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