I was looking back at some of my journals recently and found tons and tons of spirited entries about lots of things that were simple yet extraordinarily moving. Sitting in markets in a faraway country, sitting on a high pass absorbing 360-degree views, eating strange foods from street vendors, sitting with my coffee watching a foreign city awaken to a new day are just some of the things that I’ve wrote countless and countless pages about. It’s the simple things that always pull me back to “center” so much of my travel is spent trying to go as simple (sometimes dirt bag is the correct term) as possible.
I like to think that my appreciation for those simple things filter into most aspects of my life, from the way I live day to day to hopefully the way I capture images with my photographic pursuits. In fact, I try to keep my photos as simple as possible in order to convey that very thing, simplicity.
On Monday of this week I received an email which, for me, validated my efforts and passion for capturing some of these simple images. The email informed me that some of my images were going to be used in a globally recognized publication, one I personally have a great deal of respect for, one of the extremely few.
The best part about this is that I can honestly say that in getting those shots I stayed true to my desire and passion of capturing the simple side of life. I didn’t go looking for the shots, it’s what came at me at the time. I didn’t manipulate the situation, only embraced the moment and let emotions, my own included, dictate the shot. I’m not the best photographer in the world, far from it, but I know my own emotions and perpetually look for simplicity in life and that’s where I think I can make my photos capture something a little different, if only to me.
So getting word from that publication was definitely a nice highlight in my work as a photographer/journalist. However, the day before I actually received something I’m far more proud of and certainly hold as a higher form of validation. I humbly received the Devon Award completely out of the blue.
I don’t know who said it but there was once a quote that went something like “Cats and kids are very much alike, they both know who they can trust in the first second they meet a stranger”. I think we all have that gut instinct about the people we meet but as we become adults we learn to fake our way through uncomfortable interactions so as not to hurt feelings, offend or downright piss off others. Naturally that’s a matter of courtesy and I’m not saying we should stop being nice, but the unfiltered honesty of a cat and a kid can deliver a stinging blow, especially if we take the time to reflect on that honesty.
So, on Sunday I met with a good friend who founded and directs a non-profit organization called Mountain2Mountain www.mountain2mountain.org. Because of our schedules and life, we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while so needed to catch up. Shannon brought her daughter Devon along, who I’d never met until then, and a couple of my best friends also popped over the pass from Vail. It was so incredibly nice to step away from everything for a couple of hours, have a leisurely brunch with great friends and just enjoy life in the mountains.
While we were having brunch, Devon busied herself with her drawings since all the adult conversation was likely about the most boring thing a six year old could possibly endure. As we talked, she quietly went through page after page, filling her sketch book full of amazing drawings. It was pretty impressive that she endured well over an hour of our talk and never once asked to leave or do something different. So dialed into her drawing was she that she even turned down breakfast AND hot chocolate.
Then, just as we readied ourselves to leave and go out for a walk, she handed me one of her drawings (and an envelope) and told me it was “for me”. I was also instructed that the envelope was not to be opened until I got home, to which I promised I wouldn’t…and didn’t.
We walked around town for a while and sat in a park to continue our conversations from brunch. Devon engaged herself again with climbing on rocks, putting shards of sandstone into fun designs and stopping by every once in a while to point out the chipmunk (through she was convinced it was a ferret) sunning himself. As we sat there I thought a lot about what it meant to have received that drawing from her. I actually thought about the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that goes something like, “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Naturally I had my camera with me and several times there in the park I wanted to pull it out of its case and snap some photos of Devon. Every time I thought about it, I couldn’t. Not sure why actually, but I couldn’t. Maybe it was that I knew all to well I could never capture the emotion I had of being accepted as a person through the unfiltered eyes of a six year old. Any photo I took wouldn’t do justice in my mind. Or maybe it was just one of those moments where the camera needed to stay holstered and I needed to enjoy life for what it was in that moment.
This was on Sunday, word came about my photos on Monday. While Monday’s news was amazingly validating for the photography work I’d done, receiving the Devon Award the day prior definitely put everything into the context it needed to be put into. Yes, I had captured simplicity of emotion in a couple of photos and it was luckily recognized by a publication I respect, but to live my life honestly enough to have it recognized by such an awesome kid is far greater validation to me than any publication, buyer, critic or editor could ever bestow upon me.
For a person who laothes the thought of putting any awards in my office or hanging my diploma for all to see, I have no hesitation at all at proudly displaying my Devon Award.
Thank you Devon. I hope I can always live up to your expectations.