That’s a quote from a favorite film of mine, The Bourne Ultimatum – an espionage thriller if you haven’t seen it. It’s asked of our tragic hero, a young Matt Damon, by an old CIA spook during the recruitment process.
Now that ICP kicks into full swing, it’s also something I’ve been asking of myself. Giving yourself over to this school is Step One in a thousand step process of building a master craftsman. Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become “world class” in what you do. That’s 3 hours a day for ten years. Can you spend the next decade behind a viewfinder?
Technically, we can all use our cameras. We can make pictures. We’ll improve, but from now on, we go from being good to great to master through introspection. Through asking ourselves:
“Because I see a lot of photographers on LENS who went here,” I naively said to someone, early in the semester. But how four months can change you. How ten thousand frames can change you.
Through conversations in class and after hours, my vision and purpose have been so much more refined. Now I’m eager to know what drives my colleagues, what inspires them, what angers them. Picture stories can come from nothing if we’re lucky, sure. But what do we see in the world through that 35mm, 120mm, large format frame? This is where we are now, Step Two. Finding our voice. What do we have to say about the world through images, still and video? About ourselves?
This is my story. I knew it whole time, but I had to learn it this semester all over again. I had to interact with hundreds of people, make thousands of images, before I was really sure.
Telling people that I grew up all over the world is something I try to avoid. It’s a long story that usually ends with Zimbabwe. People ask – “Which country was the best?” or “Which did you like the most?”
I blink. Were it that simple. The question I hear is “Which country burned its scenes into your skull?”
“Whose red soil is cemented under your fingernails? Whose people watch you like ghosts over your shoulder? How did your nostrils itch from the smoke of maize cooking fires? Where did you glimpse through bulletproof windows the digging of graves for the new AIDS dead in roadside cemeteries?”
Even though I was a teenager and I knew, in a general sense, what was happening, it just didn’t register: A currency in hyper-inflation, a disease-ravaged populace, an eternal drought, a dictator in his third (now fourth) decade of power. Maybe I was too young to analyze my environment through the protective layer of diplomatic immunity and U.S. Marine firearms. Maybe not. Maybe I could have done something, anything, for someone and changed the course of their life. But I didn’t. Maybe now I’m learning the skills to make up for it.
Country collapses around child. Child becomes man. Man becomes storyteller. What else could I have done? Gone into politics? Non-profits? Don a suit and worm my way into positions of power? No thanks. Give me a pen, paper, camera, and mic. Call it guilt, or empathy, or concern. Call it lying awake in bed, or daydreaming on the sidewalk as the masses rush past. Call it knowing who the real %99 are. Not the photojournalists, not the kids from Brooklyn or Oakland or UC Davis, but everyone south of the border, across the ocean, across the other ocean.
Most people get angry over the state of the world when they’re young, but they learn to mask their disgust with a 9 to 5, a wife, a few kids. But not us. We decline the desk job, or quit it. We let GS have the babies. We go out and make things right by making others care, one viewer at a time.
At least, I do. I will. That’s why I’m here.
To everyone going home for the holidays, have safe trips, you’re all awesome.