Rethinking the holiday e-card

life-celebration

This image, the one I am most proud of and the one that has touched me most deeply this year, was taken during a celebration for a life lived. The image shows the family of the deceased, while a slide show in the background plays of his life. There is the mother, the sister, the wife, the daughters in a moment of grief and powerful human connection. This one image tells the story of human life and how our lives are defined by who and how we are connected to one another.

I think that is what we are all trying to do, every day in our lives. Find and create and feel connections between ourselves and the people around us. I think that all the horrors of what happens when those connections are severed or unformed is how we end up with much of the tragedy we’ve seen in the world. As trite as it may sound, there is only one thing that really matters and it’s love, the ultimate connection.

I think that’s what people are trying to say when they send a holiday card. They are reaching out and saying, I think of you, I want to stay connected with you, I want you to know it.

But it often fails to touch us that way. In this final lead up week until the holidays your inbox has probably been exploding with holiday messages from everyone you know, work with, or for.

Thought and care evidently go into crafting these messages of well-wishing and gratitude and hopes for peace and happiness. Nonetheless, they all end up sort of sounding the same, and you may be developing a kind of holiday e-card blindness.  You may even (gasp) not open the email or worse, send it straight to the trash.

It’s understandable, given that the messages, though well-intentioned, come to us through a tool (email) we use primarily for parsing information and, well, there’s usually not a lot of information to parse from a holiday card. Seen one, seen ‘em all just about sums it up.

From the sender’s perspective, the “holiday e-card send” creates a little extra bit of year-end anxiety. Especially if you are a freelancer or running your own small business. It’s one of those things you know you probably should be doing, but it’s hard to do it with any originality or creativity and, of course, there are still all those presents to buy.

So either you do it in a generic, check-the-box kind of way, or skip it, or buy yourself more time by saying you’ll send a Happy New Year’s message instead (my approach).

But, this year, being 2016, and maybe the weirdest year I’ve ever been consciously aware of with the world turning inward, and a lot of unsettling changes taking hold, I felt the need to do something a little bit differently. I’m genuinely concerned that we’re living through an era of change, not for the better.

And so I began to ask myself questions, to realign myself with my purpose and to give myself and my business a strong sense of direction as this pivotal year comes to a close and a new one is about to begin.

Asking questions, as it turns out, is much easier than answering them, and much more useful. So as my holiday message to you dear readers, friends, clients and random people who come across this on their internet searches for great gift ideas for the holidays, here are the questions I am using to realign and renew myself personally and professionally.

Questions to think on over the holidays

What did I learn this year?

What am I grateful for?

What would I like to change?

What would I like to stay the same?

What relationships did I strengthen?

Which ones did I let go or lose touch with?

What did I create that I am proud of?

How many people did I help?

Did I love well enough?

Did I ignore opportunities for kindness?

What ideas did I have? How many did I act on?

What became of them?

What projects did I begin?

Which ones did I complete?

What am I excited about?

What change do I want to see in the world?

How will I make it happen?

The final two are, I think, the most important, inspired by this famous quote from Ghandi (found here), which I’ll end my 2016 holiday message on:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Two lessons I’ve learned observing humans

Girl flying over flowers with fairies or butterflies
Girl flying over flowers with fairies or butterflies

Working as a photographer sometimes feels like having a secret superpower. You get to blend into rooms and become invisible. You stand apart from the crowd, rather than being a part of it. And your work is to look at humans as they interact and go about their lives. You are a professional observer.

big-red-heart-blue
Big Red Heart

In my life, somehow becoming a photographer was the natural thing to do, bringing together my myriad interests in anthropology, art, story telling, culture and languages, and above all else, the human condition. After fifteen years on the job, I am still amazed that I can manage to survive on my trade, and that people will pay me to do what I do. Because really what I am very good at is looking at people and seeing them almost with an X-ray vision. After working at hundreds of events and taken hundreds of thousands of images of people being people, I have an intuitive sense of a person’s nature and can see through them in a way that is wholly a gift of practicing photography for so long. And what I have observed most often, is that almost all people all want to feel a connection to others, and everyone looks better when they smile – and the two are deeply related.

It may be simplistic, but I think that the recognition we feel when another person smiles at us, and shows an interest in who we are, however brief the interaction, is what we all live for. As a photographer, I have observed people from all walks of life, from the super rich to the homeless, hyper-connected successful professionals to intellectually challenged autistic individuals who may never have a “real” job. I’ve witnessed marriages in every major faith of the world, as well as the many variations of love and spirituality that people have today that do not fit categorically into any one religion. CEOs, white collar workers, blue collar workers, parents, children, singletons, newlyweds, doctors, lawyers, students, soldiers, homeless men, investment bankers, and artists. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, how much money you have or don’t have, where you live, what you wear, what kind of shape you are in, what your hair looks like, or whether you have hair or not. It doesn’t matter if you are overweight or anorexic, tall, short, or in-between. What you really want – what you need – is to connect with another, feel accepted, feel appreciated, and to give the same to others around you.

rain-lightning-rainbowSo for what it is worth, I would say this to anyone who’s still with me this far down the page: in 2016, smile more often, not just because someone is taking your picture. Pay attention to the person you are with. Listen to their answers when you ask a question about them. And know that everyone struggles with something sometime, that no matter the appearances, deep down inside, we’re really not so different from one another. Most of us don’t need more stuff in our lives. What we need is more patience, love, acceptance and peace. And mostly, we need each other.

*Art courtesy of Tessa