Anytime I meet someone new they ask, why did I move away from New York City, and why should they hire me as opposed to one of the millions of others that call themselves photographers? I tell them I have a way of seeing the world that sets me apart; a reverence at the basis of my distinct vision, which was born on November 1, 2014.
Before that day
Before that day, my photography had become okay, at best; with the advent of social media my work slowly devolved to taking safe shots meant to garner the most attention on social media, and I was miserable because of it. When I was a young man, I would have been happy with just one person telling me they liked my work whereas in 2014 if I didn’t get a certain amount of likes on social media, I would become depressed.
On the day it all changed
I woke up with a terrible emptiness in my heart that had me feeling I couldn’t be alone that day. I needed to keep active, and I needed to be outside. I drove into Chinatown, set my camera to zone focus, and began taking pictures of all those walking by me, in the rain.
I had Depeche Mode’s, Freelove, playing on loop.
Listening to the song and its lyrics, and looking at the faces of those passing by me, something in me switched.
The cold rain seeping through my coat and chilling me to the bone stopped being something I dealt with. Instead, it became the catalyst for this overwhelming feeling I began experiencing, where the wet feel of my clothes and the crisp air opening the deepest corners of my lungs made me feel ecstatic, feel alive.
I recognized something in the eyes of everyone I’d passed; a disconnect and also a fear that can only come when just being around people can be the most terrifying thing one can do.
I recognized it because it was something I’d see every time I’d look at my reflection, especially in the mornings, when staring at a bathroom mirror and thinking, another day of feeling like shit.
When did I become this echo?
Trying to exist instead of living?
I was quick to dismiss the recognition. I no longer believed in any of that ‘woo-woo’ nonsense.
However, when I stopped in front of a mural of Audrey Hepburn in Litle Italy, the following quote from Plato’s Symposium came to mind:
Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him.
While I no longer believe in the concept of soulmates, I couldn’t wholly dismiss as mystical ‘woo woo’ nonsense my recognizing something of myself in others and what was coming through in their eyes; the same capacity to love, to give love openly, and also the fear of just how random and chaotic and absurd the universe appears to be.
At that point I recalled something I’d read in the book, Nature, Man, and Woman by Alan Watts, where he wrote:
For the mind and senses do not now have to open themselves; they find themselves naturally opened, and it appears that the divine world is no other than the everyday world.
And just like that, the terrible empty feeling I woke to was gone.
I no longer felt alone.
Everyone around me, they were me, and I was them.
We were one, joined together in our universal fears and desires, where we’d risk pain in our search for pleasure.
Where I realized without pleasure, I would not be able to discern what is painful.
And because I’d known great pain stemming from heartbreak over making myself vulnerable and giving into woo-woo nonsense, the pleasure I was feeling from my understanding of the inter-connectedness to it all filled me with immense desire. My senses opened, naturally, and I found the divine world was no other than the everyday world, coming through the eyes of a street art mural, and from everyone around me.
The day became night.
I found myself wandering through Greenwich Village.
In Washington Square Park, the sense of the divine being in the everyday world faded and the empty feeling returned, followed by a terror that had me race out of the park and towards MacDougal Street.
The terror faded, but the emptiness was still there and had me feeling I no longer belonged anywhere.
As I continued taking pictures, I felt lost and didn’t realize I had ended up back at the exact spot in Washington Square Park, where I had felt that inexplicable terror coming over me.
Then, I recognized why.
I was facing south, taking pictures, with One World Trade Center in the distance when I remembered a moment in my life, when I was 22 years old, standing on that same spot with my girlfriend, the two of us looking at the Twin Towers in the distance and her suggesting we act like tourist and walk to the South Tower and go to observation deck where we could spit off the side of the building.
Understanding it all.
I remembered our walk; through Greenwich Village and SoHo, with a side trip down Mulberry Street and into Chinatown, down Canal and towards the World Trade Center, where we goofed around and laughed, then felt a delightful calm of just being satisfied in the holding hands and being silent around one another.
That calm, it’s all I’ve ever wanted and needed. We had remained friends for years after that.
Wandering the same streets, I had walked, years ago with her, caused me to realize a sentiment best expressed by Pablo Neruda in his poem, Tonight I Can Write the Saddest Lines.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
It was true.
We were no longer the same.
I no longer loved or believed the way I used to.
She was gone; my friend died earlier that year.
I began to cry.
I wanted to return to being the man I was, who would give with no thought in return and would be happy in creating art for the sake of creating art, with no thought of receiving proof of my worth in return. I stopped caring about ‘likes’ on social media.
I understood so as long as I was surrounded by constant reminders of a life that no longer existed, I could never sustain that sense I came upon where I understood the divine world was no other than the everyday world.
It was why I no longer felt like I belonged. That life is gone. I have become a stranger to what was once home.
Milan Kundera once wrote:
The is no perfection only life.
I accepted what I needed to do.
I composed myself and moved on with my night.
A month later I was in my car, driving west, again (that’s a story for another time.)
Once there, I connected with landscapes glowing gold at sunrise and sunset, and the stars coming through the deepest parts of the big night sky. I touched upon my smallness and experienced the relief of knowing that if I am that small, my problems are even smaller and no big deal.
It is how I ended up settling in Texas and making my home in Houston and how my vision came to be.
The Artist’s Way
Every artist’s vision is shaped by their unique life experiences, and that is true in my case.
I only care to take pictures of people who possess something in their spirit that comes through their eyes. In my soul’s recognition, I’d feel the natural connect, and our minds would bend naturally to one another.
It’s the only way I am capable of creating something that feels authentic and real. In doing so, I no longer worry about waking up to a terribly empty feeling.
What am I?
I am in love with life again.
I know how to connect with that love.
Because I’m no longer an echo.
I am alive.
December 6, 2018