June 07, 2015 - a reminder of humility and grace
I take lots of photographs. I’d rather take ten photos of something and hope I like one of them, when I go back and look at them. Better that than only take one picture and feel I missed the shot. The first time I went to New York, I was there for nine days and took sixteen hundred photographs. I recently took an overnight trip to Ladysmith, and snapped off over 250 frames in that twenty-six hour retreat. I usually post five or six images a week to my Instagram account.
Photography is one of those things in which I enjoy all of the process. I like seeing something that I want to capture, and photographing a few different angles or perspectives. I usually don’t look at the photos until I get home, and sometimes it might be a day or two before I get to them.
I always look at what I’ve photographed, on my iPad. I decide on the ones I like. That doesn’t mean I delete all the others. I then enjoy the process of editing, cropping, shifting the light, working the colours. Whatever it takes until the image pleases me. Then I will post my favourite images to Instagram. Occasionally I'll also share some of my photos on Facebook. It’s a satisfying hobby, one that remains something which is just about me. If others like the photos as well, that’s great, of course. But I derive a great deal of pleasure from it for myself.
I put thought into the titles or words that describe each image. When other people comment or ‘like’ my images on Instagram, it’s gratifying, and somewhat validating too. I don't think any creative person does everything with all ego removed completely. At least for me, I’m not there. Not yet anyway. I spend time looking at who comments or likes my photos. I’ve discovered some really great photographers and artists through looking at the work of those who like or comment on my photographs.
I posted this photograph, of my shadow on a swing, on my Instagram page on Friday evening. I took the photograph when I was in Ladysmith a few weeks ago. A few hours after posting it, I was checking out the people who had ‘liked’ it, as I do. There was one gentleman that I hadn’t seen before who had liked this photograph.
I went to look at the images that this gentleman had on his Instagram account. I had one of those moments where you see something and it's immediately confusing. So I looked again, looked away, and then looked again. He had copied my photograph, of me on the swing and posted it on his Instagram account, without acknowledging that the photo was in fact, mine.
One thing that I’ve learned or enhanced (!) through The Stranger Project, is not to take everything personally. To have greater patience, especially with regard to others reactions. Like comments people might leave on a story. Or the vulnerability that I feel sometimes when speaking about living with depression. There’s definitely a vulnerability in sharing other peoples stories, and with that, I feel protective.
I’ll be perfectly honest though, it pissed me off that someone saw fit to copy my photograph, and seemingly post it as their own image. There was no reference to me, or acknowledgement that this photo was from my Instagram account.
I sat on it for a while - knee-jerk reactions generally, in my humble opinion only set one up for the need to apologize later. Another lesson learned from this project - wait before replying, sometimes. There was a short paragraph written by the guy posting my image, but it was in the Persian language of Farsi. I had no way to translate his words. An hour later, my inner dialogue was at ‘This really burns my ass.’ I felt a need to leave a comment for him on his account, below the post of my photograph.
‘HEY! This is MY photograph - not cool, at least credit the photographer you copied it from!’
In truth, it didn’t make me feel any better. This was the first time it had ever happened to me on Instagram, that I know of anyway. I took a screenshot of what this guy had written below my photo, and sent it to a friend of mine, Ata, who I know speaks and reads Farsi.
Ironically, I had met Ata when we were both presenting at TEDxRenfrewCollingwood.
I went to bed, not dwelling on it, but still perturbed and somewhat indignant. I certainly didn’t lose any sleep over it though.
The next morning, my friend Ata had replied to my request to translate this guy's comment about MY photograph. It was the first thing I saw when I got up, and was the first thing I read.
'Hi dear Colin, it says:
"It's not always necessary to have a beautiful face... or pleasant voice... a beautiful heart is enough. It's enough to see through your heart beautifully... Having a beautiful heart is enough by itself to attract many people to yourself !! "
I hope it helps. Have a nice weekend. Ata.'
My entire perspective shifted so swiftly I’m sure there was a sound of gears grinding in my head. I read the translation again. And then again. I looked at my photograph, and read this man’s poem while seeing the shadow of me, on a swing. Me on a swing while I was away on a retreat. A retreat based in the truest and most wonderful experience of the love of life-long friendships and artistry. Now I felt like the complete ass. Assumption.
Not everything is as it appears. We can’t judge a book by the cover, and without knowing all the facts, or backstory, it’s so easy to get it wrong. Some lessons I’ve had to learn over and over again. Some take many years to fully understand. I spoke about humility a few weeks ago, and how I struggled for years to understand what that truly meant, to me. I am not the centre of the universe, and not everything is about me. Far from it.
I immediately wanted to apologize to the gentleman who had taken inspiration from my photograph. He had attached such profoundly beautiful and poetic thought to it. He left a comment below my mad rant. He simply said ‘I am sorry.’ He had also gone in and liked twenty-six more of my photographs. I left an apology, and thanked him for the valuable reminder and lesson of not making assumptions. I thanked him for his gift.
This lesson will stay with me for a very long time. I’m sure I will share this story with friends in the near and distant future. This would never have happened without The Stranger Project. I learned a valuable lesson and was reminded of the spirit of grace, from a stranger that I’ve never even met.
Social media can be pervasive, intrusive, cause isolation and spread stories like wildfire. On the other hand, it can teach valuable lessons. It can bring people closer together, and can give pause for consideration. It can be a wonderfully powerful tool, when used with good intention and thoughtfulness.
Tonight while writing this, I thought about leaving another comment for this gentleman, who had reminded me of the ills of presumption. I wanted him to be able to read this story, about what I had learned from him. Sadly, he’s made his Instagram account private, thus preventing me from being able to communicate with him. Who thinks who is an ass now? #notastranger