When Thank You Is Not Enough

Over the years I have met fellow photographers, artists, publishers and media executives and I often sense their nostalgia for the old days when many people could make a decent living from photography and find support and funding for their art projects. I often hear: “Nobody cares about photography anymore.” There is no question that it’s difficult to fund any project, let alone a photographic one. But when I shared this concern I found I was proved wrong!

I have always believed in people. After my health problems and the subsequent kidney transplant my wife and I encountered so much kindness and generosity even from people we had never met before. I would like to  share some stories which are hard to believe. Today let me tell you two of them.

When I was in the intensive care unit fighting for my life for almost six months I was connected to life-saving equipment, unable to move, talk or interact with the outside world. I had to rely on people around me to guess what I needed and take care of me. It was a horrifying and humbling experience. Then, Valentine’s Day arrived. Early in the day one of the cleaning ladies approached my bed, put a Valentine’s card by my bed and said, “Olaf, I see how much your wife loves you and fights for you every day and night. I know you cannot buy her anything, you even cannot say I love you. I bought you a Valentine’s card so you can give it to her.”  Surprised, incredibly touched but unable to communicate my gratitude, I shed a Thank You tear. After all, it wasn’t about the card, it was about the woman – a stranger who in this remarkable gesture gave me hope and faith in humankind. It was one of those defining moments when you feel life is worth living.

Recently I started working on a new photography project, which will be officially launched next month. It is a highly personal and hugely important undertaking which will have its own website, movie documentary and book. In short, it is going to be about people who are waiting for a lifesaving organ transplant, have already received a transplant or were affected by the organ transplantation. I have shared my thoughts about this project with a few people over the years and some of those people were my clients, a couple I met on one of my workshops. This remarkable couple, well into their eighties, started their journey in photography not long ago. Their zest for learning and their curiosity about life dazzled me. In no time, we became good friends.

One Saturday I was sitting with my wife resting after an intense week, when the telephone rang. I picked up the phone and it was one of the couple. Although we had talked over the phone from time to time, the timing of this call seemed unusual. We started with some family updates, random photographic thoughts – nothing out of the ordinary. Then, this ordinary call turned into one of the most extraordinary telephone conversations I have ever had. My friend said, “Olaf, I was thinking about your photography and your Renatus Project and as I am not young anymore, I would like to ask you a favour.”

“Of course, I replied, eager to hear what I could do for this great man. What I heard next stopped me in my tracks.

“Olaf, I would like to fund the medium-format GFX camera with a lens to support you and your new project.” Before I could compose myself to say anything he continued, “I really feel that through your eyes I could contribute and participate in this wonderful project. Please do it for me and allow me to help you in this way.”

Last week I received my medium-format system from Fujifilm Canada (thank you Mark, Helen, Cathy and the entire team for your support as well).

I have to admit I have been wondering whether to write this post at all.  Would I be able to share this remarkable story with you without sounding as though I was blowing my own trumpet? I let go those thoughts because I realized these are the stories that need to be told especially today when you hear a never-ending stream of depressing news, as if there were not noble people among us.

Another reason why I wanted to share this story was because this couple is not rich by any means. And they asked to remain anonymous. While of course I cannot share their names, let this piece be a loud and roaring THANK YOU! Let it be a reminder that yes, there are wonderful, kind and generous people out there. Of course, this stunning photographic gear is a tremendous help for this one-in-a-lifetime project – but what is even more important is that you gave me and others faith in human kindness and a renewed zeal to wake up every day and keep working hard, creating strong new visuals. This is priceless.

  

Stay tuned for a major announcement of a brand-new project!     

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

 

18 thoughts on “When Thank You Is Not Enough

  1. Dear Olaf,
    I have also been deeply touched by the compassion of the custodial workers in hospitals.Two in particular shared such compassion and understanding with me and made my recovery a more understandable experience.

    Having such experiences pushes one to be more open and compassionate as well. I am certain that you will use your gift as a photographer and the gift of this camera to express yourself as honestly as possible.

    I am struggling with “honesty” as a photographer – not to be simply technically good or to make photos that are admired, but to make photos I admire, photos that reflect what is in my own heart. Having studied many of your images, I think you understand.

    I wish you nothing but the best,
    Judy

  2. Olaf, that is a mega exciting project and i look very much forward to hearing / seeing more when you finally announce it! Thank you for sharing. Kudos to the couple who funded your GFX, that is incredibly generous of them. A very deserving project for it.

    On a side note, can i also say that the last image in this post made me go all googly eyed (that emoji with the heart eyes). Where is that? And is it as tranquil as it looks in the picture?

    1. Charlene,

      You are right about the project and the amazing donors that made it happen! Regarding the image – it is Cape Flattery in Washington. One of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is quite difficult to photograph but I am planning to return there.

      I really appreciate your kind note.

      All the best,

      Olaf

      P.S. I cannot wait to see your amazing book!

  3. I am so glad you shared this heartwarming story, Olaf. When I hear of people like the nurse in the hospital or this couple funding an expensive camera for you, it boosts my faith in humanity which sometimes gets tested. I am an optimist so I continue to think the best of people, but the news is what gets to me with all the nastiness that goes around these days. I an really eager to learn about your transplant photo project. What a unique and worthwhile idea! So appropriate for you to do this.

  4. Two stories that lift the spirits and remind me that there are good people in the world (not always easy to remember).

    I can’t think of a person more deserving or a project so worthwhile for this gift as you and what you are proposing to do. My thanks to you for the photography and to the couple for such wonderful
    generosity.

    Looking forward to hearing (and seeing) more on this project.

    1. David,

      Thank you so much for your kind and uplifting note. It means a lot to me!

      Regarding the project; I am working on a new website and I will be photographing/writing some stories this week. Will keep you updated.

      Warm Regards,

      Olaf

  5. Olaf, no doubt this post should be published, in my opinion. Congratulations, you deserve it, and give a great thank very much from my side to your fantastic donors!

    You know, rich people are those connected with really valuable things in life. Probably your donors are not rich in money, but I bet their life is very worth.

    All the best

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