The Gift of Stillness

I love being with people and interacting with them. Maybe this is something from my European upbringing, I don’t know. Strangely enough, however, I mostly work alone—I mean physically alone—as do most photographers. 

In the last few years I’ve been lucky to work with many people around the world but the communication was mostly online. So, in a sense, the current limitations haven’t changed my lifestyle. Nevertheless, I do miss occasional meetings with my photographic friends and my students. I miss the physical presence of human beings, a smile, handshake, hug or simply a foolish poke. 

At the same time an uncanny thing has happened. Now, as most of us are confined to our house or have limited ability to meet others, I feel many people are reaching out to each other. In the last two weeks I spoke with many of my friends and not only the photographic ones. What’s more, our conversations have been longer, deeper and more intimate in the way we spoke about ourselves, our lives and photography. With so much tragedy all around us, many of us have put our guard down but in a good way. We are no longer occupied with daily tasks, objectives, projects, assignments, etc. to the same extent as before. For many photographers, all projects and commercial work have simply been cancelled. Our entire life, as well as the photographic one, has been put on hold. 

There is no question that this pause has caused stress and insecurity, especially financially, in an industry that had already been hit hard even before the pandemic. Many people I talked to have shared the feeling of quietness, peace and stillness, something few of us have experienced for a long time. This freedom and time alone have allowed us to reach deeply inside our own consciousness. We now have time to think about our lives, look at the signposts, the course, the outline. Why are we doing this? Many questions and personal inquiries have come to the surface, issues which were squashed by the busyness of our lives. For the first time, in this quietness, we have a chance to listen.   

Since this is a photography blog, it’s an opportunity to probe into our photography. There are so many layers to uncover and re-examine in this beautiful but difficult and demanding craft: from our artistic vision to its execution, choice of gear, objectives, tuning our photography to our own personality. The multitude of questions and insights is staggering. But this is the time to do that. Maybe this will be the only opportunity to be with ourselves and our photography. This is something I have always urged my students to do. You won’t find your voice in the busy and opinionated message boards or social media pages. You will find it in the stillness, which is difficult to achieve with your camera in one hand and your phone in the other. Maybe this uninvited but necessary stillness is an opportunity to reach deeply into our visual self and just be there for the moment, uninterrupted, honest and contemplative. What do you feel and see?

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2 thoughts on “The Gift of Stillness

  1. Olaf, you’re hitting the nail right on the head. There’s something decidedly human about how we’re collectively dealing with this global calamity (because let’s face it: the pandemic is only Phase 1; we’re going to be dealing with its aftereffects for years to come). There’s more connection, more thoughtfulness.

    I work (mostly from home) for a very large technology company. Most of my immediate team also works from home, spread throughout North America. We see each other face-to-face maybe 2-3 times per year, at most. Our day-to-day routines haven’t really changed: videoconferences, remote presentations, calling customers etc. were our reality before as they are now. But as a team, we’re connecting more.

    “How are you?” has moved from being rote punctuation of the beginning of an encounter to a genuine question whose answer we genuinely care about.

    We have these virtual “happy hours” on Friday afternoons where we kick back and shoot the breeze over videoconference, usually enjoying a tipple in the process. I’ve learned more about my teammates as *people* in the past few weeks than I have since I joined the team last July. Why did it take the Coronavirus for us to start truly connecting as people, rather than just colleagues?

    I can only hope that this depth of contact, of connection, of thoughtful communication, can persist after things get back to “normal” (whatever that is/will be).

    Stay well, be safe. Enjoy the stillness.

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