Take It All In And Give It All Back by Dewitt Jones

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by Dewitt Jones

I took the podium and looked out over the room: seven hundred men and women, some of the finest nature photographers in the world. This was the North American Nature Photographer’s Association’s (NANPA) Second Annual Forum and it was my job to bring it to a close.

That morning, I had holed up in my hotel room trying to come up with what I would say. My mind wandered back over my own career as a photographer — not so much the photographs but rather the experiences and the lessons I had learned.

I thought about the natural cycles I had so often witnessed while photographing – the seasons, the tides, the rising and setting of the sun. How many thousands of times I had I watched them? Like watching the smooth muscle of the planet — the things our little orb can’t help but do. Like watching the earth breathe.  

I thought about how many times watching those earth breaths had led to my own personal inspirations. I’d touched on this in a column for Outdoor Photographer about this about a year ago (Basic Jones 5/95), telling of a yoga teacher who taught me that the meaning of life was contained in each single breath –Take it all in….. and give it all back . The one-breath meditation, a meditation I saw repeated again and again in the cycles of nature.

I’d shared this metaphor with the Nanpa audience when I opened the conference two days earlier. And we’d all breathed together — a little self consciously at first, but eventually getting into it. Maybe, I thought, I should close with the same idea. I started to write…..

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Now here I was looking out over that sea of faces. Don’t stop now, Dewitt. Take it all in, give it all back. Ahem….

“This has been an incredible three days,” I began, “I feel very full of gratitude for being allowed to witness it all.”

“To view the incredible photographs of John Sexton; to revel in the words and images of Freeman Patterson; to see photographers filled with so much commitment and discipline. Photographers, who if you asked them if they were committed or disciplined would probably shake their heads as if they didn’t understand and say, ‘Hey, I love it. It’s my passion.’”

I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed most about this forum — to be in the presence of so many people glowing from the light of their own passion.  To learn just by watching them walk their talk. I’m not sure, however, that that is really any different than what I do when I look through a lens. When I look at a flower, or a mountain, or a deer, and watch it, in all its beauty, just walking its talk, just doing its thing, just giving it all back.

At a previous NANPA Summit, Galen Rowell shared a wonderful quote from Louis Mumford, ‘There comes a time when one realizes that adventure is humdrum and routine unless one assimilates it, unless one relates it to a central core which grows within and gives it contour and significance. Raw experience is empty… For it is not what one does, but in a manifold sense, what one realizes  that keeps existence from being vain and trivial.’

So we take it all in. And then, in that elegant moment between in-breath and out-breath, in that  aesthetic ‘gasp’ — we let it resonate with our spirits and illuminate our souls. For it is in that moment — between the in-breath and the out-breath, between the framing and the pushing of the shutter — that the realization comes. That’s the real pay off. That’s what makes us grow.

When we truly realize the truth of this then there’s nothing for us to do but  — give it all back. We’ve had our realization. Pass it on. If no one seems to see it, we can’t be discouraged.   It’s up to us not to say ‘no’ but to live ‘YES’. That ‘YES’ which each of us sees every time we look through our lens and fall in love with what’s on the other side. To live that ‘YES’, publishing it both in our photographs and in our lives. It’s almost as if every mountain, every flower, every tree, every large furry mammal, knows this privilege on some level and publishes it in their own beauty, which we as photographers see.

So now, as this forum ends, it’s time for us to exhale; to publish all that we have realized; to celebrate it back into the world. Don’t stop, don’t worry, follow your heart, follow the light, follow the very thing that made you first pick up a camera and filled you with tears. Take it all in, and give it all back.”

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Dewitt Jones will return as a keynote speaker at the 2015 NANPA Summit taking place in San Diego, California from February 19th – 22nd. To learn more about the Summit and to register for this exciting and inspirational event, please visit www.naturephotographysummit.com. Early bird registration ends on October 31st! 

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