Monday, November 19th, 2018

Beyond the Camera: Life Lessons through Photography

Lauren Kennedy

Posted on February 12, 2018 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

Lauren Kennedy, Director of Photography

If you were to ask my parents when I first began my photography career, they would emphatically tell the story of a four-year’ old me, wandering around Salem, Massachusetts, taking photos of buildings with the roofs cut off, dead plants, and my beanie baby as a model. I guess we all need to start somewhere. If you were to ask me, I would say senior year of high school after watching a documentary entitled “War Photographer” by Christian Frei.

“War Photographer” documents the life and work of photojournalist, James Nachtwey. His portraits are breathtaking and real often capturing his subjects in the midst of chaos. There were scenes of heartbreak, grief, and the effects of war; on several occasions, James put his life on the line to make a photo. As the film rolled on, my curiosity grew. Up until this point, I wasn’t interested in photography because of the repetitive and mundane way it had been presented to me. I had no interest in colorful flowers or heartstopping landscapes, nor photos of people posed with phony, posed smiles. I wanted to capture authenticity.

Realistically speaking, I haven’t been a photographer for that long, eight years to be exact. I recognize that I am young, and that I have so much to learn both in this discipline, and in life. That being said, I have already learned an immense amount. I would not be the person I am today without the lessons I have been taught through photography. Here are a few of my favorites:

 

  • Push your boundaries. One of the first pieces of advice given to me was to get close when making a portrait. And when I say close, I mean uncomfortably close. Within everyday life, we have a subconscious distance in which we place ourselves to the person we are interacting with, it’s something we don’t even think twice about, it’s just what feels natural. I was challenged to take a step closer. And so I did. This resulted in more trust, more vulnerability and doing something intimidating, thus, creating compelling images where this tension is sensed. I carry this mentality with me in other aspects of my life.

 

  • Have empathy. The same year I discovered my love of photography, I was also told a profound message by a very influential teacher: “everyone has a story.” From that day forward it greatly impacted the way in which I view the people around me. We are all the center of our own universe dealing with our own demons. In situations where it can be so easy to make assumptions, or let our own emotions dictate our responses, remember, It is so much easier to be kind than anything else.  

 

 

  • Accept criticism. The words that will make you grow as an individual are, for the most part, not the ones of praise. They are the words which challenge your decisions, and ask “why?” They are the words which may feel uncomfortable to hear, but offer a fresh viewpoint. They are the words which give you the opportunity to grow and learn.

 

 

  • Slow down. Have patience. Wait. In our society, with technology at the tips of our fingers, it is so easy to get caught up in the future; thinking about what you need to grab at the store before going home to make dinner, planning an outfit for a special event- the list goes on and on. A mistake I commonly make is thinking about what is next, rather than what is happening right now. The camera has allowed me to have a physical reminder to slow down, and take in the moment. You’re probably thinking, “this isn’t a brilliant new mentality, I mean, hello, ‘stop and smell the roses!?” It’s what comes after…the waiting. What I have learned is the moment you are sick of waiting for something to happen, it happens the moment you lose your patience.

 

And finally, number 5. Never forget who has helped you along the way. Thank them whenever possible, acknowledge their presence and share with them your gratefulness. In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

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