Obscurity, Simplicity and Vivian Maier
I purchased an old film camera from an estate sale this past summer. It's not a brand I'd ever heard of but, turns out, it was a decent camera in its day. The photos from this camera haven't been shared, simply because I've finished taking the 36 possible shots from the roll of film. It's been fun to carry with me and fun to shoot with. It's been an experiment in photographic obscurity.
By "photographic obscurity," I don't mean to say that I'm some kind of famous photographer. I'm not. It could be argued that I'm already an obscure photographer, since only the handful of people who read this blog or follow me on Flickr, Instagram or 500px have a clue that I even take pictures. By obscurity, I mean that I've taken nearly 36 photos which cannot be shared instantaneously. In the day of instant sharing of coffee art, hairstyles and what I'm now having for breakfast, this could be seen as unusual.
I'm finding it oddly liberating, both as a photographer and as a Christian.
It's true. Art is meant to be shared. However, there is a long history of folks who have used their lives to create, yet their creations were only enjoyed posthumously. Van Gogh, Kafka, Thoreau, Dickinson. One of my more recent favorites of such folks who have only been appreciated after death is street photographer Vivian Maier. Vivian was an eccentric New York nanny who later moved to Chicago and who took thousands of photographs. In her odd, unassuming, somewhat neurotic way, she managed to capture American life in the mid-20th Century. No one save a handful of people knew her name when she died. Now, she's becoming somewhat iconic in the world of street photography.
There are thousands — millions — who are creating amazing things everyday, and they're not shared. We are all obscure artists in many ways. Whether it is watercolors or photographs; coffee art or a tasty lasagna; beading or scrapbooking snapshots of kids and memories. People all over do creative things all the time, and are never credited for it. It might even be something that ends up on the world wide web — but virality is a difficult to achieve, and sometimes even inappropriate.
The journey to being non-aspirational is a difficult one. It's difficult because we all want to be the first, the greatest and the best (don't we? Is it just me and my incredible narcissistic, self-orientation?). If that's not a possibility (which, for most of us, it's not — there will always be someone greater or better), then we at least want to be noticed (my shot of yesterday's lunch got 137 "likes"!).
Jesus suggests that the meek inherit the earth. I'm thinking more and more that what this might mean in terms of practical implication. I am certain it does have something to do with understanding what it means to be okay with not being first or best or greatest. This understanding simplifies life in a profound way. It takes the pressure off. I can do my job without needing a lot accolades from the crowds. I can cease worrying about whether I'm liked or not by those around me. I can take photos on a film camera and not worry about the fact they are not immediately shared. I can wait.
Yet, as I look at the words that I just wrote in that paragraph, I wonder if anyone will read this blog post and be helped by it. So, it's not as easy to put into practice as it is to write about.
Simplicity and obscurity are connected, somehow. Like anything else, both take practice. The process of practice reveals more duplicity in my own life; the need of more of Christ and less of me. More simplicity. More freedom. More joy. More creativity. I'm not sure if this is the actual order of things or not, but it seems they all fit together somehow.
My curiosity is this: what are the things that you create in a place of obscurity? What are some things that you do that don't get immediately shared on Facebook or Instagram? What is something that you do creatively that most folks (maybe even you!) would not consider to be a creative venture? Share in the comments - I'd love to know and learn from you.