A Word of Caution: Life isn’t the good photographs, or what we share on social media, or what we see in magazines. Its everything in between. It’s hard work, its messy at times, there’s fear and self-doubt, and then occasionally its blissful, almost spiritual. I’ve carefully chosen these images. I’ve carefully edited them to elicit the beauty, emotion and magic I felt on this trip. They don’t show my fears - the self-doubt, or the regrets, or the technical failures, or the fear that the trip wouldn’t line up with my expectations. They don’t show the hard work or the frozen (and injured!) fingers. They don’t show the weariness or fatigue or obsession over photographic perfection (or the complete lack of it!). They don’t show the challenging technical difficulties (the low light, the cold water, the bubbles and fish scales, the new equipment). They don’t show the people behind the scenes working their butts off so I could come home with these images (of which I am eternally grateful!). They deserve a mention, at the very least. It helps to build a more accurate picture of the whole journey. But that’s not what these images are ultimately for. I want these images to awe and inspire, not just because I want you to fall in love with these creatures and this place like I have, but I want you to know that despite the messy in between, this trip exceeded all expectations. The messy has truly begun to fade in memory. All that’s bubbled up to the top is the beauty, the magic. I hope these images portray that. Oh, and thanks for following along!
After throwing down random thoughts about this trip on paper over the weeks I’ve been home, I ultimately decided to split this blog post up into 3 parts. This is part one.
This particular blog post is an interesting one to start with. It’s more abstract than Part 2 (The Trip) and Part 3 (The Orcas). It’s my creative and emotional journey. I want to share some of my triumphs and failures from an artist’s standpoint. I want to cover the quest. The whole “artist” experience. This is how I ended up in Norway photographing Orcas. So here it goes…
“Some say the creative life is in ideas, some say it is in doing. It seems in most instances to be in a simple being. It is not virtuosity, although that is very fine in itself. It is the love of something, having so much love for something - whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, the land, or humanity - that all that can be done with the overflow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will; one solely must.” - Women who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.
The ocean calls me (yes, like Moana. And yes, I get misty every time I watch that movie. And yes, the call is isn’t out there, it’s inside me!) but I can’t stay there forever. I wasn’t made to be there (as one of my dive buddies puts it, the more gear you need to go somewhere, the less you were built for that environment and the less likely you were meant to be there… drysuit diving is kind of like going to space). And yet I can’t stop going. But perhaps part of its draw for me is that I can’t stay. Therefore, it keeps its magic, its mystery. And then my photographs begin to play an important role - they sustain that magic when I’m topside. It’s a piece of the mystery I can share with the world (or just my small sphere). You don’t want to go underwater? No problem, I’ll happily bring it up here to you. Then you can take it, like a small puzzle piece, and fit it into your view of the world, the universe, and your place in it. As artists we try to create images and stories that help us make sense of, or find a place for, us. And as it says above, its something we feel we must do.
All that is well and good, but nothing goes that smoothly. We are human after all! I’m always seeking that elusive “perfect” photograph. That’s the journey part of being an artist that I didn’t quite understand when I was younger. I always thought my goals would have a destination - a point at which I could claim, “I’m successful!!” But that point is always changing, always moving (and thank God for that!). Art is inherently subjective. Even defining something as “art” is subjective. So therefore I’ve always struggled with questions like, “is this art?” or “am I really an artist or professional photographer?” The easiest answer I’ve come up with is, “yes, if you believe it.” After all, at some point, you come to the conclusion that, “I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression.” (Women who Run with the Wolves) In other words, the “one solely must” part of living a creative life bubbles up to the top and it can’t be ignored. After all, what am I supposed to do with all this love for the ocean and its inhabitants besides capture images of them?
So where does this all fit in with my trip, you ask? Well, about two to three years ago I started seeing some really amazing images of Orcas. And then I started dreaming about them. I’d wake up with a shit eating grin on my face! The dreams were always about being in the water with them (of course!). It took the tiniest bit of digging to find out that people ran trips to swim with Orcas. But two/three years ago I had a small baby I was still nursing. My baby needed me. We even had plans for a larger family. Risky to take a trip like this pregnant (if we were to be so blessed). Annoying to take a trip like this while nursing (ewww 9 days of pumping!). The trip was costly, etc. etc. I made a lot of excuses (valid and otherwise). Then I woke up late in the summer after another Orca dream and I turned to my husband and told him I had to go, with or without him, no matter what other small things cropped up. It was time. I needed a new creative challenge. I needed a new experience. I felt stuck. And after 3 years of focusing mostly on raising a small human, I needed space to grow myself. I felt I had to go. And bless his heart, my husband agreed. (I have the best husband ever! But we can discuss that another time…) And so I went.
I went for the experience. I went to take photographs. I went to give myself space. I went to think. I went to enjoy. I went to create. I went to learn. I came back with so much more!
I came back with new friends. I came back with new editing and photographic techniques and tips. I came back refreshed. I came back with a sense that I’m on the right path. I came back with new paths I want to discover and old paths I want to re-discover. But don’t worry, the doubt, the fear, it’s all still there… it’s just sharing it’s time in the sun now, for a brief moment anyway.
“Creativity is the unique and defining trait of our species; and its ultimate goal, self-understanding: What we are, how we came to be, and what destiny, if any, will determine our future historical trajectory. What, then, is creativity? It is the innate quest for originality. The driving force is humanity’s instinctive love of novelty - the discovery of new entities and processes, the solving of old challenges and disclosure of new ones, the aesthetic surprise of unanticipated facts and theories, the pleasure of new faces, the thrill of new worlds. We judge creativity by the magnitude of the emotional response it evokes. We follow it inward, toward the greatest depths of our shared minds, and outward, to imagine reality across the universe. Goals achieved lead to further goals, and the quest never ends.” - The Origins of Creativity, Edward O. Wilson
I think a lot about originality. Probably more than most people. I’m an identical twin. I share the same DNA as another person. Sometimes I laugh at people’s attempts at originality. Why are they trying so hard? True originality is something I have trouble grasping, for I am a copy of someone else. And then I remember science - genetics. The world, it’s ecosystems, have shaped the two of us into two different people with unique journeys. We are two different pieces in this jigsaw puzzle of the world. We fit into two unique spots. Perhaps they are side by side and barely distinguishable, but they are two different pieces nonetheless. And they are two different pieces with two different quests for novelty, discovery, and meaning. I hope you all find your quests. And I hope if you ever feel your quest has hit a dead end, that you’ll uproot yourself, no matter how frightening that may be... and find yourself on a boat in the middle of the arctic winter searching for new friends and magical creatures and space particles that cause brilliant colors to light up the sky! And if it’s not there, I hope it’s somewhere else; somewhere you’re just dying to find yourself. And don’t wait. GO. NOW.
That’s it for Part I folks! Stay tuned for Part II next week. Please feel free to ask any questions or leave comments below! <3