Photography isn’t enough for me anymore.
It pains me to say this but it’s entirely true. In the past, when I was younger, I lived and breathed photography. I still do to some degree, but after “retiring” from professional photography I have been afforded the opportunity to look around a bit more. Literature, art, travel, spirituality, philosophy and a range of other things have suddenly landed in my lap, forcing me to aim critical thought in these directions. Don’t worry, I’m no yogi, so my thoughts are never in one place for a long time, which is why I wanted to share this film, and this guy, with you. I’ve never met Dean Potter, but I’d heard about him for years. In the climbing, base jumping, slack line worlds, Dean Potter is a legend(not without controversy.) This film is the first of a five part series, so feel free to watch all five to round out the coverage if you will. I also think this post is a bit of foreshadowing for the types of things I’m hoping to post more about in the future. Yes, photography will remain the backbone of my site, but I want to branch out a bit more.
Potter, as you will see, is different. He does things that most of us would never even dream of. Watching this film my hands began to sweat and after a few more minutes my FEET began to sweat. I literally had to take my shoes off.
I’m not sharing this film because I want to go out and do what Dean Potter does, nor do I think most of you have any desire to do these things either, but I think we can all learn something from him. What I took from Dean and this film was the idea of mindfulness and meditation. I know ZERO about meditation, so my questions were along these lines.
- why does he meditate?
- what does meditate mean exactly?
- how does it help him?
- how could it help me and my photography?
Several weeks ago, while I was shooting a wedding in The Turks and Caicos Islands, I was on a boat with a local guy who was telling us about a woman who set the world freediving record on the Caicos Reef. “She does a special meditation where she is able to slow down her heart rate to thirty something beats per minute,” the guy said. He kept talking but my mind was frozen. “Wait, what do you mean slow down your heart rate to thirty beats a minute,” I thought to myself. I’ve been intrigued since, so this Dean Potter film was a second reminder of something I need to explore. I don’t know about you, but whatever meditation is I feel like I’m a million miles away, and for some reason I don’t want to be that far away anymore. I’m ready to learn.
What Potter does in this video is mind blowing to say the least. His life is literally on the line. Yes, his endeavors are being filmed, but he is basically alone or with a few very close friends, so I don’t see this as a stunt of any kind, far from it actually. It seems that there is something inside of him that drives him to do these things, and this is a feeling I’m very familiar with. I can’t tell you how many times other photographers, friends or my family have asked, “Why are you doing all these things and then never doing anything with the work, or showing anyone the work?” Obviously, I’m not walking a slack line 3000 feet off the ground, but I THINK the drive is the same. I don’t really feel like I have a choice. I HAVE to do these things.
A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend who was on vacation. He was poolside somewhere, reading, hanging out and when I thought about what he was doing it felt completely foreign. My friend has a “normal’ job, does really well, works hard, but when he walks away at night he is AWAY. When he leaves, takes trips, goes on vacations, etc, he is GONE. He isn’t producing anything while away, looking for anything or having to work in any way, which is the opposite of how I’ve spent my entire life.
I think what being away from photography has allowed me to do is step away and then turn to look back on my life, seeing how the “piece” of photography fits into the larger puzzle. I have to tell you, it feels grand. And now I’m turning to the idea of the mind and what that can do for me, my photography and the other essential parts of my life. I think a lot of us dabble in these mental areas, but few really take it beyond. I’m looking to take it beyond. Can I do it? I don’t know. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Photographers have spoken about mindfulness for decades, but I want to see for myself. We know what zen did for motorcycle maintenance. Perhaps I can find my mind and reduce my photographic heartbeat just a little bit.