Monday, December 19, 2011

Hungry Ghosts!

     As the holidays approach and with it the glitter of Christmas lights, the chill air inviting a warm fire and the cozy security of hot chocolate and family, the laughter of children, old movies reminding us of cheer and goodwill, and of course the ever present invitations of generosity, peace on earth, and love, I am overcome with what can only be described as, well...implacable terror.
     Christmas is one of the most terrifying holidays.  Ever.
     Not necessarily because of the bustle of shopping madness, the return of the scads of ordinary people long past the age of responsible driving, or even that I must, at some point, actually go to Wal-Mart.  I’m stricken with sudden spellbinding fear because, you see, Christmas is haunted by ghosts.
     Specifically, my hungry, hungry ghosts.
     If you are not familiar with the term, Hungry Ghosts are the specters of desire with long skinny necks and enormous bellies, who, despite their gluttony, are never satisfied.  They arise from the depths of lack, and while usually held at bay by logic, reason, and sanity, at this time of year are given full reign to wander the landscape of my inner being, dragging their noisy chains and generally wreaking havoc with my sense of presence and peace of mind.
     The ghosts write the lists, my friends, and they have impeccable penmanship.
     Let’s take, for example, my number one hobby.
     Okay, that’s not for polite company, how about my number two hobby:  Photography.
     Anyone who has been seriously intrigued by the art of photography knows the scoop. With the possible exception of collecting sports cars ala Jay Leno or climbing Everest twice a year, photography is one of the most expensive hobbies to have.  It is punctuated by endless possessed shrieks of “I need more!”
     I need a new camera, because this camera came out 3 years ago, and is old and outdated and still has an actual PRINTED manual, obviously designed for the computer illiterate unfamiliar with the wonders of PDF.  I need a better, faster lens!  Not an F4, lens, but an F2 lens, no…not an F2…I need an F1.2!!   Not this tripod, but that tripod, not aluminum but carbon fiber, of course. I need these filters, and this wireless shutter release, and I need that sherpa to hump my stuff from car to field. I need a better software program, not Elements 7, not Elements 8 or 9, nor 10, nor Lightroom, Bridge, no, I need CS4, no CS5…no…I need a full time editing assistant with a mindscape chock full of Photoshop actions.
     Oh, I’m not the only one to blame!  I show a photograph I think is admirable to someone, and they almost inevitably respond:  “You must have a REALLY good camera!”   As though the camera is taking the picture, and I am only the poor clicker on the end.
     Or even more enigmatically, they say, “You sure have a good eye!” 
Ahh…but to improve, to take better pictures, I need better, more advanced, the latest, greatest EYES!
And the sad thing is:   This is all true.
All True.
If my goal is take pictures, then I will always need a better camera, a different lens, more equipment, more this, more that.
If my goal is to take pictures, I will never be satisfied, and of course, neither will my hungry ghosts.
But, my goal is not to take pictures.
My goal is to MAKE pictures.
And in order to MAKE pictures, wanting and hoping and desiring for more and more, better and better does nothing for me!   If my goal is to MAKE pictures, my hungry ghosts will only distract me from what I really need to do, which is course, to see what I have.
     I have to look.  To really look.
What do I have?
Light.  And light’s mysterious lover, shadow. 
To make pictures, I must be intimate with the elements of design arising now, and be keenly aware of my subject and the relation of positive and negative space.  I must see what I have; I must interact with what is present in that decisive moment, with what is available, when it is available.
Creativity springs from unequivocal presence; from being so lovingly attentive to what is happening now that the deep, dark well of lack from which the Hungry Ghosts spring is flooded with such a blinding light that everything is illuminated.   I’m talkin’ F64. 
     The Hungry Ghosts are not bad, you see.  They are just fast talkers, persuasive and they have you, and me, and just about everyone convinced and right now is not enough.  They have convinced us that they are real.
You already have everything you will ever need.
You are already everything that you ever need to be.
All you have to do is Look...

     In this fabulous movie, our main character, who is ourselves, seems to have everything, and must lose everything to see what he really has and who he really is.  A wonderful film, and this clip includes a great song from Radiohead: