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The creation/destruction dynamic has existed as long as humankind. In my personal life I’ve experienced it as the desire to create art vs. the desire to withhold expression out of spite for creation. To not put in the effort to paint, to turn that emotion into a poem, to gather myself enough to channel and direct the chaos within. To take it a step further I’ve burned words and images, cut some of my paintings into pieces. This offense has been more rare — censoring past expression as opposed to withholding it somehow seems to be a different level of unholy. Sitting in the pains of un-expression takes effort, but it is more passive than anything, while active destruction takes … well, action.

But I’m realizing more and more how passivity can be a transgression.

I’ve noticed another way that this dynamic takes shape, and that is: Destruction of the present moment in order to Create future capital. Sure, this occurs in every situation where someone makes present sacrifices to ensure some safety in the future. And in a culture of social media, there have been more than a few moments that have been interrupted, or dare I say, ruined, by an overzealous shutterbug who just needed to get it on their Snap or Instagram story.

I see this come to a head most prominently in the travel sector, where people just want to show their friends at home how good of a time they’re having, and there are often new and unique ways of taking advantage–whether it involves cultural appropriation or animal exploitation. When I was a teenager, I wrongly participated in some of these things, like supporting a “photo booth” that used real captive wildlife for you to hold. It is important, if any of us have any kind of platform at all, to at least spend a little bit of time speaking out against these things, because some people, like 16-year-old-me, might not think twice about it otherwise.

Hanging coffins in Sagada, Philippines. I felt pretty uncomfortable about people taking joyful selfies in what is essentially a cemetery, but because it has become a tourist destination, somehow it has become normalized and “ok”.

As one’s platform grows, I can imagine it becomes more difficult (I don’t know from experience… yet, hehe), especially if one’s discernment is not already strong and practiced. Many of us witnessed Logan Paul’s unfortunate story unfold over the new year. That is an extreme example, but a similar dynamic is common between travelers and local culture–sometimes we believe we’re entitled to take their photo without permission. Sometimes we want to pose with a snake that’s kept in a basket all day, because it’s only $1 donation. If we’re a travel blogger, or vlogger, or whatever, some of these things can be tempting–after all, it’s in service of our audience, right?

We have to weigh what we are creating against what we are destroying.

And the most extreme ratio I’ve ever seen is the destruction of a present chance to connect, to feel joy, to embody empathy–at the expense of having some future internet content that might get the wrong message across.

Everything happening now is fodder for a future tale, and so I understand the storyteller’s mindset. Sometimes it’s a coping mechanism… to describe our lives in words can help us dissociate, as if we were describing someone else’s life, looking down on ourselves from above. It takes effort; meditation, breath; to feel the moment fully without attaching descriptors to what is happening. Especially if we’re in grind mode and there is earning potential for the stories we have to tell.

 

But, here’s a secret: the stories will still come if we let ourselves be silent.

 

And they will have more depth and be more interesting because we let ourselves feel what we were really feeling in the moment, instead of grasping at radio static in our heads because we think it’s some kind of gospel.

Photography is a little bit different, and I understand the anxiety. It can be frustrating and downright heartbreaking to miss a unique and long-awaited moment: the animal finally appearing, or the light pouring over in just the perfect way. Hopefully if, as a photographer, this has ever happened to you, you can use the feeling of this moment to inspire future work, even if you didn’t capture the “exact” moment you wanted. No matter how good of a camera or lens you have, your eyes are the ultimate equipment; your emotions, the ultimate technology. Instead of fussing over something you did not capture, connect with whatever it was you just witnessed. Absorb it, recognize its rarity, and let it drive you.

Passivity can be a transgression. And, although it seems backwards, taking your phone out to snap a million photos before even allowing yourself a second to breathe is the more passive option than to stop. Observe. And ask: how does being here make me feel? What kind of fire does this scenery ignite in my soul?

And sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. But at least do yourself the service of self-inquiring. Once you’ve found something–whether it is a flame, a void, a leaden thud in your stomach, or the expansive vapors of awe, take your photo.