They come from around the world to spend four days at non-trivial expense to ask established, respected reviewers a simple question: "Am I saying something?" These are photographers of all manner and ilk, showing their portfolios at Fotofest's Meeting Place. The artists seek affirmation that their creativity's result is saying something, and for guidance on how to get their statements to a wider audience. The event is an international confluence of creativity in its high form, and vulnerability.
To better define the question, they ask, "Do you hear what I'm saying? Does what I am saying matter?" The artists' photographs serve as their messengers.
In various ways at various times, all of us convey messages that we hope merit, and then move, an audience in some way or another. Our messages may be in words, art, touches, expressions and more. We express ourselves at all times. Is what we're "saying" actually communicated? Are we listening to what others are trying to "tell" us in some way?
The need and the desire to have our messages heard and recognized are powerful forces. They push us to extremes-positive and negative-ranging from great works of literature to painful emotional injury on small and large scales. But, the force is strong.
When I attended this event in 2008, I wrote a Listen to Life article about a photographer who was retired from a university due to health reasons-Parkinson's. Despite the debilitating effect of the disease, he remained conversational and attended to share his love for flowers as manifested in his photographic work. He struggled with walking sticks, but remained involved.
I saw him these past four days. Two years later, he moved ever so slowly, slumped and quiet. I never saw him talk. I doubt he had the energy considering what it took to navigate to the reviewers and back during day-long schedules. Yet, he came. He has continued to create, and he sought affirmation of his work. The force to communicate and be "heard" is strong. And sublime at times.
The event exhausted me and I almost succumbed to the temptation to leave before my last appointment of the last day. There were three hours between my second to last and last appointment. Something told me to stay. The reason was clearly not for the last reviewer based on how it went, but was for the woman I met while waiting.
As I walked to the garbage can, a woman walking by said, "How far did you travel to get here?" "About 30 miles," I said with a smile. She beamed.
"Oh, you're from here. Great. Okay then, how long have you been into photography?"
"Since Santa brought me a camera at six," I said. "Santa was very smart."
For another hour, we talked about photography, her high school daughter's quests in sports and school, her life as a single mom, perseverance, faith, wisdom, discipline, and much more. As we wrapped up our chat, she asked for my business card. I said, "Well, that too. One of the reviewers asked yesterday for a copy of my book (Listen to Life) so I brought one. I don't know why I chose to bring two. I guess you were the reason." I gave her my book.
The need to hear and be heard in all that we do is strong. It gathers people from around the world, and it connects strangers from the same city.
Listen to Life is a free newsletter about learning and getting more from life by paying attention to our own stories and the stories of others, based on the presentations, writings, photography and workshops by Dion McInnis (www.dionmcinnis.com). Copyright 2010 Dion McInnis. All rights reserved.