New Beginnings

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In 1952, unusual circumstances came together and paralyzed one of the busiest cities of Europe. Heavy foggy days were no stranger to the residents of London, but on December 4th, the metropolis found itself suffocating, literally. An anticyclone landed on the region, bringing high pressure and causing temperature aversion. Cold air found itself trapped under a thick layer of warm air. Normally the winds would have pushed the system out, but this time they were simply no were to be found – the air was as stagnant as molasses. In the weeks prior to the event, cold weather had led the Londoners to burn a lot more coal that normally, increasing the presence of sulphur dioxide in the air. Added the carbon dioxide from vehicle exhausts and the hydrochloric acid and fluorine compounds from various industries, London quickly became engulfed within a lethargic yellow-black coloured concentrated acid haze. In the weeks that followed, around 4,000 people died. It is believed that as many as 12,000 fatalities might have been attributed to the “Great Smog of 1952”.

Each of us, at one point or another, have lived our own version of the “Great Smog”. It is not a feeling of being lost. It is rather a sense of powerlessness created by circumstances that are beyond your control. The ingredients you need to power your imagination, your body, or your drive, disappear. While yesterday you might have roam the land of creativity freely, today, your mind is shackled and focused on breaking away from the burden that has taken over.

Monet stopped painting for two years after his wife passed away. Picasso was so affected by the divorce from his first wife who took custody of their son and the birth of his daughter to a mistress that he no longer spent time in his studio.

These past twelve months for me will be known as my “Creative Great Smog”. Though I married the most amazing, awesome and phenomenal woman and found myself absolutely fulfilled when it comes to love and family, my creativity and career however can be summarized in two words – inertia and sluggish. A quick look at my blog and social media feed and the obvious is plain to see. Almost a year since the last entry. A little over eleven months of sparse and random posts. 338 days of stalled artistry, looking for inspiration and not finding it.

While the reasons for my disappearance are simple, the process of rebuilding took time and energy. Just like a tornado that destroyed your house, before you can start thinking of interior design and what will go on the walls, you first need to clear the rubble. Once the terrain is cleared, then it is time to rebuild the foundations. You need to reconnect the power and repair the sewer. You put the walls up and the roof over, but still, you are nowhere near inviting people over for dinner. Step by step, little by little, your new house takes shape. The furniture comes in and finally the sense of home returns. Soon, you start making phone calls inviting friends over. One evening, you find yourself sitting at the dining table surrounded by loved ones, your life filled with laughter and happiness once again.

Standing on the porch of my new house (conceptually speaking) on a beautiful morning, I am mentally shuffling through the events that took place under my previous roof. There are thousands and thousands of memories that I know now belong to a bygone era. The year 2016 was the end of a cycle, the epilogue of a book, the conclusion of an energy that started a long time ago.

Every end marks a new beginning

Watching the sun rise as a new day begins, I am pondering on the journey that lies ahead. My blank canvas is ready to be painted. My creativity is back and like a snake that has shed its old skin, my mind is clear and fresh, primed for a new adventure. There is so much to be grateful for, the most important being my wife. Yes! I am truly excited for the future.

This year, I commit to more writing, more public speaking, expanding my outreach and more art. There will be new expeditions and, of course, I invite you to come along and share with me this new voyage of discovery, growth and love.

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.Joseph Campbell

DELETE DELETE DELETE

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“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.” Ray Bradbury

My friend is standing in front of me, her head stuck looking down. Her thumb has been scrolling endlessly over the glass of her smartphone for several minutes. Sometimes, she stops the motion and looks carefully at the thumbnails, then starts scrolling again. “It is somewhere, I know it is. Wait! Here it is! No! It is not this one” She says. Somewhere buried amongst thousands of other photos, there is one she has been wanting to share with me, a photo that captured a special moment, something beautiful. Feeling the weight of the endless search, she sighs and concludes, defeated: “Anyway, I swear it was so beautiful… I just wished I would have been able to show you.”

Not a week goes by without someone wanting to share with me the photos they love and most of the time, the moment is ruined by their failure in finding the pictures that mirror their memory or the intimidating challenge of suddenly having to choose the right one amongst a series of simile photos, just slightly different from one another, while I wait in front of them, my eyes wandering, looking for distraction as the minute pass.

The world of photography has changed a lot since the days of film. Back then, the craft was expensive and time consuming. Every time you pressed the shutter, you were mindful of the outcome, both financially and in the amount of work needed. Space was also very limited. Film rolls contained at the maximum 36 photos and the amount of rolls one would or could carry was depending on the level of trouble you would want to go through. Once the pictures developed, they would be manually put, one by one, into an album. By doing this, by actively participating into the creative process and development of the narrative, people took ownership of the stories they wanted to tell. There was always a certain pride in opening an album and showing it to a friend or a family member. And for those friends or family, the experience was memorable and personal. These stories were crafted with time and commitment. Each photo placed with care and thoughtfully. The order far from being random, the creator of the album had set each photo with the intent of telling a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end.

Today, the picture is quite different!

Technology has conquered the limitations we once faced. But with this new reality came a world a new problems.

Our capacity to create without any limit has rendered us prisoners of our own creations. We don’t own our photos anymore, they own us.

When I am asked what is the best advice for doing photography, my answer is always the same – learn to DELETE FIRST. As much as we are privileged, living with tools that give us so much freedom to experiment, that freedom quickly disappears if we are not able to delete the junk – and yes junk it is!

Learning to delete is to my opinion the greatest challenge and most necessary skill today’s photographers must develop. And since we are all photographers now (amateurs and professionals) that means that everyone should learn to delete.

Deleting photos is more than making room in your library, it is an empowering skill and a crucial tool in developing your craft. By deleting the ones you don’t like, you start to discover what you like. You start taking ownership of your photos. And with ownership comes pride. And with pride comes value. Instead of being passive, you become an active participant in the art of telling stories. Instead of letting the photos dictate your narrative, you create the narrative.

Recently, well-known photographer and an early Instagram fan, Richard Koci Hernandez, announced he was deleting all of his pictures from the photo-sharing service. Talking to Chris O’Brien at Venture Beat, Richard stated that:

“I’ve always felt that a photograph deserves a life span. Nothing should live forever… my ‘photo stream’ has recently seemed less like a stream and more like a dammed-up river. I know this all sounds very heady, but I’ve been thinking that the Internet doesn’t respect time in the way that I think it should. Especially in relation to photographs. I’ve always thought that the institution of an art gallery was a satisfying way to experience work. And recently my Instagram account has felt like an exhibition of work that is always on display, the doors are always open 24/7, and that dismayed me a bit.

Think about it. If you love someone’s work and a local gallery puts on an exhibition, there is an excitement — you attend the exhibition and potentially you take away a print, a book, or a poster, and there is a sense of having had an experience and finality once the show ends and moves on. I desperately wanted my work on Instagram to have that same quality. Simply put, I’m saying that the current exhibition is over and it’s time to hang a new show. On another note, because of the seemingly permanent nature of an online photo gallery, I didn’t want everything I’ve ever done always on display. Some of the work that I’ve posted isn’t as mature as I’d like it to be, and it deserves to be forgotten.

Deleting these images gives me a sense of freedom, of potentially shedding an old skin and developing a new one. It’s very liberating. I’ve taken this idea to the extreme and many of my close friends and in particular my wife have had to prevent me from permanently deleting the original files themselves.

If I had my way, I’d pore through the work, find my favorites, print them out, and put them in a box, then I’d delete all the originals. In this flood of digital photographs, in an era where nothing seems special or sacred, I love the idea of scarcity. In a funny way, it’s just another version of Snapchat.”

Richard brings forth two very important points: the space to create and the value of a photo.

So the question begs to be asked. What is the value of our photos today? How much do we truly value the moments we try so hard to capture and record? Do we really honor those precious episodes by dumping our photos into a virtual cumulative album that has no narrative, no order, other than the dates they were taken. What is to say about our relationship with our photos when we fail at finding them or lose the expected joy by facing too many of the same?

Barry Schwartz in his TED talk “On the paradox of choice” presented to the audience his belief that today’s abundance infringes us rather than liberating us.

“It produces paralysis rather than liberation… With so many options to choose from people find it very difficult to choose at all… Even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice we end up less satisfy with the result of the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from…”

And I believe that the great irony of our time is that our photos have become ephemeral but not because there existence is limited, but because their value disappears, despite of their existence. By taking so many photos and failing to keep only the good ones, we have lost the ownership of the moments we are precisely trying to own.

Learning to delete our photos therefore is necessary to give our power of creativity room to grow and to return the value and respect to our captured moments.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.” 

― Thich Nhat Hạnh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

 

Minute of Nature

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I have been working on finding a concept of short videos that would support my narrative – THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

It was during my trip to the Bedwell River that the clarity of what I needed to do came to me.

Let me explain to you … watch the video below.

This idea of sharing with you these moments and inspirational quotes or thoughts is exactly what I have been looking for. The notion of helping you disconnect and leave the modern world behind just for one minute so that your mind can wander away and connect with that part of nature where I was able to “Stop, Breathe, Listen and Relax.” This is exactly what I strive to bring to you.

Here is the first MINUTE, from Ucluelet.

These “Minutes of Nature” will be posted throughout all my social media sites but you are welcome to subscribe to the Vimeo Channel

 

2013 Wish – Go Out!

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Now that the holidays are over, that the cacophony of consumerism has been muted, that our bodies are feeling the excess of celebrating and that the believers in the end of the world have had to deal with a doomsday-no-show, in is time to look ahead and hope for wishful thoughts.

Last December, Outside magazine published an amazing article written by Florence Williamstitled “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning”. The text was about how now science is slowly understanding and capable of explaining the positive neurological effects spending time in nature does to your brain and body. Armed with a battery of machines and sensors, scientists are able to identify the causes and consequences of lets say a walk in the forest. As I rejoice myself with the obvious conclusion, I worry of what is to come next. Williams is also aware of the danger, pointing that our “modern world” will try to put nature in a can, “feel nature without even trying”.

“Nature hates calculators.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“You must not know too much, or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and water-craft; a certain free margin, and even vagueness – perhaps ignorance, credulity – helps your enjoyment of these things…” Walt Whitman

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs

Time in nature is more than chemical reactions. It is not just about our natural immune cells increasing every time we take a walk in the forest. Even if one day we are able to create a pill that will replicate the physical sensations of spending time on a beach, it will never do justice and bring the same benefits as the real experience. Nature is about breaking away from the chaos and anxiety we find ourselves so easily trapped in. It is a conscious effort of taking the time to relax. It is about making a choice of values and priorities. In this era of smart phones, computers, tablets, constant connection to the web and relentless solicitation to consume, these decisions to “disconnect” from this overbearing artificial stimuli does more than engage the neurones and immune systems, it is also one of the most rewarding sources of creativity.

And Kevin Charles Redmon writes precisely about this in his article: “Put Down the iPad, Lace Up the Hiking Boots

The results, which appear this month in PLoS One, were striking. Students who took the test after a four-day immersion in the backcountry scored 50 percent higher than their coursemates. “The current research indicates that there is a real, measurable cognitive advantage to be realised if we spend time truly immersed in a natural setting,” the authors write.

The study’s sample size was small and would best be repeated across several hundred subjects, thoroughly randomised. More importantly, the design doesn’t allow Strayer and his colleagues to pinpoint what’s causing the burst in creativity: is it the interaction with nature, the disconnection from technology, or both? And is physical exercise somehow involved? (Or could it be a flash of green?)

… Just how permanent are the neural ravages of Twitter, Gchat, and Gawker? Is a week in the Canyonlands every summer enough to restore our atrophied attention spans—or are we, the meme generation, totally hosed when it comes to consuming art more complex than a GIF or longer than 140 characters?

I have written before about the lack of imagination in today’s children. The topic is nothing new. A quick search on the web reveals many studies and articles, whether in the Washington Post (Is Technology Sapping Children’s Creativity?) or Psychology Today (Children’s Freedom Has Declined So Has Their Creativity). Richard Louv is obviously well known with his “Last Child in the Woods” book, which has become close to a cult classic.

So my wish for 2013 is that we forget a little about trying to understand too much what happens when we go to nature and that we simply go because it feels good, because it does us good. I wish that we would stop this obsession to quantify everything and start just believing in common sense. I wish that each one of us makes a conscious decision to disconnect at least one day of the week or one day of the weekend, and go out – outside the city, go smell the fresh air, go Shinrin Yoku, go swim, go hike, go see the mountains, the beach, the forest, anything really, as long as you away from any screen.

The Lack of Imagination

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. “ Henry David Thoreau

It was a beautiful winter day in the Alps. The sun was high, the mountains looked gigantic, the temperature was just right, and deep snow was everywhere. The parents were going to the village and I decided to stay behind with the kids. I figured I could take them out and go for a walk with the dog. We could also find a place and build a castle or dig a snow cave. The last thing I was worried about was to find something to do out there!

When I was a kid, winters were spent outside. The minute I would come back from school, I would slip into my big suit, put my hat, gloves and scarf on and hurry back to my tunnel. Our front yard would get so much snow, that with the cold, we would be able to dig our way into the heart of this tiny cold mountain and make ourselves a cave. My god did I spent so many hours in there! On weekends, we would venture into the woods to play hide and seek. Often, after tracking some animal prints for hours, re-enacting our own version of the Wild Kingdoms, we would reluctantly go back to the house, only to wait for the next morning and go out again. Of course we had television and computers, but playing games that originated from our fascinating imagination was always much more interesting. Whether alone or with others, there was never a shortage of ideas. And those snowball fights were epic!

What I experienced that weekend, though, was sad and tragic. There I was that morning, in the lobby, my jacket on, ready to smell the fresh mountain air. The kids were nowhere to be found. In fact one was at the computer, and the two others watched television. Nobody wanted to go out. Despite the bright sun blasting through the windows, each of them was staring hypnotically into their respective screens. I managed to pull away the one at the computer. The others, too entrenched and blasé gave no sign of even considering the outdoors.

Not even 30 minutes into our walk up the snowpath that I started having this feeling that the child was bored to death. While the dog was having the time of his life, barking at a small block of ice, picking it up and throwing it in the air, the child seemed lost. I took the lead and initiated the laborious task of building a hole. He was happy for no more than 20 minutes before finding himself bored again. Now not even an hour into our winter adventure that he told me that he wanted to go back. The minute that his boots were off and his jacket was on the floor, he went straight back to that computer and stayed there for hours.

What shocked me the most was not their short span of attention but their total lack of creating imaginary worlds. Children today don’t know what to do if it is not given to them. They don’t have the patience nor the ability to dig their way out of boredom. Living in an era of “Helicopter Parenting” everything is done for them. Their after-school schedules are so tightly organized that they don’t have anything to think about. So they move between school, structured activities, television and computer. And since imagination finds its energy when one is alone with his or her thoughts, children unfortunately have seldom time to develop it. As if this was not bad enough, “being alone” today in our culture, is something every one is trying to avoid, at any cost.

In her talk at Ted, “Connected but alone?”, Sherry Turkle talks about how we have come to see being alone as almost a disease or something that needs to be solved. So we solve it by inventing tools that give us the illusion of always being connected and therefore, never alone – social media sites, online video games, and of course the most obvious one, the smart phone. Solitude is such a taboo word that our incapacity of dealing with it pushes us to connect with anything simply to fill that void. When I was younger, these moments when I alone with my thoughts and dreams, when I was left to use my imagination, these were my favorites times. I have spent my entire life making sure never to loose them and to protect them. For me they are my most precious possession. They are my freedom.

Doing some research on the web, I found on Zen Habits… Breathe a post titled The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People. Interestingly enough, being alone is one of the most important aspect of creativity. Here are some quotes from the article:

Doing nothing has a way of synthesizing what is really important in my life and in my work and inspires me beyond measure. When I come back to work I am better equipped to weed out the non-essential stuff and focus on the things I most want to express creatively.” Ali Edwards

“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer–say, traveling in a carriage or walking after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep–it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.” Mozart

“On the other hand, although I have a regular work schedule, I take time to go for long walks on the beach so that I can listen to what is going on inside my head. If my work isn’t going well, I lie down in the middle of a workday and gaze at the ceiling while I listen and visualize what goes on in my imagination.” Einstein

“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Kafka

“The mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives in seclusion free of outside influences beating upon us to cripple the creative mind. Be alone—that is the secret of invention: be alone, that is when ideas are born.” Tesla

“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.” Picasso

There is also Richard Louv, author of the Last Child in the Woods, who often talks about the connection between nature and imagination. He argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally “scared children straight out of the woods and fields,” while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors “safe” regimented sports over imaginative play. Louv states that this Nature Deficit Disorder has a negative effect on everything from the attention span, stress, creativity, cognitive development, and children’s sense of wonder and connection to the earth.

We are robbing our children from the magic of childhood, turning them into young adults. And the consequences could not be more tragic. For a child, imagination is crucial for dealing with the realities of life. It is a safe world where one can process hard emotions. What else is Dr.Seuss if not a giant repertoire of crazy stories about the hardships of life. Kids need to develop their own “crazy” world. They need to find time where there is only thing left to do, which is to explore their imaginary potential. Let them believe in fairies and the impossible, because at the end of the day, this is where dreams are born.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. “ Michelangelo

Dreams

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”For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

It is dark. Absence of colors. Black and white tones. Various shades of grey.  Daylight illuminates the world around us, but the night transforms everything into a monotone landscape. For a moment, I wonder, if actually this seemingly boring reality has a purpose. My eyes pan from left to right trying to find a destination. With no where to go, they are left with one choice – go up. And right there, I understand. We spend our days looking in front of us. Always trying to see what is coming. But the night belongs to dreams and there is only place you can find them – in the Stars. I am curious if this is why in Asia they write from top to bottom, as if to insinuate that everything in life starts with a Dream. My eyes are fixed on this black tapestry made of an incalculable amount of white pinholes. My pupils dilate trying to capture the gargantuesque size of the Universe.  Millions of specks of light, so distant from our planet than their location is measured by the number of years light takes to travel from them to us. Their sight reminds me of the infinite amount of possibilities our world holds. That we still know so little about Life. My thoughts of boredom are long gone now as I lay down on the sand, gazing at a world that is only reachable through my imagination, through my dreams.

Man has been looking at the stars for thousands of years. It has been a source of inspiration, a source of mystery, a source of faith, and a tool for orientation. It also has been a way for us to understand our relationship with Nature, and with Life. Ever since the dawn of humanity, the night sky and Nature have walked hand in hand. Through the ages, from all cultures, every time we raised our eyes to the night sky, we saw animals and mythical creatures. The Zodiac, invented more than 10 000 years ago, depicts our symbiosis with the Universe through images of animals. For centuries, constellations were named after Nature.  It is only in the 1700’s, at the early age of the Industrial Revolution, that we changed our relationship with the Stars. Frenchman Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, famous astronomer, broke all the rules and named all of his discoveries with man-made objects.

In a world where more than half of the population lives in cities, we tend to forget there is even a night sky. Our eyes barely rise above the horizon. Our sense of vertical is developed mainly around tall buildings. And if we do one day find our way to look passed the top of those skyscrapers, we find an almost white canvas with a few sparse bright dots. 

A night sky is a limitless source of creativity and fascination. Like painting by numbers, you trace imaginary lines from star to star, giving life to worlds that know no boundaries. Shooting stars and northern lights, props for magical stories. As much as we learn about the Universe in museum or on television, there is nothing like experiencing the sight of a night sky saturated with stars, the Milky Way casting shadows on the ground – it is overwhelming, it is humbly.

We need never to forget to look up. We need never to forget to dream.