The best camera is already always with you. The best sensor is your brain. The best lens is your eyes.
If you don’t take the time to live, see and experience before you photograph, you’ll always be a cover band. Your goals will match the experiences of other photographers.
This advice has been given to me countless times, but I can’t say it really sunk in until about a year and a half ago when I met director Tom Shadyac.
He’s famous for directing several successful Jim Carey and Eddie Murphy movies, then giving away his vast fortune to live in a trailer park and work on passion projects, like the documentary I Am. I Am explores our connection to each other and the emptiness of materialism. It’s the kind of film those of us from the midwest might dismiss as too hippy or touchy-feely, but Tom lives it.
He was staying at the same hotel I was, eating at the hotel’s restaurant every morning. I knew he was a big shot from the crew around him, but I didn’t know why. In the middle of breakfast one morning, he rushed to the rescue of a man at the next table who was choking. He saved the man’s life. Kevin Nealon, who was also staying at the hotel, tweeted about the incident.
Of all the guests there, the one who used his camera to convince others to be better human beings saved a man’s life. That’s living it.
The next day, he was passing me in the hall and I had to stop to thank him for what he did. He asked why I was staying at the hotel and I told him it was my honeymoon. Right in that hall, he started to explain his philosophy and preach about love as if he was still filming his documentary. He was still living it.
The next month, he was on Oprah, telling his life story and spreading his message. It didn’t matter to him whether he had an audience of one or millions, he was living that message every day.
Technique and gear seem insignificant if you have a message. Developing that message is worth at least as much time as we devote to the rest.