The Gratitude of a Photograph

The day I put down my camera was dark. The spare light throughout the house was begging for the time change, which was right around the corner. I stopped pulling up the blinds seeking that elusive light and, in turn, stopped paying attention to it.

Once upon a time I took photographs just for the joy of it. Digital photography had opened up a world where I (and everyone else) could snap-snap-snap away without the expense of film. All I had was a second-hand point-and-shoot, but I took it everywhere and took photos of everything. I embarked on a photo-a-day project and learned to pay attention to the good things in my life, however subtle. When I had my daughter, I found myself staring at a newborn through a camera lens to pass the boring, endless hours. I propped her up on pillows and clicked the camera until we were both exhausted. For my first birthday as a mother, my husband bought me a DSLR. I was hooked.

Photo: Lindsay Crandall

Most of my life had been spent writing. Even as a child, I observed the smallest details and tucked them away for a story or a poem. As an adult, my working life kept me at a desk most of the day, tapping away at the computer; photography was just the right complement. Where writing often sped me up, taking photographs forced me to slow down, look around, and find beauty wherever I was. It became a daily habit.

I have gone through spells where I didn’t pick up my camera. It would usually coincide with the stress of deadlines and only last a few days — days when I probably needed to slow down for a moment and look through my lens for something peaceful and beautiful. Always, after a few stressful days, I’d be right back at it.

Photo: Lindsay Crandall

Because my life is filled with ordinary moments, ordinary things are often the subjects of my photos. A table setting, the unmade bed, flowers in the garden, my little one scooting across the floor: these were the things that filled my life and comprised my days. This was the stuff my photography was made of. It was a challenge to find beauty in my daily life, but I searched continually. It multiplied my gratitude. I recorded my days and gave thanks.

All along I had posted many of my photos online. Many years ago I purchased a Flickr pro account and uploaded my photos there. It was there that I learned about the 365 project, which propelled me into my passion and helped me refine my skills. I started posting photos on my blog and then on Facebook and then, several years later, that dark day came when I put the camera down.

Days went by and my camera sat upstairs in the office. It took a week before I realized I hadn’t taken a single photo. The tipping point came when I had several rolls of film developed and there were only a handful of decent shots. Most of the bad shots were of the what-was-I-thinking variety. I had stopped paying attention. I had stopped slowing down. I had gotten arrogant and sloppy, and it was causing me some emotional distress. If every photo I take is an extension of me, these were a symptom of a greater problem.

It was one of those quiet moments when I realized what had to be done. I was in the greatest of all thinking spots — the shower — when it occurred to me that my photography, my art, had become all about showing off and getting feedback, mostly online. It had become joy-less and gratitude-less. It stopped reflecting the sweetness of my own life.

I decided it was time to get off the computer, purposely stop shooting my camera, and get back to living my life. I deactivated my Facebook account, stopped blogging, and cleaned out my Google Reader. And then I waited. Slowly I started picking my camera more often, but it was different. I took photographs simply for me to enjoy them. I didn’t worry about who else would see them. If I was pleased with my work, it was enough.

Photo: Lindsay Crandall

Then I cluttered my home with my photos. I made prints and hung them in frames. I changed out the photos on the photo wires in the dining room. I made a photo wall above the desk in my office. I did it all for me and no one else.

The thing is, this is my life. I have a handful of people who share this life with me. They love me not because of what I can do but because of who I am. I may be a photographer and I may be talented, but that doesn’t define me. It's taken me a long time to finally accept that my value as a person is steeped in my character and in God. Those things don't require anyone to give me feedback and say nice things about me; they require me to love others and accept myself.

Photography magnifies the joy in my life and gives me the chance to reflect the beauty in this world. It is far more important that any recognition I could ever achieve. Most importantly, it makes me grateful for my life, and one day, when I look back through the boxes of photos I’ve taken, I will remember that this ordinary life I’m living was incredibly sweet.

Photo: Lindsay Crandall

Lindsay Crandall spends her days writing, taking photographs, and (mostly) chasing after her toddler daughter, Lily. She, Lily, and her husband, Adam, recently returned to upstate New York after living in the Deep South for several years, and are very happy to be back "home." Lindsay frequently posts her photographs on Flickr.

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