Although I’ve been shooting for over 13 years, I recognize the fact that I still have much to learn. That’s actually a fact of life. Things are always growing and changing, so to be truly successful at anything, you have to continue to increase your knowledge base. I find this fact to be especially true in fields that are heavily impacted by advancements in technology, photography definitely being one of them. Yet even with the continuous advances in cameras and image quality and photographic equipment, I’m reminded of the fact that we can’t forget about the amazing photographers and inspiring images that existed before this digital era.
These were some of the things that came to mind as I attended the latest installment of the Visually Speaking series, curated by photographer Terrence Jennings, at the Schomburg Center in Harlem. On this particular evening, the theme was “The Image a as Catalyst for Social Change” and professional photographers Jules Allen, Ming Smith and Leroy Henderson made up the panel of speakers. As I sat in the audience both photographing and listening as the photographers took us back to the moments captured in their images, I felt a sort of reinvigoration for what I do. I also realized that despite their successes as professional photographers, they each embarked on a personal journey to discover their own purpose or mission, which led to their success.
“When I shoot, I try to create art,” said Ming Smith, who first set out only to photograph, but later evolved her own images by painting on top of them. Jules Allen admitted that it in fact took him years and a move across the country to really uncover his purpose. “I was interested in photographing African-American culture more than anything else,” he said of his work decades into his career. “I wanted to show a culture of activity. I was tired of seeing photographs of black people ‘sitting on the porch’ doing nothing. Being victimized. Being dependent.”
That sentiment seemed to be shared among all 3 photographers. The desire to show and tell the whole story of African-Americans, but capturing and producing more positive images to combat the negative images constantly being put out from others, many of whom were outside of the African-American race. “We have to look for [images] that empower us and lift us out of the negative stereotypes,” said Leroy Henderson, who has a knack for capturing those fringe moments of an event that are just as powerful as the main event.
As the evening came to a close, one thing became clear to me: It’s okay to not know your purpose right now. As long as you know what you’re passionate about and keep working in that passion, your purpose will find you. And so I share that fact with all who are reading this. I’m sure many of us are at a point in life where we’re trying to “find ourselves” and our mission in life. Well, just keep working in and pursuing your passion. Eventually, we’ll all realize what it is we’re meant to do and become really, really good at it.