I got into this caper for the purpose of doing some good in the world. I wanted my life’s work to amount to more than just myself. I had other careers before photography, one that was highly profitable and one that was highly noble. I chose this path because I felt of all the skills I possessed, capturing the beauty of the world and sharing it was easily the greatest good I can achieve.
These past few months have challenged my fortitude, made me question whether I get more from this career than I put back into it.
I never expected to change the world, not all of it. I did expect to change the world for some people however. I remember my first trip to Cambodia when I learned about the parable of the Starfish. The story goes that a monk and his novice were walking along a beach after a big storm, and the monk carefully gathers a single starfish and returns it to the water. The novice is incensed, “There are thousands of starfish on this beach, you can’t save them all so what difference does it make to save just one?” The thing is, for that one starfish that was rescued, it makes all the difference in the world.
Shaking the Future
In April and May I watched helplessly from thousands of miles away while Nepal was shaken and battered by earthquakes and aftershocks. The economic damage to the country will be far more wide spread than the physical deaths. Nepal desperately needs help. I began a campaign called “Bring Your Smile to Nepal”, with a simple idea to let the world know that Nepal is open to travellers. Most of Nepal was untouched by the quake, most hotels are waiting for guests, most of the scenery and people are eager for visitors. But who wants to visit an earthquake zone for their holidays right?
My campaign hit many setbacks before it even launched. Two months later than I hoped we launched the webpage, and while it has been the second most visited page in the history of my online life it has generated an abysmal amount of bookings to come and visit Nepal. I designed a unique gourmet experience with the help of some fabulous friends, plus a stunning motorcycle trek into the Mustang Kingdom that had been on my wish list for years. Everyone I talk to agrees that they are amazing opportunities. But so far the conversion from applause to bookings has failed.
Nepal is a big deal to me, it’s a country I feel a huge debt towards. The people of Nepal have proven their spirit and kindness to me so many times. This was my chance to give a little something back, and I feel I have failed them. I totally understand why people don’t want to visit Nepal right now, and yet it’s the one thing I really wish I could influence for the sake of my out-of-work guides, empty hotels and idle drivers.
My life in recent months feels like it’s under siege, ever since the earthquake in Nepal. I’ve spent more time in the company of Doctors and Lawyers this past 12 months than I have in a lifetime, so you know that’s never a happy sign. The plight of refugees in Syria has added a note of panic to my own bubble of awareness. As if the inhumane treatment of refugees on Nauru or Manus Island was not reason enough to be sad, the national shame of both Australia’s political parties is more depressing than ever.
At a time when I feel like the entire planet is heaving itself into a sewer drain, I am challenged more than ever to feel like I’m doing anything good in this world. My usual source of comedic retreat from the harsh realities of life, Twitter, has also turned it’s back on me. Instead of hilarious mockery the tone of tweets has turned decidedly deadly. The only levity this week provided by a misguided social media campaign by the mining industry to rebrand little black lumps of coal is our key to global happiness.
Checkout the hashtag #coalisamazing for a good laugh. It’s even crazier than the demented chirpings from Donald Trump or Rupert Murdoch.
Disconnect and Reconnect
Watching my travel media friends post stories about the best places to enjoy a spa holiday in Europe, while 2 million refugees are flooding in via Hungary, was really the last straw. I can put up with people posting a photo of their pampered dogs, new shows and the bacon they had for breakfast, but a travel feature on spa treatments while the greatest refugee crisis of modern history is happening in Europe was just too much.
It especially galled me because anyone privileged enough to have a voice in the media should consider themselves lucky and give proper thought to how they use that privilege.
It occurs to me now that we *all* have that privilege of course, however small our sphere of influence may be. I know some wonderful people from my time orbiting the sun, all of whom have had a clear influence on me and many who continue to do so. Some of them have been brave enough to talk politics over brunch, respectfully and with an open mind. Others have shown me by example what it means to build hope for a community, or dedicate their knowledge to helping others learn.
Every Little Step
I know many of my regular readers are artists and creators in their own right. You pick up a camera not just to earn a living, or to earn praise, but because you have something to share with the world. The camera is your voice.
Much like that lone starfish on a beach, every single time you make an effort to share something positive with the world you are helping to add something of value. However modest your influence may be, the difference you make may not change the entire world but may well change one little part of it none the less. Every step you take is a step forward.
This has been my personal mantra for a decade. I started off my career with nothing but my ideas. I even had to sell my motorbike to buy a lens, which at the time seemed like a hugely risky step to take. But each step you take will bring you closer to your goal. Change doesn’t happen overnight, it requires patience and persistence until eventually something old topples over to make room for the new.
Hiding your expression away will do the world no good. I implore you all to make today the day that you dedicate yourself to sharing your ideas, thoughts and images of the world. Expressing your views is how we advance the discussion.
And if you see a starfish of your own in need, please take a moment to help it back in the water. It may seem like such a trivial act of kindness, but it may also mean the whole world.