Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Captain of Your Own Ship

Captain of Your Own Ship, 2010

I like dreamers. I like to think I’m something of a dreamer myself. Dreamers are inclined to see past today and consider what tomorrow can be. That probably makes us difficult to live with and frustrating to be around. But I still try to make sure I spend time with dreamers regularly. They’re an optimistic bunch. Sometimes being a good friend means you need to be a buoy to friends whose moods have got them down, and can bring you down, too, if you’re not careful. Having some dreamer friends around to balance that is useful.

All artists are dreamers of one kind of another. The empty canvas, the empty page, the empty musical staff, the skein of yarn; they’re all invitations to dream. I don’t paint, but I still get excited when I go to a store that sells art supplies. All the blank surfaces, all the textures, all the colors; they’re like notes calling out to be sung.

Gordon MacKenzie used to tell this story to illustrate how important it is to keep dream against the odds:

On the way down the birth canal, God hands each child an empty canvas and says, “Take this with you and paint me a picture of your world.” Only when you’re born they take the canvas away and tell you they’ll give it back when you’re old enough to know how to use it. But when you reach that age, you find the canvas is no longer blank. They’ve printed a paint-by-numbers template on it. You can only paint what you’ve been conditioned to paint.

For me, the camera is a gateway to opportunity, to potential, to whatever I can see or imagine through the viewfinder.

The magic of the camera is that looking through the viewfinder allows you to see the world that is, ironically, more disciplined that what your eyes see. The view’s framed by the format of the camera. It might be square if you’re using a medium or large format camera or rectangular if you’re using a 35mm or its modern digital SLR successor. Each has its advantages. Each has a slightly different way of drawing you in.

With a camera you can capture something. You can reflect something. You can draw someone in or repel them. You can take a picture that is mindless or you can use what you capture in the camera as the beginning of the creation of something that doesn’t even exist in real life.

With a camera you can have control over the world around you. No matter how grounded you might feel, by picking up the camera you can be the captain of your own ship.


  1. Well,... YOU can control the world. A certain someone is not so great with a camera! But I still love using one. I never heard Gordon's quote before: that's excellent.

  2. I'm still amazed at how much of my surroundings I missed, or more accurately never noticed, before I picked up a camera.

  3. A lot to consider here...
    Birth canals..
    I forget that trip..
    Cameras where you used to look with one eye
    And now you look with two
    Control..who has it really?
    Where's the gal in the pool?
    That was a good teaser Chris!