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I just returned from the North American Nature Photographers Summit in Jacksonville (Nanpa.org.), where many great photographers presented and discussed their work.  My dear friend and mentor, Clyde Butcher (www.clydebutcher.com) gave a wonderful Keynote Address about his work which has inspired me so much.  He has a deep spiritual connection with nature and is a fantastic story teller.  He even showed this video of himself getting out of the canoe onto a ladder, which was pretty entertaining (www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oWpDgSqwgA). Clyde taught me to get in the water whenever possible when photographing rivers and more importantly to get in nature--to take the step closer in, to get down lower, to immerse myself fully, instead of standing outside the world taking a photograph of it.  Our relationship to nature is all about perspective and our photographs are more meaningful when they tell our stories of how we relate to the world and ourselves.

I also really enjoyed Lewis Kemper's  (www.lewiskemper.com) presentation on light in photography.  His images are so beautiful and the light in his photographs expresses the ineffable in a way that spoke to my soul.  In his book, Capturing the Light, which I had to take home with me, he includes the following quote by Yuan-Sou: "The mountains, rivers, grasses, trees, and forests are always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth." Lewis' photographs capture a mysterious presence that is complex and irreducible to words.  Yet they simultaneously simplify the clutter of the world in a way that reflects the very essence of life--its oneness. In his book, Lewis also includes this quote by Aaron Rose, "In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary." Everything in nature has the potential to be seen as amazing, just as we all have the potential to be creative, original and inspirational when we use our eyes to see with our whole being.

This theme was carried through by Guy Tal (www.guytal.com), whose body of work is stunning and moving.  He quoted Aristotle as saying, "The aim of art is not to represent the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." Guy said art is not of things, it is about things and it is a window into human experience.  He described his life as a former Israeli soldier and then in the corporate world and what it did to his soul.  He gave up everything and came to photography and art as a way of alleviating pain and finding meaning in his life.  I cried as I listened to him speak, because I know it is the same with me.  I have started down a path that I cannot turn back on.  I have stepped out of my comfort zone and am giving up my old paradigm of safety for a new type of connectivity.  Photography and art are in my soul and there is no denying their calling.  According to Guy, the purpose of your work should be the same as the purpose of your life.  I know I have always felt at sea when my avocation is disparate from my vocation.  When I finally discovered photography as a vehicle by which I could express my true self, my path started to become clearer and everything began to click.  I discovered my purpose at last, which though continually evolving is still a beacon that guides me in everything I do now.

It is the emotions of the artist conveyed through whatever media they are working in that gives a work meaning and connects the viewer with the artwork. Instead of looking at a photograph and figuring out what it is and then deciding how we feel and how to respond, Guy explained that we really ask how we feel about something first, then how we should respond, and only finally try to figure out what exactly we are looking at.  He believes everyone is capable of uniqueness by connecting with the creative core of their being.  To do this, we must slow down.  The unconscious sees more than the conscious mind perceives, but when we move too quickly it throws things out.  I know when I slow down, I can achieve open awareness with my whole being, which connects me with the natural world on a deeper level that ultimately reconnects me with my authentic self.  I am able to sit with my fears and heal my pain, not by running from it but by letting it flow through me with the fluidity of the river as it winds its way around obstacles, even gently lapping the banks of that which tries to constrict it.