Are these guys nuts – these people who surf Lake Superior during late fall/winter/early spring during big storms. Why do they do this? I haven’t got a clear answer to why any particular person surfs Lake Superior, but I have no doubt it may be difficult to articulate. There is a very real sense of why, just difficult to articulate.
I was recently asked to judge a photography club competition. On my drive to the club meeting to present my judging results a thought occurred to me. I realized I like judging – working with an audience, talking about photography, sharing some insights or experiences, meeting new people – but don’t like being a judge. The ranking, sorting, “this one is better than that one.” I found it odd, given my professional history, that I would be so uncomfortable with this part of the judging process. It took me a while to sort it out, but I settled on this one simple notion that we all learned as small children; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As a photographer that has presented his images to many strangers and friends alike through this blog, I’ve had the beholder lesson reaffirmed many times over. Some responses to my work really hurt and some responses were amazingly kind and generous. All of it was true and all of it has me less concerned with WHAT (external judgment of good/bad, creative/dull) of my photography and more focused on the WHY (internal motivation and approach) of it.
Sharing our photography, like many endeavors artistic or otherwise, takes a great deal of courage. We tend to think of our photography as a reflection of the sum total of us because its a product of our energy. I see this in photographers, in musicians, in entrepreneurs and in parents. Its natural to feel this way. We put significant energy into these things and at some point we all want validation that the outcome was somehow worth the effort. We want our artistic work to be praised, our businesses to be successful and our children to be happy and secure. The EGO really needs this, but we shouldn’t boil our sense of self down to any one single event or image, or painting, or song or business. I contend that WHAT we produce says relatively little about us and WHY we produce it says relatively more about us. Just like the surfers on Lake Superior. Yes, they are surfing – the WHAT – but the motivation behind – the WHY – says more about the individual than the sheer act of courage and insanity to actually do it. The WHAT is easy to focus on – it hits our five senses – but the WHY is very difficult to observe. Each of us has to go out of our way to find the WHY.
The WHY aspect of our work was articulated by Simon Sinek in a recent TED talk. 18 minutes of your life well-spent watching this talk. Click HERE to watch video at TED.com
Which all leads us back to today’s images of my good friend John Benzik who regularly surfs Lake Superior. We here in MN had a classic early spring snowstorm this week that created some great surf on the Lake Superior. On short notice I grabbed my gear, my good friend Sam Sherf, and we all headed north to catch one remaining hour of daylight to photograph a Lake Superior surfer. Why? I think I’ve answered it for myself, but I’m curious to know your WHY with photography.