Fight!

There’s a rumor I want to dispel. It’s not a rumor about me or my photography, or about you, or about any political figure. Instead it’s a very old rumor which has been repeated so often that it now passes by unchallenged, becoming accepted as general knowledge even though it’s completely wrong. The rumor is that Albert Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sometimes the rumor says it’s Franklin, or sometimes Twain, but not only did none of these people ever say such a thing, but it’s also horribly incorrect.

There are two very quick holes I can put through this particular sail. The first is that doing something repeatedly while expecting different results is actually fairly common. Einstein and Franklin, both advocates of science, would recognize this action as scientific rigor. In order to demonstrate that an experiment is repeatable and not being impacted by uncontrolled random factors, it would get done over and over again while expecting their results to vary within a certain margin. And then there’s Twain, a writer whom I’m sure didn’t publish his first draft. No, writers can hammer away at a manuscript for months, if not years, often times re-writing a story completely in the process in order to come up with their final result. The second issue is with the idea of sanity itself. Sanity and insanity are very loose concepts which are very rarely invoked in psychology. If you try to define insanity as having a psychological problem, then we’re all insane — doubly so for the ones who claim they’re not. There is no imaginary line which divides the sane from the insane. To quote the hatter: “we’re all mad here.”

There’s another quality to which we can assign this behavior of repeating things and expecting a different result. What do we call a person who doesn’t give up in the face of adversity? Who marks failure as the evidence of striving for perfection? Who gets knocked down but crawls bloodied and bruised back into the ring to face another round? Find one of these people, one of these pillars built out of pure dogged determination, and that confidence you see in their eyes, that courage, is the face of tenacity.

Such as this face. This is Woody, taken on the day I met him. Do yourself a favor if you see him out and about, and shake this man’s hand. He’ll talk to you about the things he’s seen. About having been a computer programmer. About his boxing career. About tutoring math to young athletes to help them continue their education. About working ringside with some of history’s boxing greats. Talk with him long enough, and he might tell you how the biggest number we ever have to deal with is nine, how you can multiply two two-digit numbers together in your head, or how doing sit-ups is a good way to lose weight. Ask him about his faith, how he’s sinned before and he knows he’ll sin again. Or, if you’re in a lighter mood, ask him about his love for a Krispy Kreme donut. He’ll tell you about any of these things, for as long as you care to hear about them.

And then ask him about his cancer.

Life is rarely simple or easy. Just pick any random stranger you see, and you’ve probably found somebody who’s having problems of some kind. Having problems is a universal constant of human existence, and there are only so many ways we can react to them. We can turn away, either to run from or to ignore them. We can fall down in resignation, our progress halted completely by this unchallenged obstacle. Or we can stare them in the face and come out of the corner swinging. Sometimes the cost of victory will be high, and sometimes we have little hope of making it to the next round. But a fighter is a person who fights, so the only options are to go down fighting or stop being a fighter.

Woody is a fighter. It’s just who he is: a person who knows the value of bruises. A man with the tenacity to stand atop a mountain of doubt and dare the world to try to push him off. These are qualities that we could all stand to learn by looking for the fighters in our lives and watching how they react when they’re faced with problems. I think Woody would tell you that he’s had his rough fights during his career, and now he’s stuck in the ring with a fight he might not be able to finish. But he’s not turning away from it. He’s facing it head-on, not without fear, but with courage. This is why we need tenacity, because falling down is the first thing many of us want to do in the face of difficulty. But we aren’t often afforded an easy path to pursue meaningful things. We fight to carve a path when we have none, so when we have one to follow, we don’t take its ease for granted.

I’m glad to have met Woody, and honored to call him a friend. He reminds me that all of my difficulties — with anxiety, with ADHD, or with running a part-time business alongside a full-time job and a family to boot — are worth fighting. They’re more than just the obstacles, they’re the path. The true mettle of a person isn’t in the way they win or lose, but how consistently they will battle for what they value the most. That’s tenacity, to look at the obstacles in front of us, those invitations to failure, and decide to be a fighter today.

Woody, you keep up your fight. I’ll be ringside.

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Spartanburg Locations Tour: Hatcher Garden

Hatcher Garden & Woodland Preserve is situated on the eastern side of Spartanburg, on John B. White Boulevard, a short drive from the famous Beacon Drive-In. It is named for Harold and Josephine Hatcher, who started the garden in their backyard in 1969 and continued to expand and cultivate it for the rest of their lives. Today, Hatcher Garden & Woodland Preserve is operated by the Spartanburg County Foundation. Numerous workers and volunteers continue the work that Harold and Josephine started, providing a wonderful pocket of nature in our growing city. It is one of my places to visit, and I’ve spent many hours simply walking down the trails and taking pictures of the flora and fauna that call the place their home.

One of the first large structures you’ll see in Hatcher is the large gazebo situated just down the main trail from the parking lot. The gazebo is a wonderful meeting spot for large groups and it provides a panoramic view of the trails beyond. Such groups might also enjoy the observation deck near the center of the preserve. Either location has ample seating to rest and relax. Wandering through the garden, you’ll also notice that there are many side trails situated throughout the preserve, each with their own seating areas. If you’re adventurous enough, you may even find a few picnic tables hidden away from the main trails.

20160626_IMG_0024There are multiple stone and wooden benches situated in areas around the preserve, and just about any one of them provides wonderful natural vistas that can serve as a backdrop for beautiful portraits. These are especially suitable for couple’s photos, nature lovers, and children. During the spring and early summer, there are many different kinds of flowers in bloom. From fall to mid-winter, the foliage and ground leaves create a wonderful autumnal ambiance. If you’re considering this for a portrait location, or simply to wander around and take your own pictures, you’ll find that there are numerous spots which would be beautiful for photographs worthy of your living room wall.

Keep in mind, though, that this is a purely outdoor location. On hot summer days the water levels are reduced, so mosquitoes and humidity aren’t quite so problematic. But the garden is bordered by a natural stream, so these pests can’t be entirely avoided. Also, while much of the preserve is shaded, if you’re arriving on a hot day, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of ice cold water on hand to keep you cool and hydrated. If you wear comfortable walking or hiking shoes, you will be more able to enjoy the trails after your photo session.

Hatcher Garden & Woodland Preserve is a wonderful place to have your portraits taken. The best times for taking photos here are during spring and fall months, especially towards sunset where the light creates nice highlights and long shadows. People who find that they especially enjoy Hatcher Garden should visit their website to donate, or purchase an engraved brick or paver. Their website also has details on the history of Hatcher Garden as well as services they offer. Contact me to schedule a free consultation to plan your portrait here or many other locations available in the Spartanburg area.

A Portrait Philosophy

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Between the rapid growth we’re watching happen in Greenville and Spartanburg’s downtown revitalization project, there’s very little wonder why we seem to be seeing new businesses getting on their feet every month here in the upstate. I can tell you from the recent experiences of trying to get the feet of a photography business off the ground, there’s a lot of people out there who are ready to lend a hand in navigating the red tape from first concept to first client and beyond. But in order to actually be successful, I have to be more than just a guy with a camera and a few lighting stands. Knowing my way around a shutter and an umbrella isn’t enough to stand out as a person you might want to hire to update your family portraits.

The most common way I see people overcoming this is by dropping their base prices. They’re monetizing their hobby, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, except that they could be undervaluing their own talents. In the end though, there’s nothing different about their end result that any student or apprentice couldn’t give you. That’s not how I want to differentiate myself, nor how I want to define myself.

In short, I am not a photo booth. I am not satisfied simply with taking your picture. The sum of who you are is more than a photograph. Sure, a picture might be worth a thousand words but I can tell you as a writer that a thousand words isn’t a lot, really. Me, I’m aiming for three or four thousand. I don’t want to simply take your picture. I want to capture an image that’s closer to how you want to see yourself. This might mean incorporating objects that are meaningful for you, or going to places that you hold dear. It might even mean forgoing the traditional say-cheese-smile altogether, because an honest glance is much more powerful than any forced smile ever could be. Doing that relies on more than my technical knowledge of a camera, and more on my instincts as a storyteller. If you want a formal portrait taken, then I can do that, but that’s not why I’m running this business. I want to help create an image for you that encompasses who you are.