A recent article on UpJourney.com featured a handful of professionals describing ways to cultivate the trait of unselfishness. One in particular that caught my eye was from Monica Eaton-Cardone, a Florida entrepreneur. Her advice was simple: connect with other people. Truly connecting with others, she points out, requires us to step outside of ourselves.
That got me thinking. I don’t think anyone would argue that selfishness is running rampant in today’s world, perhaps more so than at any other time in history. Yet for all this focus on being ourselves and doing what we want to do, I’d venture to say that as a rule, people–particularly Americans–are sadder, lonelier, and more anxious than ever.
It has always struck me as ironic that we talk about being “connected” through the internet and social media, while the reality is that social isolation is killing us: increased individualism coupled with an ageing population accounts for more people than ever feeling isolated. That, in turn, leads to an increase in anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and addiction–among other things–all of which contribute to early mortality.
So what does this have to do with photography?
It’s simple: photography is a great connector. It can connect us to the past, it can connect us to each other, and it can connect us to the world around us–urging us out of ourselves, as it were.
I’m not talking about instant, endless selfies; the most powerful photography captures more than a self-aware smile. In fact, one report pointed out that Instagram was dangerous for social well-being, associating the site with ” … high levels of anxiety, depression, bullying and FOMO, or the ‘fear of missing out.'”
That’s not something we need more of. At a time when so many are so anxious about how the political climate might affect their personal rights, safety, and happiness, it’s more important than ever to remember that we are not alone here.
Our default is to hide in our respective bubbles, whether it’s a career bubble, a family bubble, a region bubble, or what-have-you. But at the end of the day, like it or not, we’re all wide-eyed inhabitants of the same tiny planet. Sometimes we need to be reminded that despite our differences, we are very much the same.
Photography can do that.
Photography picks out the mundane details that we tend to overlook and gives them relevance simply by giving them permanence. The fact is, we don’t often alter the universe in big swoops; change more typically comes from the small actions in our everyday lives. That, in essence is what makes the concept of community so necessary … and the art of photography so powerful.
In a 2008 TED Talk, National Geographic photographer David Griffin points out that photographers need to know how to create a visual narrative. First and foremost, photographers are–or should be–storytellers: photography can serve as a positive agent for understanding the challenges and opportunities of our world, compelling us to confront a wide range of issues–even ones that are potentially distressing or controversial.
The world needs connecting. And photographers are in the perfect position to help make that happen.