Monday, December 22, 2014

'Tis The Season (Photography & Charity)

Once upon a time I worked for the Union Pacific Railroad. I was a train dispatcher, which meant it was my job to safely and efficiently move trains across the mainline tracks under my jurisdiction (sometimes called territory, subdivision or desk). At this time of the year posters would be displayed all over the dispatching center proclaiming "'Tis 'Z' Season."

Train And Signal - Tehachapi, California
UPS, Fedex and others would pay a premium price to ensure that their freight had priority over all other freight traffic. The railroad would put their loads (most often truck trailers or intermodal containers) on high priority trains that would quickly move across the system. All other freight trains would be moved out of the way onto sidings. These "fast freight" trains were called Z-Trains. During the Christmas holiday, for the railroad, "'Tis 'Z' Season" was indeed correct.

But quickly moving merchandise and packages are not what the Christmas season is about. Yes, Johnny will be happy to unwrap that colorful gift from Aunt Ruth on Christmas morning, but there is something much more important about this time of the year.

This last Thursday I received a phone call from a local police officer. I was a little surprised, and at first I thought perhaps there had been some trespassing complaint (I do, from time-to-time, venture onto private property in pursuit of a great photograph). But that's not what he had called about. Actually, he needed my help--my photographic help.

Deep down I want my photographs to be purposeful and meaningful. I want my photographs to have a positive influence on the world. These are general terms and it can be very difficult to know what any of this even means or how to accomplish it. How can my photographs make a difference? How can I use my skill to help others? How can I change the world with my photographs?

All of this sounds unattainable. It sounds perhaps like wishful thinking. But, here and there, opportunities present themselves that allow my photography to make a difference to others.

The first such opportunity came a couple years ago. I had created a photograph while vacationing in San Diego. It almost seemed like I was supposed to make this photograph--like it was destiny. I printed the image large on aluminum and it hung in a local art gallery for several months. But then the gallery closed. The photograph briefly hung in another gallery, but I felt like there was a better home for it. I felt like it was better to give away the photograph than to try to sell it.

The photograph, Faith In The Sand, was donated to a local church. That church does a great deal of good for the local community. It hangs on one of their walls, and it is seen pretty much daily.
Faith In The Sand - San Diego, California
Faith In The Sand was in some ways purposefully created and in some ways a happy accident (fate?). The image has a lot to say. There are a number of metaphors: the shifting sand, the solid rock, the cross. It says a lot to the person who is receptive to the message. And it sits in the perfect place to proclaim that message.

Now to that phone call this last Thursday. There's a local family who owns a small business--a donut shop--and they recently had a fire in their kitchen. The place has been closed since the fire, and the primary source of income for the family is gone. The insurance hasn't come through for them yet.

The police officer was aware of all this. The business owner does a lot of charitable good deeds for the community. The officer wanted to give back. He was afraid that the business owner's two young daughters might not have a Christmas this year.
Rolling Dough - Tehachapi, California
In order to help this family he needed my help. He wanted to use some of my photographs to advertise to the community about this need. My photographs are being used to help this family and to make sure that two children have gifts under the tree and food on the table.

In both of the examples mentioned, I could have earned money. I could have kept Faith In The Sand in the art gallery until it sold. I could have charged the police officer money for non-exclusive rights to my photographs. But some things are worth more than money. 'Tis the season for giving.

I'm not telling you this to brag. I'm humbled by these experiences. I'm honored to know that my photographs are making a real difference in the world, inspiring hope and inspiring generosity. That's exactly what I want from my photography.

Christmas is not about getting. It's not about gifts received. It's not even about giving to those who don't need. Christmas is about giving to those who need to receive a gift. It is about giving to those who don't have, helping those who need help.

That's the reason for the season.

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