Lightness of Being


I’ve done something I never thought possible – after radically gutting my photographic gear inventory and selling vast majority of it on eBay this past winter, I have decided this week that I’d take it good leap further and vaporize the rest. Not just some of it. All of it.

What prompted me to do this was a subtle, yet very powerful event. I have recently written a post about Chicago’s Central Camera store being burned down during 2020 BLM riots and how people can still go to their Go Fund Me page and donate towards their financial goal to reopen the store again. I did pitch in that day too. I also took a trip to Central Camera’s temporary location the next day over a lunch break to get a new camera strap and replace my lost lens cap. Don, the owner, was helping with my check out and I, on a whim, asked him if they were accepting any used gear donations to help the store inventory and mentioned that I did a small donation to his store last night and wanted to help further. As he was processing my payment, he abruptly stopped, said a heartfelt, quiet, emotional “thank you” and shook my hand, asking for my name. It wasn’t just a thank you, it was one of those where your voice chokes up when you say it. It was real. It was from the heart. I told him I had some filters, straps, flash brackets and other minor stuff I wanted to donate to the store.

Right there and then I knew I would not only make good on my pledge, but I’d do much more. I’ve decided to not play small and really “go” through my bin of gear. External flashes, ND, UV, skylight filters, circular polarizers, grad filters of all different sizes (some good B+W and Cokin glass), camera straps, flash brackets, TTL cords and my lenses! Not only am I handing away my first ever proper Tamron full frame lens, I’m also giving away my coveted, mint, vintage Takumar I got from Japan. All neatly packed in a genuine and hardly used Canon camera backpack (which will be part of the donation as well). While obtaining all this took me a couple decades and parting with all of it kind of made my heart skip a beat, at the same moment I felt incredible lightness and freedom. How many times did I glance at all these items and made a mental note to pull that flash and do some portraits, to pull those grad filters and do some sunset shots, take that vintage lens and do macro shots. Then I hardly ever did and privately blamed myself for not doing what I intended and sometimes committed to, just to end up retreating at the last moment. All this gear was supposed to make me feel rich, fortunate, empowered. Instead, it felt as weights on my shackled ankles, which I dragged with me for decades. Taking those shackles off, thanking them for their service and giving them to someone else to play with was the right decision for me. Bar none.

This experience reminded me of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being I had read in high school as part of post modern literature curriculum. If you haven’t read this novel, you should! A fascinating book about love and freedom where the author juxtaposes commitment to partnership and love (heaviness) and lust for freedom (lightness). When I thought about this philosophical concept I came to realize that our commitment and creativity as photographers is often limited by our own tools, knowledge, rules and experience. We have a tendency to forfeit our own creative power and vest it into our gear and preconceived notions to do the deed on our behalf, thus the very thing which we think enriches our creativity is in essence the single most limiting factor. That is where my incredible (and unexpected) sense of complete freedom came from after zipping up the stuffed backpack. I am no longer committed to do photography with any of the gear I’ve donated and have hence gained the freedom to explore alternate ways to be creative and find different photo styles and techniques with the remaining tools, which I’d have otherwise never explored, had I clinched to my old gear and skills.

That is the true power of loving what you do. To “create” means to make something new happen or occur. You are committed to your own creativity, not your old or current ways of creativity, for how can you be truly creative when you are limited by your very knowledge and skills and perceptions? They are the supporting structure, but also your guard rails, carefully steering you in a given direction, always in control. What if you were bold enough to ditch those guard rails, released the creative inner child, and just let it rip? What if you did? A curious question indeed…

Do you create anew? Or do you just replicate the old and calling it new to make you feel better and to have a sense of accomplishment?
I’ve asked all these questions of myself and the answer was a resounding “yes” to new creation and exploring never ending new ways.
Will this be a surreal acid trip into an art nirvana, or one of those crash and burn situations in slo-mo? Well, there only one way to find out…
I don’t make money off any of my photographic endeavors and actually pay for this blog, so you don’t have to see ads, I don’t hunt for likes and views, because they neither run nor feed my creative inner engine. I have literally nothing to lose and can only gain, my gear bin is completely empty and repurposed for something else. Wham!

I’m left with my two pocket Ricoh GRs and two cheap vintage film cameras (Canonet QL17 GIII and a Pentax K1000), which I recently bought to get back into film. I have a few vintage lenses the Pentax came with. And that’s it, the rest neatly packed into a photo bag, all separated in Ziploc pouches, cleaned, wiped down and donated to Don’s store into the hands of the man himself, who has shown just how humble and grateful a person he truly is…

If you are reading this post and got to this point, I wanted to ask: are you an artist, musician, craftsman or anyone who has tools and gear you seldom use, which someone else with less fortune than yourself could really appreciate having and be given a chance to do what you could when you used to use them? This is not about mere donation and feeling good about it. This more so about claiming your long forgotten freedom you never knew you had.

Are you in favor of feeling heaviness or would you prefer lightness? If this truly resonated with you I think you can already feel the answer within…
Why not let it out for a brief walk then and let it show you in no uncertain terms what it is capable of….

Categories: Daily LifeTags: , , , , , , , , ,

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