For years, I’ve had plans to take the story-telling part of my photography and branch it out into a non-profit. (Lens of Hope). There were a handful of friends who had convinced me that if I was spending so much time giving away my work, I should be sensible about it and try to find a way to be sponsored or funded. And they weren’t wrong to think that. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a horrible business person; I let my personal values and feelings preside over practicality almost all of the time. (To be clear, I also don’t think that’s an altogether bad thing). Finally, at the beginning of this year, I decided I was going to go for it. This was the year. I set up a separate website, reached out to a few folks in the photography circles here, and began to network. By early March, I had a few meetings scheduled to draw up a business plan and take the next necessary steps in the nonprofit world.
Those meetings, of course, never happened.
There have been a handful of times over the past six months that I’ve started to type up replies and circle back, but something about the timeline of it all makes me stop short. It’s as though a very distinct line was drawn in the sand for me, personally, in March 2020. There is no aspect of my life that this pandemic hasn’t affected, including my artistry. If this year has taught me anything about hope, it’s that it can’t be branded, neither can it be condensed into a three sentence mission statement.
This reality came into full light a few weeks ago, over a glass of wine with a friend. Once again, I had been brainstorming ways I could get this portion of my photography off the ground, how it could be structured, and could it be this approach instead of the initial one I had, etc. And my friend looked right at me and said, “K- hear me out: I don’t think Lens of Hope is something you need to create. It’s you. I think this whole process has been you coming more fully into who you’ve always been. And you don’t need it to be a hashtag or a brand. Just go and do the work you feel called to do.”
This wasn’t a new concept, but it was the first time that I was ready to really absorb those words. Mostly, I’m relieved, because I knew deep down she was right. There’s no one to have to convince now- no bylaws to write, no red tape. On the flip side, there’s nothing to really hide behind either- no highlight reels or empty validation to chase.
There's only the work.
I came across some pictures from our beach vacation over the summer, and a few snaps of Olive as she worked diligently on a sandcastle. About ten minutes and two crumbly sand pillars into it, a wave rushed in and took most of it away. Without a word, she stood up, grabbed her bucket and shovel, and moved a little bit further back to start over again. Five minutes later, the same thing happened. She again moved further back. This went on for about a half hour, and I watched her cycle through the same reactions and emotions each time, but then just start all over.
As an artist, 2020 has felt a lot like building sandcastles- cycling through disappointment and grief and resuscitation, always working feverishly against time and tide to create something with staying power, but ultimately learning to embrace those things beyond my control. Sometimes the best laid plans erode or disintegrate altogether. But just because you don’t have something pretty to show for it, doesn’t make the work any less valid. It took me 38 years to really reconcile this, but better late than never.
2020 isn't the year I started a non-profit. Instead, it’s the year I decided to pick up my bucket and follow the waves.