Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.

Sunset sail

The Internet loves quotes and memes — they’re the motivational posters for those who live and thrive in the digital era. It’s no wonder that so many of us latch onto wise words that make their way through the news feeds of our social media accounts. More recently, I saw this familiar phrase pop up and it got me thinking…

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

The quote is attributed (falsely) to Mark Twain, the writer of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and so on. Twain is often regarded as one of the Great American Writers and the source of much quoted wisdom.

Regardless of the authenticity of the source, the quote does make one stop and take stock of things. Hindsight is always 20/20 and often tinged with some regret, and quotes like this make us think about the way we choose to seize the day and to live life the way we believe it should be lived.

What do you day dream about? What floats your boat? If you closed your eyes and imagined yourself anywhere else but where you are now, where would you be? What would you be doing? What’s on your bucket list? What’s holding you back?

I hang around with a lot of people and while it’s energising and inspiring to see some bring their dreams to reality, it is also sad to see many people hobble the realisation of their dreams by wreathing them within circles of fear, doubt and nay-saying. “I can’t do this because…” “One Powerball and I’d be there…” “Maybe in twenty years, when I’ve made my first million…” “The cost is too high. I can’t afford it now…”

I’d like to call them excuses (because what else are they) but am also sensitive to the understanding that for many, there may be other more pressing priorities than “living the dream”. Priorities that we like to call “real life” or “reality” or “just gotta pay this week’s rent then I’ll work out what’s happening next week.” But “real life” has a way of becoming the be all and end all of our existence and sucking the marrow out of our dreams.

“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living; so different now from what it seemed; Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

So sang poor, tragic Fantine in the musical Les Miserables. A few short scenes later, she would fatally succumb to tuberculosis and never see her dreams realised.

What has this to do with photography?

Well, you buy a camera and suddenly, a whole new world opens up for you. I’ve long believed that the camera is more than just a light capturing device that helps you create pictures. It’s a passport for you to connect with so many different aspects of the world — to meet people, engage with them, travel, see, experience, record, create… But so few of us do that. The camera becomes a thing that sits in the bag and is taken out when its needed, then back into the dark it goes.

At times, it becomes an extension of our lives and it, in some respects, photography becomes a visual record of our reality. Look at your photographs — what do they depict? Do they represent your living the life of your dreams, or are they simply showing you a record of your world and its four walls (whether literal or metaphorical). Is your photography growing? Is your image making developing, changing, expanding its horizons?

The camera, to some extent, sees what we see and within it is ascribed the rituals and boundaries of our lives. Do these boundaries exist because we say “I can’t” too often, or we create reasons for our not doing things because of the fear of failure, or we mire our lives with things that seem important to us then but simply deceive us with their false importance?

The camera helps us record memories. Back in the day when each frame cost money to produce, we photographed only to record something that was important to us. So, photography was a way in which we honoured the moment by recording it for posterity.

It’s almost ironic, in these days when photography has become so freely available, that we seem to be doing a lot less living the dream and recording more of the circumscribed nature of our existence. Coffees. Cakes. Beer. Selfies. Cats. The list goes on. And in living these lukewarm, mundane lives where our window to the world is more often through the rose-tinted glass of social media, we begin to celebrate and perhaps even hero-worship those who we see as “living the dream”… the thousands of “social media influencers” who seem to make a living selling stories of their amazing, care-free, free-wheeling lives on platforms such as Instagram.

Why is it that in a world and culture where we couldn’t be any more free, that we feel even more trapped. By things: acquisitions, debts and social expectations that present us with the illusion of importance when, in reality, they’re just things that trap us in a vicious circle of doubt and fear, leaving us feeling unfulfilled. By the inner voice in our head that says “No” and “Cannot” so often that we sometimes wonder what happened to that other inner voice that said “But why not?” and “Yes, let’s do it!”.

What’s stopping us from stepping outside the circle, giving “life” the finger and saying: “I’m going to do this for me. Because it’s something I’ve long dreamed of doing.”

Photography has never been about the camera or the lens, as much as manufacturers would want us to believe. It’s never about brand loyalty, pixel count or dynamic range. It’s about creating pictures you want to take, recording experiences that are of utmost importance and value to you; it’s about letting you express your vision in a way that is personal and powerful.

Fantine fell in love with the wrong man. She fell pregnant and had to foster her child out to cruel and exploitative innkeepers. She worked hard to pay for her child’s upbringing, lost her job, fell into the doldrums, prostituted herself to make ends meet, sold her hair and teeth, caught tuberculosis and died in a hospital for the poor.

I don’t think we’d wish this fate on our worst enemies much less on ourselves.

So go. Throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover…

Sumner Bay

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