The Perils of an Open Mind

By Jon Hillenbrand In Poetry

Absolutes of ideology are succulent butter to people who are in the checklist stage of preparing to sail with Greenpeace, pasting enlarged dead baby photos to poster boards, annoying their coworkers into voting for someone or screaming about the dangers of running with scissors. Pretendindians scream about the persecution of their ancestral 16th cousin, twice removed, feeling the genetic drawstring of history closing down their virtually imagined hardly mentioned culture as they enjoy the Redskins game while eating Taco Bell and feeling a bit guilty about modern white conveniences like air conditioning and shoes.  Everyone wants to feel like they belong, but secretly they all want to feel persecuted.  Case in point, the recent voting-in of Obama by two camps; those who would mention the historicity of such a momentous race-centered race, and those who would pretended that it didn’t matter.  I voted for McCain because I felt that his years of experience made him more qualified to do the job.  I felt this was in the spirit of the, “I have a dream,” speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. in which he said that his hope was for a color-blind society, not one acting on the very basis of that which has been so long used to victimize.  But the two times I mentioned this, I was harshly criticized by the first camp for having an opinion on the matter, being a recipient of the “white male DNA” from my parents.  The second camp tried to convince me that oration skill outweighed hard experience.  And McCain was going to die in four years anyway.

The perils of an open mind have kept me down.  I’ve often been persecuted for not taking a stand or for taking a stand against the limiting status quo.  But I’ve learned more to stay quiet when I don’t understand something and not look like a fool to my older self when he travels back in time in his mind.  I’ve found that this makes me a better photographer as well.  Often I am faced with a situation in which I know very little about what I am shooting.  Once I am willing to capture the unexpected with a few jabs in the right direction, rather than placing people Barbie and Ken-like, avenues for beauty open up.  Most people aren’t actors or professional models.  But they have within them a bright light just waiting to shimmer in the catchlight in their eyes.  In many ways, looking back at my old photos, the ones I might regret the outcome of, it’s hard for me to criticize certain decisions if I haven’t made them.  If the variables of the universe didn’t come together, that’s not really my fault.  Sure, I’ve shot the wrong f/stop and felt like a basic idiot.  But that’s not the result of taking a stand on a forced outcome for a photo.  Keeping an open mind photographically has kept my photos fresher to me and made the experience more fun.

Recently I was teaching a girl some basics of exposure.  She relayed to me a story when she was traveling and someone told her the “correct” f/stop to use for the upcoming landscape shot.  “To shoot this landscape, you’re gonna need to be at f/18.”  As I teach, I create tabs in my mind on subjects to go back to.  And the whole discussion of ISO and shutter speed and focal length came to a crashing halt for me when I realized that her whole paradigm of thought concerning photography was based on rules of “correct” and “incorrect”.  She asked, “When I enter a room, how do I know what is the correct shutter speed and f/stop to use?”  She felt this was the first step to take before talking about capturing or creating anything with a camera.  To me, she was coming at photography in reverse.  To herself, I imagine, I was trying to teach her to fly before teaching her to walk.

I guess the problem I have is so much in life requires our weary attention that we often equate guidelines and suggestions with rules.  I often suggest to my three-year old niece during bath time not to splash too much outside of the tub because the water goes everywhere.  But that’s because one of my rules is that disorder and chaos have negative consequences.  Or maybe I don’t want to be wet.  Or maybe I am tired and want to control something.  So the simple joy of a child playing in water gets ruined a bit.  I often don’t feel like explaining the reason behind the no-splashing rule or the specific guidelines of that rule because it takes to long to describe chaos, control, empathy, tub wall height, water damage, evaporation, mineral contamination, etc.  And frankly, I doubt she’ll care long enough to listen to any of that because she just wants to splash.  So the rule gets changed into “no splashing at all”, bath time starts to suck, and soon she doesn’t want to take a bath.  Similarly with photography, there are now so many rules that it is like you can only eat huge deeply red Jonathan apples starting from one side and working your way around the circumference.  And while performing this act, you miss the untamed joy of gnashing your teeth into the fruit, feeling the juicy snap splash down your chin and maybe lobbing the half eaten wet apple as hard as you can across the beach to land in the gritty sand, just to see what it does.  Can the fun and unintended consequences of photography only be enjoyed by those who have been doing it professionally for years?  I hope not.

Language anneals ideas in the foundary of our minds as they are pressed from the imagination into workable thoughts.  This is why dictators burn books when they come into power or are threatened with the loss of it.  Ideas lead to more ideas.  The open mind conquers.  Unfortunately, when faced with uncertainty, guidelines from the elder and the experienced are bastardized into distributed religions of dogma, the result of which is a loss of love and life and opportunity while the congregations are correcting their clothing or flipping to the page of the day.  The whole point is lost.  The fatwas become a rallying cry for those who misunderstand the ideas behind the original guidelines.  And the only way forward as a species or as an individual is to keep an open mind.

What do you think?