The Secret Society of Navigators
Late last December, I was in California visiting my best friend Danielle, who amongst other curious gifts; has a knack for collecting very special and unique antiques. I was browsing her collection when I came across a small wooden box that opened upon a telescoping golden spyglass. I felt the hair on my neck stand on end; this was one of the most magical objects I have ever laid eyes on. I promised not to damage it and a few days later I was up before sunrise walking across the sand in Venice Beach, CA, my dear friend, performer, model, contortionist, and apparently sponsored prancersizer, Sarah Llewellyn in tow.
I pinned a sparkly pink dress, five sizes too big on her, had her wade across the cold ocean water and climb up onto a pile of rocks known as “The Breakwater,” a popular surf spot, that keeps the beach from washing away. It was such a magical morning, the soft pink light, the salty air, and just before the sun popped over the horizon, hundreds of birds suddenly surrounded us and then disappeared just as fast. For almost the entire shoot the water was calm, and as we were about to wrap up, a set of waves came through and drenched poor Sarah, but made for an amazing shot. This girl is a trooper, it was now January and that water is not only powerful, but really, really, cold. Even after a hot shower and a few hours wrapped in blankets she was still shivering. Fortunately, I got the shot and it is one of my most favorite images ever; little did I know my Navigator wasn’t alone.
I have been sitting on this photo for a while, not really sure when to release it. I don’t know why I have held off for so long, but in the past week or two, I have seen a whole slew of spyglass images and it brought up a really interesting point. There has been a lot of talk in the creative photography community about plagiarism, versus inspiration, versus the collective unconscious. The first, is fairly straightforward, and I have recently seen some blatant duplication/recreation of imagery that is appalling, the second speaks to sharing your opinion on a similar theme, and I think the third borders on magical. I do believe most of the photographers I follow, are inspired by the same fairytales and have a shared aesthetic, so it is easy to see how our imagery can look a lot alike. So, when we all go out and make incredibly similar images without ever seeing each other’s work, it’s not a huge surprise. For me though, this is something special, because it feels like some deep unconscious connection to this beautiful community. I know we are all trying to make our work individual, to stand out amongst the crowd, but sometimes I feel like this deep unity is what makes this a movement, and that is a really wonderful thing to be part of.
In fact, being the dreamer that I am, I started thinking about all of the navigators out there in these images, as if they belonged to a Secret Society of Navigators. They are seeking knowledge, leading explorations, scanning for danger, and looking out for each other. I feel like they all know one another and have special underground gatherings to share what they have learned. To me this sounds so much like all of us sharing ideas and techniques, commenting, liking, working hard to help each other, and watching out for plagiarism and theft of images. I for one, feel so blessed to be part of this, and I thank you all. So, in honor of our Secret Society of Creative Photographers, I am putting my Navigator out into the world. She came to be of her own accord, only to find she was not alone, and I am so thrilled for her to join her fellows.
I hope that this post inspires you to keep creating, to know that every photograph has not already been made. To know that we can all have brilliant ideas alone, only to find out later that others shared our vision, and that is something to be celebrated. I think we all know the difference between plagiarism and inspiration, and I often hear photographers in our community lamenting that everyone uses levitation/butterflies/birds/umbrellas/suitcases/floaty dresses/model boats/floating objects/fancy headdresses and now spyglasses, but guess what, that’s just fine with me. If these objects inspire you, let them, and bring your own voice to the party. I look forward to seeing what you create.
To see some other Navigators please follow these links… If you have a navigator you want to share let me know and I will add it to the list.
Joel Robison Photography
Katherine Thomas Photography
Jessica Drossin Photography
Alexia Sinclair Photography