A few dollars & change

Let’s start with an update. After a long absence from working-life, due to Lyme and co, I am back to working part-time. My health is not yet where it needs to be, but ok enough to put in some carefully planned work hours every day. This carefully exercised balancing act has taken some energy away from writing and photography, but the joy of being around people again, more than made up for it. Who knew that spending a few hours a day around people could be as important as the quiet time I always search out in nature.

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Summer approached, arrived and left in a hurry. The most anticipated time of the photographer’s year flew by without me giving it much attention. My photographic celibacy from Spring continued into Summer. Outings were still regular, but less frequent than in other Summers. The culprit was not so much physical limitations, but mainly a lack of inspiration. I had never thought social media could take such a huge bite out of my creativity. Still it did, and the effects are still lingering. I am still not interested much in what other photographers post online. Not that I don’t care about their creative work, but I am desperately trying to cherish that little spark of inspiration that comes to me every now and then through my own intuitive channels.


Ok, so the focus has been less on photography lately and more on other things. After nearly 3 years of not working and getting through what I hope was the worst of my health journey, I have started working again. This Spring, I met with a business owning friend who generously offered me a few work hours per week which would consist of 20% standing and 80% sitting (really this is what we agreed to). The “few” hours have quickly grown into working half days. The other part of the day is still focused on a lot of resting and contributing to a normal household. The health journey with its notorious ups and downs is far from over, but compared to a year ago I can hesitantly say, while knocking on wood, that I am doing better.

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Photography has kept me somewhat sane in past years by being able to distract and inspire myself in a healing natural environment. While I need solitude at times, I’ve encountered more than a good share of quietness in recent years. Boxing yourself in is an automatic thing you do when you are tired and miserable. That downward spiral into isolation becomes yet another challenge to deal with. While counsellors and doctors always encouraged me to be around people, I hesitated, fearful of yet another setback. But stepping back into the work place has turned out to be an eye-opening experience for me. Even for a borderline introvert like myself, being around colleagues and customers has made all the difference. Apparently, there is not just a caveman in me, but also a social being. Maybe just not a frantic social media being.

 

I’ve noticed yet another shift in my behaviour. Where I would always set lofty goals for myself and pushed myself to aim for perfection (and consequently burn myself out),  I realized that my appetite in photography and writing, like many endeavours in my life, were also larger than….well….me. With the sabbatical I have taken from a narrow focus on photography and the always awkward race for social media attention, the realization settled in that only very few of us are going to be the next Ansel Adams. If I want to become well-known writer or successful photographer I’d better get comfortable with pushing myself into the spotlight of the digital media world. But, it turns out I don’t feel the need to be on the cover of National Geographic or even the local newspaper. Right now, I am actually quite ok with a modest background role.

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Call it a sign of getting older and wiser, or a breakthrough in a midlife crisis, I’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that writing and photography are currently just a hobby, not much more, not terribly less. Surprisingly my ever-so-vocal ego, is ok with it. As a result, my weeks are happily spent working half days with colleagues, helping customers in a perfectly predictable routine, and resisting the temptation of wanting much much more.

 

No doubt the adventurer in me will get bored and look for new dreamy castles in the sky to be conquered. No doubt my demanding ego will drive me out of the present and into the future of “what if” and “what else”. But with a delicate health at stake, I have now a partner in slowing down and cherishing the small victories. Perhaps treating photography and writing just as a hobby, fits perfectly in my newly acquired routine.

 

 

 

ps 2016 Macro Photography Calendars now available!

 

 


 

Let’s talk about me

As part of life on Facebook, I am a member of a highly secretive community of local photographers who share ideas, help one another move forward and regularly make fun of each other. As part of a new initiative to put a spotlight on one of the photographers, Kurtis – a commercial photographer and one of group the moderators – decided to interview me.

The interview took place in one of Canmore’s cozy coffeeshops. Afterwards Kurtis took some photos of me and our dog Charm in the backyard.  I was given four questions to reflect on and asked to select four of my favourite macro images over the next few days. You will find the results below. It was nice to be interviewed in such as professional, yet personal manner. The questions forced me to think more about the intentions and motivations behind my photography and will allow me to move forward.

I can highly recommend Kurtis for his commercial photography work. His website can be found at http://www.spindriftphotography.com

martin_v_011 webMartin was nominated as someone who is working on his craft and giving back to others in his community. ~ Interviewed by Kurtis Kristianson.

For many of us, photography has not only become an outlet of creativity or passion but also a means of therapy. The focus needed to really pursue our craft can at times fill our spirits and sometimes it blocks out our own anxieties. The drive to create can take the place of a dangerous habit or it can take the place of a dangerous state of mind. We all have our reasons and motivations for being in this place, using photography as an outlet and strangely enough, wanting to be a part of this community.

Martin van den Akker has been living in Canmore for around 12 years now but in the last few has found a renewed passion for photography. Primarily a self-described “nature” photographer, Martin has moved from broader landscape work to macro photography partially due to his current physical condition. For the last 8 years Martin has experienced a chronic state of exhaustion of which doctors have recently (past 2 years) diagnosed as Lyme disease. Imagine touring the back country for 2 days straight with no sleep and you will get a sense of the challenge just to get to and from the usual photo locations.

However instead of forfeiting his craft, Martin has found a world close enough to travel to yet far enough away that many of us never get to see. He understands his situation and embraces it for how it has changed his perception and the way he sees the world. Martin is forced to stop and look closely and in doing so has opened up a macro world for all of us to enjoy. How lucky are we that he has chosen to use his personal therapy as a gift to others.

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Kurtis) What is the number one motivator to get out and shoot? What is it that “drives” you?

Martin) What pushes me most often out the door to shoot is the quiet promise that some hidden gem is waiting to be found out there. Much like beach combing or scavenging garage sales, the treasure hunting aspect inspires and energizes me. It also matters that I feel I am continuing to grow as a photographer and as a human being. Without opportunities to challenge myself and “evolve”, I lose motivation in any type of work.

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Kurtis) For you, what is the most important part of the photographic process? What matters?

Martin) The photographic process in nature distracts from me my daily realities and is a perfect exercise to slow thoughts down and really experience nature. I always intend to make the immersion process as important as the result. Yet, so often I am still slave to the end product. So even though I am not always successful at a mindful approach to my photography, it is an important objective right now.

Kurtis) How has your current physical condition changed you or your work?

Martin) It has forced me to slow down, become more patient and trust the outcome (not without a kick or scream). My photography has followed suit. Limitations force me to be creative. With the appearance of a neurological condition, I became a lot more sensitive to stressors like certain foods, light, noise, busy places and even loud people. It shows in my photography; aside from the odd rough day where I feel drawn to shoot dark images, I am currently attracted to quiet soothing places, soft tones and intricate details.

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Kurtis) What do you hope to accomplish with your photography in the next few years?

Martin) I feel compelled to keep sharing the beauty that surrounds us, but I would lie if I said that the business aspect is not important to me. I would like to find a way to make a part-time living out of photography and writing. I aim to become more fearless in both mediums, fully expose my personal journey through my art and promote my work more confidently. Last but not least I hope connect with more photographers and writers while honouring my own boundaries.

Photography Therapy

 

Close to the ground I feel comfortable. The gravitational force has pulled me on my knees, not by choice. My head is spinning and it’s time to sit down for a break. I’m used to it by now. Through trial and error, anger and acceptance I have come to understand what my body can and can’t do. My body is lacking the energy to hike for miles or get up in the middle of the night, so I have grown to get comfortable to take photos in a relatively small window of time and space. It’s no surprise that one of my favourite topics is macro photography.

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It’s over a year and a half since I created a website dedicated to my photography and ambition to write more. I started a Facebook photography page on which I regularly posted a few photos. It’s not a booming business by any means but I kept going steady with the first and foremost intention to share the beauty that surrounds us.

 

While it’s never been a smooth ride, this winter the posting of photos and writing started stuttering like an old car in frigid winter conditions. Health challenges forced me to surf the couch and stare at the ceiling pretty much full time. A fog settled over me, kept me from writing with the clarity and inspiration I felt earlier. It was hard to accept, but I learned to come to terms with the reality that good and bad periods just come and go in waves.

 

Here’s a rather short explanation about my health to give some context. What started with a mild fatigue some 8 years ago has slowly progressed into a fairly serious condition. I frequently experience nerve pain, muscle weakness and severe fatigue. While I look pretty normal, my body’s energy battery is charged at 20% most days. After what feels like a few hundred diagnoses and treatments over the years, I have recently been treated intensively for Lyme disease. The diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease are controversial; the illness is multi-layered and complex. I generally tell people that my ongoing treatment is based on the doctors’  best guesses.

 

When my photography outings came to a mere stand still, I felt no inspiration to continue writing photography blogs. Why would I write a blog about something I don’t actively pursue? The negative self-talk got a good hold of me. But in recent months, after encouragement from family and good friends, I have pushed myself –often against my body’s will- out the front door again.

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I typically drive to a familiar spot nearby, walk a few hundred meters and stop. Legs hurt. It’s time to crouch down and look around. After a break, I get up again, walk another couple hundred meters and take a time out again. By then I have usually found an interesting topic for macro photography. On my knees, with my mind in a different world, the pain gradually dissolves. The fatigue goes unnoticed for a while. Time ceases to exist. All the worries and frustrations of a long challenging journey fall off my back for a while. It is only when I stretch my back and waddle back to the car that I realize I am taking part in a carefully planned and paced exercise.

 

After clearly stating my desire to be more mindful and present in previous blogs, it’s ironic how life has thrown me the perfect exercise to learn to appreciate the little things in life and in nature. My photographic journey continues in a different form than I anticipated. I don’t spend all night in the woods photographing the Northern Lights or Milky Way, nor do I dangle dangerously above cliffs trying to get the unique elevated shot. Hat’s off to those photographers who do that. That’s what I would if given the chance and that’s what I’ll do when the tide turns again. For now, this condition has forced me on my knees (in more than one way). On my knees I’m currently most comfortable. On my knees is how my photography currently takes place.

The close-up natural world is surprisingly intriguing and complex like larger ecosystems, with its own vistas and panoramas. The macro world – a world blown up to larger than life size- reveals interesting patterns, hidden symmetry, geometrical patterns and architectural wonders. Macro photography is now pretty much all I do. Once I am focused on something, my mind is not interested in anything else. The more creative the idea, the better. I am grateful I still get to do this. Photography is a creative outlet and necessary therapy I can’t live without.

 

I have started a personal blog to share a bit more about my own health journey. It’s personal and perhaps not for everyone and that’s ok with me. But for those interested in learning more, you can find it at www.exposedliving.com.