Learning Lessons (Close To Home)

October 6, 2011

Last weekend I traveled to Port Townsend, Washington, to attend a photography workshop called Close to Home. I know it sounds silly to travel to a new place to learn how to see a familiar place, but I knew Stuart Sipahigil and Ray Ketcham had important things to teach me, and I wasn’t disappointed.

I spent the first few days of this week thinking about the experience, reviewing the images I made, and trying to formulate a blogpost to tell you about it. Then yesterday I learned that Steve Jobs died. Reading all the poignant tributes to him and — especially — his own words, I realize I want to say something else. Instead of telling you the “what” about this workshop, I’d like to suggest a “why”. Or at least my “why”. (You can read some excellent reviews from participants Cami, Duncan, and Daniel.)

But first, if you haven’t had a chance to watch Steve Jobs’s 2005 Stanford University commencement address, it’s really worth your time. Here’s the part that stands out to me: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs was a big man who lived a big life and changed the world in a big way. But his message to those graduates and us is to live our lives, be who we are, and leave our trace. I have to admit that I was a little intimidated by the talent and originality of the photographers at this workshop. But if I had allowed myself to stay in that self-conscious place I would have missed the point. This wasn’t a competition. The beautiful thing about photography is that we all see in our own way. I can admire and appreciate and even be inspired by the work of others, and know I will never successfully make their images. I have my own voice and that’s the one I should feed.

And that’s why I wanted to attend this workshop. The subject is dear to my heart. By definition, most of us live most of our lives close to home. That’s our normal, and it can feel boring and uninteresting. It’s easy to imagine that the good stories are happening elsewhere, in the exotic locations we dream of visiting. But the real stuff is right here, and it is worth recording. Indeed, it is important to do so. When I am holding my camera, I am much more present to the little moments that make up my days. Those moments matter. Because when you put them all together — that’s my life. Right here. Close to home.

Steve Jobs said, “I want to put a ding in the universe.” And he did, of course. But I believe we all do, just by being here. Isn’t that worth paying attention to?

(There are rumors that the Close to Home Photography Workshop might come to San Francisco. If it does, I’ll be sure to give you the details.)


  1. Bravo Dorothy! I was thinking along these lines today all day and I love that speech. I’d like to play a recording of it in my brain every time I catch myself in limited thinking!

  2. The real beauty in life is not in the rapture of the highs nor the desolation of the lows; it is in the benign and regularity of the vast inbetween.

  3. Thanks, ladies. Seize the day.


  1. Good Stuff (Photography Division) | small stories from real life

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