Bill Frakes just spoke to the Apple Distinguished Educators here at the institute at the University of Texas in Austin. I hope it is okay with him, but at the end of this blog post, I share his top secret on how to be a world class, Pulitzer prize winning, photographer. I took notes as fast as I could without missing an opportunity to see the amazing visuals that he was sharing. Tomorrow, he will take my picture. But today, today I had the pleasure of hearing him speak. It was very moving. His words and his pictures were incredibly moving. I thought it was a bit of a cliche when people talk about how the ADE experience is life changing. But, listening to Bill speak, seeing his work with his collaborator Laura Heald, did move me. I think he changed the way I think. He certainly has begun to change the way I see.
I move fast. I love to move as fast as I can. My friend Adele Stanfield and I say that we are like hummingbirds and it is natural to us to move fast, it feels right. But, I loved Bill’s emphasis on moving slowly. He thinks rapidly and constantly but moves slowly to get inspiration. More specificially, he says he spends the right amount of time to capture. He says it’s hard to know what the right amount of time is, which is amazingly true. You never know the right amount of time to get that student to the next level. I think I am just like a photographer, always waiting for the light. Always trying to capture the light. Light is so elusive, but it brings with it the beauty and truth of our best moments.
But, capturing the light is not an accident. It is not about having your camera slung around your neck and it is not about a serendipidous moment. It is about staging moments of greatness. Bill Frakes is a miticulous in his preperation and in his search for light and love and beauty. He carries three journals (yes, paper ones, a man after my heart). One notebook is for stories, another for logistics and a final one for light. The most inspiring to me is the notebook for light. He gathers sketches of situations he sees where light dances in beautiful ways. This is his research for going forward to compose, oh so carefully, his photos and the play of light. A story journal is where he gathers stories like an old retired lady cuts out coupons. Forever curating and gathering and collecting moments and cookie crumbs of life. Each one might seem small and indeed, most do not become epic visual tales. For every 50 or 60 ideas, he and Laura Heald select only 1 or 2. This is the thing about gathering ideas, it is how I imagine mining in the early days: you go through a lot of dirt and rock to strike gold. Gathering your thoughts somewhere as they come to you is so essential for building good ideas and stories. His notebook for logistics is where he plans out all the gear that he will require for shots: lists upon lists upon lists. His pictures are not accidents, the are highly planned, sequenced, researched. They are architectural in process and product. Carefully, lovingly, passionately and meticulously designed and brought to our eyes then bring us to tears. Magnificent is his process and his product. In his casual and humble way, he simply says, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”
His parting message was to be a like a silk worm: to take in all these raw materials inside of you and then send them back out into the world into a newer more beautiful form. I feel like this with light sometimes, with the passion I have for my students and teaching. I take in the light that I can from the world, and I try to push that light back out to the people I love, to the students I love. It’s our responsibility as photographers, as teachers, as people to capture that beauty and make it something even greater.
I wish I could take a picture tomorrow that would show in my face what I feel in my heart. I wish I knew how to show in a picture my love and my light for teaching and learning. Maybe Bill knows how to capture not just light, but peoples’ light. Actually, I am pretty sure he does know how. Every picture he takes is proof. Plus, let me tell you his secret for doing so: he says that all you need to be a photographer is to fall in love every day.