How humility shapes my photography

View of the sealed Mercy Gate and ramparts of the Old City of Jerusalem.
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Longtime readers of this blog will be familiar with my approach to creating photographs of Israel, which synthesizes technique with keen and mindful vision.  Seeing is the most important skill to develop and the main ingredient in making satisfying images. In a previous essay, I noted four other keys to success when hunting for new images of Israel: my boots, which allow me to trek comfortably to just the right position, my ever-observing eyes, a hefty dose of patience and unremitting self-motivation.


An unpleasant incident I experienced at a celebration in Israel prompted me to add another ingredient to this list: humility.


As I prepared to shoot a speech by the mother of a bar mitzvah, I positioned myself about 10 feet from the podium. I like to linger up front for a few seconds at the start of the speech, then quickly get out of the way and hunt for audience images. This time, however, without warning, before she began, the speaker yelled at me to get out of the way in front of 150 guests.


Having photographed speakers hundreds of times, I was surprised at both the request and the harsh tone with which it was issued. Embarrassed, I walked away, momentarily contemplated walking out the door (the speaker was also my client), but instead drew in a deep breath and centered myself. 


Creating photographs of Israel under pressure


Someone once asked me how working under pressure affects the creative process. Pressure or any kind of emotional blockage, no matter what its source, impedes my ability to see and connect to what is unfolding in front of me. (To read the entire answer, click here).  


So, rather than walk off the job, I recognized that only humility would allow me to continue, to keep the creative doors open and allow me to roam the party and engage with the guests and their celebration.


Humility. It is a salve against anger, frustration, disappointment and anything that blocks our ability to connect inward. Humility tempers our personal relationships and likewise, with the creative process, being humble opens the gate to sources of creative inspiration and clarity of vision, whether photographing people or images of Israel’s natural world.


This may seem a rather odd commentary on trying to master a skill such as photography, but I think it has tremendous merit and, in retrospect, realize my work has often benefitted from humility.  


This photograph of Israel features one the seven gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sha’ar Harachamim, The Gate of Mercy. Located along the eastern wall of the old city, the only difficulty in getting this shot was my concern about wandering into a neighborhood that might be best to avoid.


Some pictures of Israel, however, require a little risk. And so, shielded by broad daylight and my faith, I braved the 20-minute walk from the Western Wall. There are numerous Arab graves surrounding the gate, which has been sealed since 1541, and unsightly wires dangled from the top of the ramparts. I included them in the photo because, well, that’s what it looks like.


Interestingly, on Yom Kippur, we conclude the day with the Neilah service, which has become a metaphor for the closing of the Gates of Mercy (Neilah is a Hebrew word meaning “locking”). It is our last chance to be heard, forgiven by God and sealed for a year of blessing.


There is no perfect recipe for making beautiful photographs of Israel, but a dash of humility may be just the spice required to overcome challenges, whether creative or social. In this season of soul searching, may we remain humble, slow to judgment and open to receiving and appreciating the blessings in our lives. 



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