Dewitt Jones
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I spent a large part of my life as a photographer for National Geographic. World's greatest job. Well, that job— it changed my life in a very surprising way. And that's the story I want to share with you tonight. It began long before I ever picked up a camera. My family had taken the magazine for years. By the time I was able to read, I’d grab when it came into the house, I'd take it upstairs. I'd read it at night. My Dad would say, “Turn off the light, Dewitt. Go to bed!” I’d turn the light back on. I'd get a flashlight. I'd stay up and stare at the pictures in this little yellow book, pictures that showed me the possibilities the world had to offer. I never thought I’d work for them; I never thought I’d shoot for them, but they were already changing the way I looked at the world. Because the Geographic has an extraordinary vision— so simple yet so profound. What they charged me with, every time they sent me out, was to celebrate what was right with the world, rather than wallowing in what was wrong with it. That’s why we keep these little yellow magazines. It’s a national sacrilege to throw one away, you know that. (Laughter) If all the Geographic's in the world disappeared at one time half the houses would fall in on themselves. (Laughter) Because they’re supported by big yellow columns in the basement. (laughter) Why? Because they celebrate what’s right with the world. When I first began at the Geographic, I had no idea how powerful that vision would be, how much it would change my life. But our vision controls our perception, and our perception becomes our reality. From the highest mountains, to rivers drenched in sunlight, to waterfalls and rainbows. Everywhere I looked there would be amazing beauty for me to photograph. And, you know, in the Geographic’s view, man was not something separate from this just as magical as anything else on the planet. And the more I just went out and celebrated the best in humanity, the more I could see it. I could see it, and I could see it in the faces of those at work, or the body language of those at play, those in their youth, or in their age. I thought this would be a good picture before he smiled, right? (laughter) I could see it. I could see that light, that light that shines not on us, but from within us. From within us when we have the courage to let it out. It was the same light that I'd seen in nature that didn’t seem to have to trust to expose itself but just graced us every day with the delicacy of a flower, or the light of a breaking storm. And yet the more I shot for the Geographic, the more I found this strange conflict growing up between the world view of the Geographic, and the world view that I’d been raised in since I was a kid. You all know it— the law of the jungle— Eat or be eaten. My win is your loss. Second place is the first loser! (laughter) I once saw that on a T-shirt. That is a very depressing way to look at life. (Laughter) Far too many of us do see the world in that light— a world based on fear and scarcity and competition. But that’s not what nature was showing me. Nature was showing me incredible beauty and possibility standing just beyond the rat race saying “Hello, Hello…” I mean, come on. Mother Nature never stood in front of a forest and said, “There is one great photograph hidden here. One photographer will find it and the rest of you will be hopeless losers.” (Laughter) Nature said, “How many cards do you got, Dewitt? Bring it on. I'll fill it up. I'll fill it up with beauty and possibility beyond your wildest imaginings. Right down to my tiniest seed. And that was just a much more elegant philosophy, a much more compassionate way of looking at the universe. And at some point, I just decided to embrace it. I just decided that if I had a choice between a world based on scarcity and fear and one based on possibility, then, man, I was choosing possibility. And no matter how dry and desolate, how bleak and devoid of possibilities the situation might seem, if I could just celebrate the best in it— in this case just by dropping down into that slot canyon and looking back the other way— I could find a perspective that would transform the ordinary... into the extraordinary. Through that lens of celebration, I could see one of nature's most important lessons— There's more than one right answer. There’s more than one right answer. There are a thousand ways to come at any challenge to find that extraordinary view. And I know it so easily from my time at the Geographic. They sent me to the town of Smith River in Northern California. They raise about 80% of the Easter lilies in the country around that village, and that's the story I had to tell. And I’ve got a perspective where I've got picked lilies and unpicked lilies and the boy picking them. One right answer. Pretty good one. But as a photographer, I never think of stopping there. I took this picture; immediately I grabbed another lens, walked over a couple rows, knelt down and found another right answer. The same parameters of the problem now seen from a totally different point of view, and my favorite right answer that day was this one. This is an advanced levitation technique that I picked up along the way. (Laughter) Three right answers. So many things begin to change when you come at the world from that perspective of more than one right answer. First of all, you never look for just one right answer. There’s always more. But then as you begin to find more and more of them, you just get more and more comfortable with reframing obstacles into opportunities. Geographic sent me to the Selkirk Mountains Of British Colombia. Gorgeous area. I'm wandering around, I find a field of dandelions. I should have been ecstatic but I wasn’t. I don’t know why. Instead of grabbing my cameras and running into it, I took a snap shot; I said, "I don't know. The light’s not quite right, I’ll come back tomorrow”. I didn’t engage. We all know what happens when you don’t engage. Tomorrow turns into the next day, the next day turns into the next week, and by the time I got back to that field… No more dandelions. I had puffballs. I wanted dandelions, I had puffballs. And I was just about to leave when this little voice in my head said, "Dewitt, what’s here to celebrate? What's right with this situation? You wanted dandelions, you got puffballs!” Puff balls, puff balls— pretty soon I'm down on the ground with the puffballs. I'm rolling around with the puffballs. I'm on top of the puffballs. I'm underneath the puffballs. And all of a sudden— Whoa! (Laughter) Whoa! That extraordinary view. It always seemed to be there when I had looked through that lens of celebration. Extraordinary image, but I can already hear the cynics grumbling, “Dewitt, you’re such a pollyanna, (Laughter) The world is in flames— war, terrorism, poverty, global warming. And you’re shooting puffballs! (Laughter) Well, to the cynics I say, “Change your lens!” Celebrating what’s right is not a perspective that denies the very real pain and suffering that exists on this planet. Rather, it’s a perspective that puts those problems into a larger, more balanced, context. A context when we can see that there’s far more right with the world than there is wrong with it. When I put on that lens of celebration, when I really allow myself to see and connect with the beauty of the world, I feel like I’m a cup that’s so full it’s just about to overflow. I feel… I feel like I’m falling in love. That's what it feels like. I mean, think about it. Think of a time when you've been in love, and you get up in the morning and you stagger into the bath, and you go, "Ah, the toothbrush, what a miracle!" (Laughter) It's followed by the soap dish and the towel. The whole world is beautiful, and you are so full and so fired up. And that doesn't surprise me, because when we're in love, we're in touch with a source of incredible energy. We call it— Passion! Passion! What most of us wouldn’t give to be connected to the energy of passion on a daily basis. Well, extraordinary visions do that, they release passion. So no matter how strange a situation that I walk into, the first thing I'm going to ask, ”What’s here to celebrate? What am I falling in love with?” In this case it’s easy, because that happens to be MY daughter... Most dads would help their daughter in this situation. (Laughter) But it didn’t matter. Whenever I could get a lock on what was right with the situation, then I was passionate, energized to enhance that and get rid of everything else. Instead of starting— as we so often do— by griping about what’s wrong with the situation— what’s right with it? Because that connects us with our passion. That energizes us! Celebrating what's right gives us the energy to find that next right answer. As Michelangelo once said, “I saw an angel in the stone, and carved to set it free.” "I saw an angel in the stone… and carved to set it free.” Everyday we get to choose what lens we see the world with. It's our choice. And you know, the more I do that, the more I choose the lens of celebration, the more I find— both in my photography, but way more important, in my life— that the difference between a good frame and a great frame is far, far closer than I ever would have dreamed. Good frame. A morning glory on the beach in Maui, 10 inches away— Great frame. Great frame. Good frame. A cowboy in Bryce Canyon. Believe it or not named Binky. (Laughter) I’m taking Binky’s picture, and I’m loving it, but then I just backed Binky up about 30 feet into the doorway of the barn, Great frame. Great frame. Good frame. The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset with the new moon rising. Man, how does it get any better? 15 minutes later… Great frame. Change your lens, change your life! I lecture all over the country... to all different kinds of people. And you know what? They all hunger for this lens of celebration. They all want to try it on. We all have it. It’s right there waiting to be picked up. Why don’t we do it? Maybe, it’s because every day the internet and the media bombard us with all that’s wrong with the world. And it’s so easy to buy into it. It's so easy to stare into that darkness. But wouldn’t you rather focus on the light rather than the dark? Wouldn’t you rather focus on what’s right rather than what’s wrong? That’s the change we make when we put on that lens of celebration. Do I have that lens on all the time? No, come on, I’m human. But a long time ago I was given a touchstone, a touchstone and a guide that should I ever I take it off, help me put it right back on. I’d like to give both of those to you tonight, by telling you the story of how they came into my possession. I was photographing on an island off the coast of British Columbia. And it wasn’t going well. (Laughter) The weather was gloomy, so were my pictures, but I was getting ready to go out there again. I got a big camera bag and a huge tripod— and I looked up, and on the steps of the lodge where I was staying, there sat a five-year-old boy, a five-year-old boy with a very big smile on his face. He looked down at me and said, "Do you have a camera?" I was festooned with cameras. (Laughter) I said, “Yeah, I got one”. And then he raised his hand and I realized why he asked because he had a magic camera. It was yellow. It had a blue lens. It had a red eyepiece and a turquoise rewind knob with a little straw coming out of it. He said, "Can I photograph with you?" Well, that was about the last thing I wanted to have happen, but I didn’t know how to say no, so I said, “Come on”. So we went down into the woods, and I got my first shot. And then this kid was so cute, he squeezed in front of the tripod like this, backed up against it, raises it, (click). - Did you get it? - Yeah (Laughter) And again— that smile. Well, we kept going. Me shooting and grousing, him shooting and smiling. And it started to rain. It started to rain. And I was setting up what I thought was the last dismal shot of a dismal day, And he's just sitting next to me in the grass, looking very intently at all of my gear, and finally he raised his face toward me, and he said, "Does your camera have juice in it?" (Laughter) I said, "No." He said, "Mine does." (Laughter) Sucked on that little straw. (Laughter) His question almost knocked me over— “Did my camera have juice in it?” No, mine didn’t, and his did. I was the one with the wrong perspective. I was the one who’d lost the passion to find that next right answer. There wasn’t anything more to say, I went out and bought myself a juice camera. (Laughter) (Applause) And every day, Adam and this camera remind me to celebrate what's right with the world. And every time I do— Every time I allow myself to fall in love with all of it, I really do see a world of light and possibility. Come on, you’ve all seen it — not just in the faces of your children and your grandchildren, it’s out there all the time. And, you know, the beauty of that world— our world, shows us a wonderful example of how to live, of how to love. Of a banquet laid, of a cup overflowing. And I know that if we let that beauty fill us up, that we, too, will overflow, and it'll come out in everything we do. In the ideals we hold, in the passion and compassion we feel, in the love we are no longer afraid to express. That perspective, that lens, it will change your life, as it has changed mine. See that vision, my friends, and celebrate... what’s right with the world! Thank you very much. (Applause) Thank you. (Cheering)