I’d like to change direction this week and talk briefly about hope, inspiration and how we can use our work as artists to enrich the lives of others. To do this, I need to talk about my friend Valérie Jardin, her friend Joshua Coombes, and about books and haircuts. Let’s get started…
Valérie and I first met a few years ago, when I was a guest on her podcast. Since then, we have spent time in Vancouver together at a workshop, I have been a guest on her podcast a few more times (and guest hosted her show once) and we have chased each other around Paris (and missed each other every time we tried to connect I might add). We’ve had lengthy phone conversations, but have also gone months with just the occasional message on social media… such is the nature of friendships in these busy days. I have always been inspired by her drive and her efforts to share and to educate.
You see, in many ways the journey that I am on is the same one Valérie is also on, we are just in different places along the road. I first met Valérie when I was at a crucial and decisive point in my career path and her advice and guidance was exactly what I needed at the time. While this advice was invaluable, I think I have been inspired more by watching her own growth: sold out workshops around the world, worldwide photowalks, one hit podcast after another. To put it simply: she is a machine. I have been out with her until almost midnight, still shooting on the streets of a city after a full day of teaching. I’m quite certain she doesn’t sleep and, not too long ago, she added writing to her list of creative endeavours. Now, less than two years later, she is the author of four books.
This last part is especially important because writing occupies a special place in my heart, one that came as a surprise to me. I started writing as a necessary part of sharing information on this blog and it has now become one of the most satisfying parts of my work. As an educator for twenty-two years, I have always sought out new ways to share information with others and writing has opened up new ways of communication for me that I am so thankful for.
Valérie started out writing several eBooks that she self published on her website. Soon after, she announced a publishing deal with Focal Press to write and produce her first print book, “Street Photography: Creative Vision Behind the Lens” (which is pictured at the top of this article). Suddenly, on top of an incredibly busy schedule, Valérie was writing to a deadline… not always the easiest thing to do. I know from conversations with Valérie that much of this book was written on planes as she traveled, in hotel rooms, etc. I was curious to see what the final product would look like and I was so excited to see my friend experience this new success. The book did not disappoint…
Divided into two parts, this book seeks first to lay a solid foundation in the art of street photography by discussing things like legalities, ethics, gear, composition, use of light and various techniques for capturing street images. Part two, entitled “Photo Walks”, is where this book really comes alive though. In this section you take a photowalk with Valerie to examine images that she captured. For each image you learn about her approach and her thought process to capturing the image. There is a commonly held belief in education that content needs to be relevant to the student to be of the utmost value, and I can’t think of anything more relevant than learning an artist’s thought process. I have read a lot of educational resources and I am very appreciative of the approach this book takes. I highly recommend it, and, if the reviews on Amazon are any indication, I am not the only one.
I said at the beginning of this post that it was about hope and inspiration, but so far I have only spoken about how Valérie has inspired and supported me as a friend. Enter #DoSomethingForNothing:
#DoSomethingForNothing is a movement started by Joshua Coombes, a hair stylist from London, who started giving free haircuts to the homeless. Something so simple. Something that we all take for granted. Joshua’s movement, #DoSomethingForNothing, has grown tremendously in scale since his early beginnings. Here is how Joshua describes it:
“Everyone has the power to #DoSomethingForNothing. We’re not raising awareness, we’re raising compassion. We’re mobilizing people globally to spread love in their communities. Changing the way in which we interact with one another, across the globe.”
~ Joshua Coombes
Joshua’s work also holds a special place for me. During my former career as a paramedic I had countless opportunities to interact with and care for those less fortunate than me. I know full well how just a small amount of compassion and respect can go a long way toward lifting somebody up, which is exactly what Joshua does with his work. It is honest, it is caring, it is personal and it is so very human. Valérie was inspired by it too and, despite her busy schedule, she brought Joshua to New York to photograph him working for several days. This led to Valérie’s fourth book being published, a memoir of their time together, with all proceeds going straight to Joshua so that he can continue the work that he loves so much. You can get a copy of that book here:
And so, this brings us back to the beginning of this post…
As artists we are in a fortunate position: we get to create work that may inspire others, but we are also gifted with a platform which we can use to enrich the lives of those around us. How can we help? How can we inspire others? How can we leave our mark on the world in a positive way? It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, indeed it might be something quite small, but we all have the ability to #DoSomethingForNothing. I fully believe that there is nothing better than giving back; there is an intrinsic satisfaction that comes from knowing that you have helped someone else. It can’t be beat.
If you would like to learn more about Valérie’s work you can find it on her website:
And, to learn more about #DoSomethingForNothing, check out Joshua’s Instagram here:
Thank you to Valérie, and to all of the remarkable artists who I interact with every day. You all inspire me more than you know.