While on the beautiful island of Malta in September, I woke up on the morning of Andrea & Sean’s wedding day with that feeling of being very glad to be alive. All these thoughts poured out of me while the sun was teasing its way into the hotel room from underneath the curtains. I grabbed my notebook and scribbled it all down, and then dozed off for a few more winks. The next day, while I was reading back my sleepy notes and adding some more coherent ideas, I thought some of it would be worthy of a blog post one day. While my ‘the why of it all’ post was an exploration in what drives me as a photographer, this stuff is more about that something intangible that I’m always searching to touch upon, in my life and in my work.
I haven’t had time to decipher my handwriting and transform my thoughts into a cohesive blog post until now.
24th of September
St. Julians, Malta
Have you ever had one of those moments where you suddenly get struck by an intense feeling of happiness? A moment where you feel like ‘everything will be ok’. It can happen anywhere, any time, and the best ones usually come when you least expect them. One of the strongest memories I have of such a feeling washing over me is from a moment when, years and years ago, I was sitting on a rush hour bus of all places, agitated and eager to get home – and suddenly some little thought unlocked this rush of positive emotions and made everything look so much better. The feeling was so sudden and unexpected that it’s forever burned into my mind. More often than not these moments pass really quickly, which is why I call them ‘flashes of happiness’.
There are ways we seek to consciously access those same feelings, often it means living vicariously through watching a powerful movie, listening to moving music or perhaps going through old photographs and seeing pictures taken at a specific time in our life. One of the most powerful ways I know of to evoke that sense of pure awe and happiness is watching an incredible musician performing live. It’s absolutely astonishing how much power a charismatic performance can have over us, how it’s possible to feel internally altered after such an experience.
For some (unfair) reason, us humans tend to concentrate on looking either back or forward, and while we do that, we often miss a lot of the present. For most of us, it requires a powerful experience or switch in routine to tap into those feelings of being content right now. I think those ‘accidental’ flashes of happiness are about much more than we give them credit for, I think they are reminders of our potential to be fully present, to embrace our lives fully.
There is this scene in the movie ‘The Hours’, where Meryl Streep’s character is telling her daughter about one day in her youth.
Clarissa: ‘I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn’t the beginning. It WAS happiness. It was the moment. Right then.’
That scene and thought process have forever haunted me since the first time I saw the film. The simple realisation that we should appreciate what we have right now – not either wait for something to happen or trust it to last – but rather appreciate the ride for what it is and always be aware of our potential to feel deeply right then and there.
Hindsight is such a human infliction. So often we are either overly nostalgic, hankering after past and better times, or we are in waiting mode, hoping that we’ll get to experience those big important moments. Here’s a secret. Those BIG moments, those moments which up on a movie screen always seem so unobtainable and perfectly lit – in real life they are mostly always internal. You have to try hard to learn to listen to them, and grab a hold of them there and then – and most of all, try your hardest to communicate them to the people who mean something to you.
Writing this comes at a poignant time for me. I’ve just woken up in a gorgeous bed in a hotel room in Malta feeling happy. The sun is sneaking in from underneath the curtain and I can smell the sea. Later today I get to photograph a beautiful wedding on this beautiful island, and call that work. So this is definitely one of ‘those moments’, underlined. And one of the reasons I put pen to paper. However, getting here has come at a cost and a lot of sacrifice. Working pretty much 24/7 has opened my professional life in ways that I never dreamed possible. But while I lie here in my gorgeous Maltese bed, I can’t escape the fact that my other half is thousands of miles away, all alone.
What draws me into photographing couples is the fact that I love watching people remember how lucky they are, and I love being a mirror to their own big movie moments. Realising we have an ability to tap into that every day magic when ever we choose to properly listen to the moment, and reach out to connect with another person, is such a powerful thing. And as much as I love working with that magic with my couples, I think I need to realise more of it in my own life as well. While working so hard at trying to facilitate those magic moments for other people, I sometimes neglect the one person who should receive the best of me.
Generally it’s those special circumstances that make us realise moments of happiness – such as a wedding days where most of us let our guard down and allow ourselves to express our feelings and share something magical with our nearest and dearest. Or travelling to a beautiful place such as this, feeling lucky and stepping outside of the normal routine. And while these beautiful surroundings help me to tap into that magic and to these thoughts, the real challenge is trying to find that place within myself every rainy day in the office, every grey week full of routines, as often as possible.
After all, wouldn’t it be pretty amazing is you could feel that way about your life most of the time? Why do we allow ourselves to make memories only at special circumstances? Waking up next to the one you love and letting them know you’re there for them, or really listening to your mum instead of being ‘too busy’ with your life, reaching out to stranger and learning who they really are, these things could open up an opportunity to create one of those moments every day.
The cruel thing about life, and equally what makes it so precious, is this – the only thing you can be sure of is that you are alive now, right at this moment.
So what are you going to do to make this moment magical?