Not for sale but for love
All of the published photographs on this blog (www.wildernessvagabonds.com) are offered freely with love. If you see something you like, take it* and use it. I have been tempted to place a restriction on selling them, but I won't even do that. No acknowledgment or backlink is requested. There is nothing I want or need in return. I, Mike Lewinski, relinquish all rights to the pictures that I can legally relinquish**. This is one way I am creating a gift economy to sustain myself and my neighbors.
It is true that you cannot eat these photographs and that makes for a poor economy. Some might make nice pictures to hang, or look good your own website/screensaver, but they probably won't feed your body, and may not be worth all that much anyway. I don't think that I have any particular skill. I know a bare modicum about composition and just notice things in the world I think are beautiful or interesting (and occasionally things I think are ugly and boring but still worth noticing and photographing). I've resisted learning more about taking and editing photos. I do not want the focus on technical perfection to detract from the primal experience of taking the photos which is about focusing on the subject intently for some moments and noticing everything I can in every other moment. My camera is a prop that helps me be more alive. There will always be flaws to my pictures and that is OK, even as I've selected what I think are the best. I'll try to keep a supply of mediocre ones around too.
Over time the act of taking photos has become more important than the results to me. I love it and so that is why I only want to give it away. Selling something sacred fits my definition of profanity. Besides, they are just some numbers in a file representing color values, in the end those numbers are just some electrical charges we call bits and to which we assign the meaning of "0 or 1". They are primarily stored on spinning metal platters in downtown Denver, Colorado, very near the U.S. Federal Reserve which itself isn't far from the U.S. Mint which I plan to tour soon. My intention is to bear witness to the creation of the shared illusion that money is. I've lived near and walked by this building for years and never paid it much attention (and now as I write I notice how even my mind is monetized with the expression "paying attention").
I wish I could bring photos back of my Mint witnessing, but cameras aren't allowed. I imagine this is an anti-counterfeiting or other security measure. I find some dark humor in the thought that people actually spend time and energy counterfeiting an illusion.
Recently I encountered an old man lying a few blocks away from the Mint in Civic Center Park. He was attached to an oxygen tank which was attached to a walker that bore a sign that said LOST EVERYTHING. There was a couch pillow and some medicine next to him on his blanket. I guess he didn't quite lose everything but still, I couldn't walk by someone who looked like they were about to die alone in a park like that. I wanted to help him out so I walked over and put a $5 bill into his outstretched hand- he was pretty motionless and seemed to have trouble even looking down at what I'd done. He wasn't able to sit up, and I felt like a real asshole for handing a dying man a piece of paper when he doesn't have the strength to go buy lunch with it. I asked him what he needed. He said his artificial leg was a problem for him. I asked him if he needed food and he said yes. I asked if he had any dietary restrictions and he said no. I failed to notice his lack of teeth. By the time I got back with Quiznos sub and he pointed that out, some other group of people had already come by distributing lunch bags. Now he had two lunches and couldn't eat most of it and said so. I learned his name is David, Like David and Goliath, he said. Then he tried to bum a cigarette from a nearby woman who was also smoking and came over to talk, I eyed his oxygen apparatus warily. He said there are blood clots in his lungs, but he can still smoke three a day. Maybe his leg and the oxygen tank were parts of an act, maybe they weren't. It doesn't really matter much. As I said goodbye he smiled and said God Bless You. I smiled back and said that I'd wish him the same if I was a believer. He then admitted he isn't a believer either. I got home just before it started raining and wondered what happened to him.
My intention in bearing witness at the mint is to love what is as I also envision and love what I am creating. Humans will stop using money eventually, regardless of whether that is because of economic collapse or the continuing evolution of empathy. While speaking with a friend about this recently he expressed a mental block envisioning the world of gift economies that I am creating. He said that some people just don't want to work and so they won't if they have the choice.
Of course we don't want to work. Work is usually drudgery at best, soul-crushing at worst. As long as this is our conception of work, vast numbers will choose welfare if it is available. It is a form of self-preservation. Milton comes to mind: Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav'n.
In the Star Trek universe, money has mostly been discarded, save for the Ferengi race who cherish it. As I spoke with my friend he pointed out that they've partially made the leap away from money with replicators that allow you to create anything from pure energy. Once any matter can be replicated with a touch of a button, money will certainly lose almost all purpose.
I will not live in the vain hope of some science fiction. My answer to my friend (who was also my boss at the job I partially resigned during that conversation) was this: We will begin to joyfully serve those who do not work because it gives our lives greater meaning. Once it is no longer drudgery or soul-crushing but exciting and soul-nourishing, those who wish to take and give nothing back will eventually come to see the impoverishment of their own lives for want of the same experience.
In the last decade, most of the photos I've taken have been of wild nature. There aren't many pictures of people here, though that has been changing just a little in the last year. I've certainly started to enjoy photographing the city more, and that means occasionally including people. I always feel funny taking a picture of a stranger. Sometimes it is the homeless who attract my attention and I feel even funnier then. What right do I have to do this? What if that person believes I'm stealing their soul? Some people think that, and I don't want to cause such an offense. I tend to consider that photography another form of bearing witness that I'm doing anyway even when I don't have the camera.
I've also begun seeking nude models and depending on their consent, may post some of the photos here along side the rest of my work. Part of my life purpose is the exploration of paradox, so I'm particularly interested in finding camera-shy models. I've written elsewhere on this blog about pornography and the need to create something better that embodies feminist values. I'm deliberately not defining my new experiment as either erotica or pornography. It is just another kind of nature photography.
The etymology of pornography means 'writing about prostitutes'. Even if I wound up giving away "free porn" there would still be an implication of the sale of one's body. I won't take photos that steal a person's soul and certainly don't believe I can steal someone's body in this way either. I've come to hate the expression Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Sex should be freely given and received, not profaned by sale, and if some people continue to perform "sex work" in a gift economy, I expect it will be because they do get joy from it.
I reject the résumé and the hourly wage together. No person knows what any moment of their time might be worth, so how can he or she know what an entire hour of moments should will be worth?
The most vicious lie our species tells: Time is money.
March 28, 2010
* There are three versions of each photo you can access: the small thumbnail, the medium view where the rating and comment form is, and also the original hi-resolution which can take a minute to load after clicking the medium version. In some cases, the original may need to be rotated (but if you are printing it, you can do that when you hang it). Simply right-click (mac users can option-click) and choose "save as" or "save image as" while looking at the highest resolution photo.
** This is not inclusive of any rights that individuals who are depicted in a small number of photos may separately claim - if you think you might be using a person's photo in a way that could get you sued (i.e. for profit or profanity), I recommend contacting me first so that you can get the liability release you might want.