How Understanding Are We?

For the last 30 years, I have turned away from photos. When the cameras come out, I back away. It’s part of a deeply held conviction that we are not our bodies, that our values, and beliefs, the “who we are” show up in our actions and that who we are can’t be photographed, but must be experienced. It’s not an easy

Full moon rising behind palm tree

concept to explain, so often I just offer to take the photograph. It’s not made any easier by the fact that I cannot recognize people in photographs. I just don’t see people the way a camera does. In the 587 photos on my camera, there are two that have people in them. Someone asked me to take them.

Another one of my deeply held convictions is not to proselytize my beliefs. I know many religions encourage proselytizing, but I do not. Seeking is a difficult, personal, spiritual quest that is not mine to foist on others.  I’ll be happy to discuss what I think, but I do not expect others to “see the light” shining in the same slant as I do.

I have also distanced myself from a lot of our culture of celebrity and ideas of success. Oddly enough, if a publicity agent showed up at my door with a magic wand and said, “I can get you on every TV chat show, on the cover of People and in every version of TMZ!” I’d turn him down. Or at least ask him if he would get the causes I’m interested publicized without me appearing in the photos.

All this is about to collide with my book signings and events. My book does not have an photo of me in it. That was my choice. My website doesn’t have a photo of me on it. What do I do when people reach for their cameras? In the last 30 years, I have had some pretty tough things said to me when I refused to appear in a photo. People want what they want. When they don’t get it, the response is frequently not “Of course I’ll respect your beliefs,” but more often, “What’s wrong with you?” If I act out of the norm of  our photo-loving culture, it will have a damaging effect on my book sales.

I’ve been wondering how to handle it for several months now, and haven’t come up with a good way to handle not just the requests, but the automatic reaching for cameras and resulting Facebook and YouTube posts. How understanding can I ask an audience to be? How much do I have to keep my beliefs hidden? I have about two weeks to think of what I want to do.

-Quinn McDonald is a writer and author of Raw Art Journaling: Making Meaning, Making Art.