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What does it mean to grow rich?

A valley in Wales.

Recently I have been reading Barry Lopez’ classic of nature writingArctic Dreams’. It is a beautifully written love letter to the frozen North and the compelling effect that it has had on humankind for centuries. There is an interesting paragraph in the prologue that really made me stop and think. In fact, I keep going back and re-reading it. So I thought I would share it here.

After describing the actions of both whalers and Inuit in the 19th century, Lopez goes on to say this:

“How a desire to put a landscape to use shapes our evaluation of it. And, confronted by an unknown landscape, what happens to our sense of wealth. What does it mean to grow rich? Is it to have red-blooded adventures and to make a fortune, which is what brought the whalers and other entrepreneurs north? Or is it, rather, to have a good family life and to be imbued with a far-reaching and intimate knowledge of one’s homeland, which is what the Tununirmiut told the whalers at Pond’s Bay wealth was? Is it to retain a capacity for awe and astonishment in our lives, to continue to hunger after what is genuine and worthy? Is it to live at moral peace with the universe?”

Now, take from that what you will. It’s not my place to tell you how to answer those questions! However, this particular passage has struck a chord with me. Not because I’m planning on living in the Arctic or hunting whales to extinction. (I’m not planning to do either of those things.) But rather because I think the underlying questions raised can inform and shape my landscape photography. I want to enjoy the 'intimate knowledge' of my homeland and to retain the 'capacity for awe and astonishment' in my life. And more than that, to endeavour to capture those feelings, my feelings, in my photographs and to share them here.

How do you do that? Take time, open your eyes, stop, think. Don’t miss the detail whilst looking at the bigger picture. Be prepared to have bad days as well as amazing ones!

We live our lives at such a pitch today that we can find it hard to make time to immerse ourselves in the landscape. It might be good to occasionally ask ourselves “What does it mean to grow rich?”

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