Award-winning photographer, Susan Greeff, shares a heartwarming story about a Surma boy who teaches her a powerful lesson about the most important thing in life ...
A golden haze settled over the cornfields. The sun prepared to rest for the evening, and I intended to follow. Saying goodbye to the clan, I headed back to camp. I looked forward to setting my camera aside for an evening to reflect on my time in Ethiopia.
I wasn’t long headed home when I heard a voice behind me. “Photo, photo, photo.” A young Surma boy about 7/8 years old followed closely at my heels. I breathed a tired sigh. I had no energy to press the shutter button one more time, no matter how beautiful or eager he was.
Over the past four days, many in the camp had wanted their photograph taken. I hoped the boy would find someone else to snap his photograph, but he kept following me. “Photo, photo, photo." He managed to catch my eye. With eyes wide, full of hope, he asked me again with anticipation on his face, “Photo?”
As I looked at him, half interested, an idea for a composition flashed in my mind.
I kneeled in the cornfield and instructed the boy where to stand and how to pose. As I prepared to take the photograph, his energy suddenly shifted from eagerness to shyness to fear.
No matter what I told him to do – how to stand, how to look – I just couldn’t get the shot. Frustrated, I gave up. I looked at the boy, who looked alone and awkward. He’d wanted his photograph taken, and now he’d gone camera shy.
In an effort to cheer him, I clapped my hands, saying, “That was great. You were great.” Others in his clan gathered around, cheering and clapping loudly. The boy’s face immediately broke into a smile. I intuitively took a few shots of the moment.
That photograph turned out to be better than the composition I’d imagined because it came from a deeper place within me.
“... it came from a deeper place within me."
When we let go of frustration and focus on what’s here in the moment, that is when we are moved to create from the inside out.
I have learned much about myself and life through photography. The outer experiences of photography take us on inner journeys to heal and transform.
Reflecting on my experience with the Surma boy, I realised I had been caught up in my own ideas, needs, and wants. When I agreed to take the shot, I was looking for a particular end result for myself. But, all the boy had really wanted was to be seen for a moment. That was the moment that needed to be captured.
He was seen.
“I realised I had been caught up in my own ideas, needs, and wants."
I looked at the boy’s face and his clan covering him in joy. I saw the Ethiopian people, so humble, and how they live close to Mother Earth and each other. I thought of my big house, my car, my experience of life, and the complexity of it all.
I asked myself, “Who am I to force my wants and needs on these people?” I saw at that moment that what they had was far richer in spirit. They had shared their richness with me.
Photography has become my connection to others and the world around me. I’m privileged to zoom in on others, like that Surma boy, rather than focusing on my own issues; it reminds me of what’s truly important in life.
I encourage every person to connect with their creative self. Photography is now my passion (when at one point, I didn’t believe I had a creative hair on my head).
What will become yours, and how will you connect to your creative self?
About the Author, Susan Greeff
Susan Greeff is a Life Coach and Counsellor whose search for creative expression led her on a transformational journey of re-discovering photography as an art form. For her, the creative process is as much part of our inner journey as it is of the outer journey.
Her creative process is inspired by traveling, meeting different cultures, people, places, and the wonders of nature and wildlife.
Susan’s photographs have been nominated, honourably mentioned, and awarded as finalist artworks in national and international photographic competitions and featured in national and international photographic publications.
Her images have been sold nationally and internationally to private clients and art collectors.
She facilitates one-on-one photographic sessions, small group workshops, photographic retreats, and safaris for scholars, students, and adults from Beginners to Advanced.
Susan's book The Search for Creative Expression: Photography as a Healing Art is available on Amazon and Smashwords
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This is such a heartwarming story. That little boy wanted something so bad and then when he got it, he was worried and fearful…and the shot that the photographer ended up with when she let go of her needs was absolutely beautiful.
I really liked this idea of moving creatively from the inside out and into the world. That takes spiritual consciousness, which is not always present and takes lifting soul out of the self. The beauty created is the highest form of Art to me.
So beautifully expressed Susan. Thank you. xox
What a lovely story and you are so right when we let go of our own needs and wants we find gifts in what is presented. Creativity requires openness to the ‘here and now’.
Thank you Barbara – so true and the openness. That’s not always easy and takes vulnerability. You have shown me that through your work xoxo
There are so many beautiful faces like this in world that deserve to be seen. However we as a society keep elevating the garbage up to the top unfortunately, which say something about us as people, I wish we could see more of this right here!
[…] Are you a photographer who fears sharing your work? An artist whose work the world is yet to experience? Are you someone who finds pleasure in singing, yet feels you’re never good enough to share that pleasure with others. Are you a writer or do you have a story that you want to share, but something holds you back? […]
Thank you for sharing this beautiful, personal story. Photography and writing are my hearts creative outlets and this made me feel all warm inside. We can use our art to connect to others.
Beautiful story! When we let go of frustration and focus on what’s here in the moment, that is when we are moved to create from the inside out- so true and insightful! Thanks for sharing
That is a soulful picture showing all of him!
Beautiful story. It’s very humbling to experience other cultures, especially those that live minimally unlike us.
Beautiful story. After just coming out of a 4 day trek through the woods, I appreciate this thought of letting go and connecting to your inner self. I was able to connect through nature, yet again… that is my peace and joy. The beauty and harshness of our natural world is truly humbling.
Susan was able to put into words what I feel as a teacher in her photography reflection. I am fuled when my students realize their potential and are “seen,” sometimes for the first time, as valuable and worthy.
that is his moment, beautiful portrait.