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.
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