Living in a teepee: to some it sounds like fun, to others it sounds crazy. I did it for half a summer. The other half I was living in a barn. Only at Kanakuk Kamps could one get these experiences. Okay, maybe not only at Kanakuk Kamps but that’s where I did it.
I spent the summer a couple years ago as a photographer at this Christian, sports camp and it was a crazy, interesting time. I’ve spent a lot of time at summer camps. I grew up going to a place called Camp Manatawny or as we coined it “a piece of Heaven on Earth”. That place changed my life. I continued to go back and volunteer as a counselor for a number of years. As a sophomore in college, I was part of a traveling drama/improv group and we spent the summer traveling to different camps performing and volunteering for weeks at a time. During the year we went back to many of these camps or their affiliated churches for weekend retreats and rallies.
All this to say, I was accustomed to picking up on the way things are done at church camp. I was not afraid to jump in where I was not known, make myself a part of the group, or be ridiculous and outgoing. It was usually the case that the kids and volunteers at the camp were regulars, making the return every summer to pick everything back up where they had left it the last summer.
Kanakuk was no different. If anything, all of these things were more so true. What was different about Kanakuk was me. I was in a different place and my experience was therefore way different. At the time, I was figuring out who I really was, who God made me to be. It was a time when I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin and second guessed most everything I did. When the old Maria would have jumped in and introduced herself to everybody drawing laughs and conversation, this new Maria was sitting back and taking everything in. Being in the position of photographer made life easy for this new Maria because there was a natural barrier between me and the rest of the camp world, a camera.
I spent the summer hiding behind my camera and had the most difficult tension of capturing these beautiful moments of relationship and experience all summer but not getting to be a part of them. This was difficult for me because I am such a relationship person. I don’t know that there is anything I am more passionate about than real, honest, intimate relationship and there was oodles of that happening around me.
As artists, we walk a fine line of capturing experience and creating experience. In that summer of my art also being my job, I lost sight of my
why. I create art in an effort to provide a window, an opportunity for the outside world to share in my experience. When people read or see my art, the goal is for them to feel, for them to connect with something deeper and bigger, beyond me and my experience. The key to all of it though is me having the experience first. I cannot truly and justifiably pass on an experience if I have not allowed myself to be fully present and a part of the emotions being transferred.
In the midst of fall happening all around me, I was reminded of this tension of wanting to share an experience but also wanting to fully experience it myself. The artist in me always wants to capture the beauty that is fall so everyone can see and experience it but the finite humanity of me wants to be fully present and experience every second of fall I can without barriers and filters because it is too short to miss.
How often is this my plight in life? I’m fighting this tension of wanting to create and share my experience without having fully participated in the experience in the first place. I am so bad at being present. It would serve the world well for all of us to be present individuals and bring back a movement of impressionism that creates something beautiful without too much detail that invites people into their own experience, encourages them to view and experience the world through their own eyes and perspective rather than invoking a covetousness that causes people to want the life and experience we are sharing with them.
Let’s practice being present. Let’s go back to experiencing life and art being an overflow and byproduct of the beauty we’re experiencing daily rather than living from this place of creating a life for the purpose of our art. We’re all better off that way.