Note: July 24 is a state holiday in Utah, where Chatbooks is headquartered. Pioneer Day celebrates the pioneers who settled there over 150 years ago.
Pioneers struck out into the great unknown with a spirit of optimism and faith in search of something better. They traveled thousands of miles on foot and in wagons across rivers, through valleys, over mountains and around canyons. As the journey became harder, their options became more simple: survive, or don’t. They kept going.
As we travel through life and meet our own frontiers, the pioneer spirit can help us be more courageous, more resilient, more willing to grow and learn as we discover the pioneer inside all of us.
In fact, the pioneer spirit can even make us better storytellers.
Shoot like a pioneer.
As a mother, I feel one of my most important jobs is to keep a record of my family’s life. I want the world to know this story, but mostly I want my own children to know, when they are grown and they’ve forgotten the Neverland of childhood. And I want to tell myself, when I am past the days of naps and water fights and sleepovers and skinned knees. I want to take pictures that will match the immensity of our story and capture the excitement, the love, the anguish, the contentment. I want photographs that store these moments like eternal fireflies in a jar.
Storytelling is a skill. When telling your family’s story in pictures, take a lesson from the pioneers by remembering some of the principles they embodied. These principles will focus your own vision as you strive to tell the most authentic story you can of your own family’s journey. And, if they spill over into the rest of your life, all the better.
Try new things. Risk failure. Brave new frontiers.
There’s a phrase that the pioneers would have understood: stuck in a rut. Although a well-worn path can be easier, it doesn’t allow for a lot of growth, and it can even get us feeling stuck. If you’re not making any mistakes in life, you’re not trying very many new things. Innovation requires risk. Leave what is familiar in search of something better. That’s where you can learn and grow, and maybe even find out what you’re truly passionate about.
Try some new techniques. Look at things from a different perspective: shoot the same picture from different angles and see how it changes the view. Try shooting in different light than you usually do: low light, back light, window light, early morning light. Compose your picture differently by backing up or closing in on your subject. Play with different settings.
Learn to see in a new way.
Whitney Taylor says that Instagram has encouraged her to document her everyday in new and innovative ways. She says, “I’m constantly trying to improve, while maintaining my inner voice and style that has always existed.”
Striking out into the unknown is not easy. Pushing boundaries stretches us. That’s the thing with new things: for a while, it seems like you’re regressing, because you’re making mistakes. Just keep going.
“At best, I’m an accidental pioneer. A few years ago, I found myself a single dad to my toddler daughter and my 5-year-old son. I knew I needed to get back in touch with myself and to be close to my kids, and I decided getting outside was the way to do both of those things. I don’t think all pioneers have an end goal. I think many of them felt more comfortable leaving something behind and starting over than they did about being confined. I thought I had my life and my career mapped out, but things did not go as expected. My ability to improvise is what carries me now. My adventures with the kids and my photographs are intentionally unplanned. Making it up as I go is my way of creating a sense of surprise and true discovery about the world and ourselves. I’m not a photographer. I’m a storyteller and a dad, trying to capture moments of my life and preserve memories my kids and I will have of our journey together.”
@daytripsla on Instagram
Have a vision.
See beyond the immediate. Imagine being a few years down the road and looking back at this moment. What is it you want to remember? What do you want to hold onto? Follow that vision.
Remember to see the beauty along the way. Sometimes we see our surroundings so much that we don’t really see them anymore. We forget how beautiful those mundane details can be. They are shaping us. Looking back on this moment a decade from now, you’ll be glad at all those beautiful details you captured and you’ll see your everyday life for the amazing landscape it was.
Simplify. Focus on what’s important.
Discard what isn’t important. Don’t carry weight you don’t need. Decide what is the most important thing in your life that you want to keep a record of. What are the essential elements of your story, that you don’t have a story without? Why did you start this journey? That’s what you want to focus on. Those are your true roots.
“It’s important to hold to your roots and what you value. Often times you can get caught up in the likes on Instagram and start to question what made you passionate to begin with. There is a great risk in feeling uncomfortable when you put your images out there to be critiqued through interaction, or lack thereof. I have to remind myself why I’m here and what makes me feel proud and hold true to myself.”
Optimism is almost enough.
The pioneers will tell you that it takes a lot of faith and optimism to set out across the country on foot, but it takes even more preparation and hard work. Optimism will give you a running start. But without proper preparation and effort, you won’t get far. Take the time to learn. Be patient with yourself.
But most importantly: practice, practice, practice.