We live in an age where a specific form of progress is desired and expected. Purchasing a house and the surrounding land should lead to that space being remade to our own tastes. Once enough capital has been accrued, we step into a larger, more abundant, space and start the process again. In his 2003 book, Straw Dogs, John Gray asks where does this belief that we can be masters of our destiny spring from? And why do we apply the notion to humanity, and not other animals, such as gorillas or whales?
Thankfully for my own sanity, I don’t ascribe to the view that a life spent moving forward in pursuit of tangible signs of progress is a life well spent. Not that I am immune to the charms of a big tv, or a decent computer. I also find it hard not to worry about what will occur when my family outgrows the space we live in. But the believe that I must keep moving forward to achieve happiness doesn’t fully ring true, although it does lead to the question of how a life can be led if not in the pursuit of progress. Thankfully for me, John Gray has put into words what I cannot. ” The question of how we are to live assumes that humans are only happy if they believe they have the power to remake the world. Yet most humans who have ever lived have not believed this. And have lived happy lives.”
I’m happy to be part of the most humans who have ever lived team. I like the numbers. It comforts me when I think of my own personal situation right now. For two years from 2011 until 2013, I woke up 3 hours before my teaching job started and arrived home 2 hours after it finished. And I was on an hourly wage. It was a mentally and physically demanding time, and I knew it couldn’t go on. So it didn’t. And I didn’t expect to be back there ever again. Yet here I am, four years on in the same place, working less hours for the same pay. That has the potential to drive me nuts. The fact it doesn’t though, is due to the fact that my experiences in the meantime make my teaching time now so much richer, and the photographs I make at school in my downtime so much better.
The years in between leaving teaching and returning have brought a greater understanding of the cultural values of the place I live, and time to reflect on a photographic style which was lacking. The time spent in reflection on these two areas of my life – where I live, and how I spend my time, give me a sense of daily purpose which helps me to reject common notions of progress, and long may they continue to.