“Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” ~ Dorothea Lange quotes

You may have noticed I haven’t posted much lately. I think it’s because I’ve been very introspective. I’ve been thinking a lot about life these days. I haven’t been feeling well. I’ve been to the doctor several times, without much help. During this same time I found out that a very close friend back in the States has prostate cancer. I have been thinking about how much time we are dealt. Time is a very strange thing. Sometimes, I think it’s more of a concept than anything else.

I remember when I was a young child and how time seemed to drag. My summer breaks between school years seem to last forever. But as I got older, those brakes seem shorter and shorter. Now, when my daughter has summer break, I keep thinking that it really is shorter. Maybe they cut off some weeks. But they haven’t. It’s just me. I guess it’s something to do with relativity. Wasn’t it Einstein that figured out that time is relative? Think about it, when you are two years old, one year is half your life. Yet, when you are as old as I am, 52, then one year is 1/52 of your life. A lot smaller segment. Much closer to a shutter speed than a half of a lifetime.

In a book written by Sheldon Vanauken called “A Severe Mercy” , Vanauken was asking C.S. Lewis something about time and why it seemed so binding and so little of it. He writes, “How strange that we cannot love time. It spoils our loveliest moments. Nothing quite comes up to expectations because of it.” Lewis wrote back, “Not only are we harried by time, we seem unable, despite a thousand generations, even to get used to it. We are always amazed at it–how fast it goes, how slowly it goes, how much of it is gone. Where, we cry, has the time gone? We aren’t adapted to it, not at home in it. If that is so, it may appear as a proof, or at least a powerful suggestion, that eternity exists and is our home.” Without getting into Judeo-Christian philosophy, my point is that we never seems to get control of time in our lives. It seems to run over us.

I guess where I’m going with this is, are you using your time well? What are you making with it? Facebook, twitter, and even blogging seems to take up a lot of time. And quite frankly I’m not sure it’s worth it. Are they adding worth to the world? I think we need to make much of our life count for something. I will admit, I’m preaching to myself as much as to you. I tend to waste too much time browsing the Internet or playing with a photograph in Lightroom that I have no real use for. What do we do with our photography? Anything?

There’s a growing number of you who described yourself as a, “humanitarian photographer,” or an “NGO photographer” or something along that line. Do you have clients? Are you shooting your best for them? Maybe you don’t have clients but you wish you did. Have you thought about volunteering your time to help them. I know this sort of goes against what I have said in the past and we have to make money to live. I am not talking about doing this to uncut those of us that do this for a living. But how much of your shooting has an impact beyond your world. Dare I say, beyond your lifetime. Find a do-gooder organization though organizations like foucusforhumanity.org or  photophilanthropy.org. These organization can link you with non-profits that need good images. They are there to help not just the photographers, but the NGOs as well. Photophilanthopy.org has a really cool moto, “Photography driven by social change. Social change driven by photography.” Both of these organizations are staffed by great people and they want to help you serve these non-profits.

Maybe it is time to look out ourselves just long enough to ask the question, “Does what I do matter?”

Now a side note and just for fun to lighten the mood a bit. I have embedded my favorite podcast, Radio Lab. These guys do radio as it was meant to be done. The episode below is about…Time.

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. ian furniss

    Thanks for sharing Matt and look forward to hearing your health improves!

    It’s something i’ve been thinking about a lot recently myself so I recognise a little of where you’re coming from I think. I lost my father last year, and the past 2 to 3 years have thrown me completely out of sync as both parents struggled with ill health. Such things make you re-evaluate of course and as much as they were a spur to me going into photography full-time, they’ve also been a hindrance. Life and the perception of time, as you say, has a way of seemingly taking everything out of your control.

    It’s that perception of time that, when you spoke about it, reminded me of an article I read a while back on the BBC. It struck a chord with me then and still does now, and also it reinforces some of your own conclusions too. Have a read over @ http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/6926500.stm I think you’ll find it interesting. 🙂

  2. Kevin Blackburn

    Very interesting points. I like to say after having had more than one near death experience most of my own cause. Dream like you will live forever live everyday like its your last and in doing so try to reach and help at least one person and make a difference in their life

  3. Pablophotoart

    Good post . . . I like when you say: “Facebook, twitter, and even blogging seems to take up a lot of time. And quite frankly I’m not sure it’s worth it. Are they adding worth to the world? I think we need to make much of our life count for something.”
    Sometimes I think that the more we use social networks and the more we are alone and wasting time.

  4. Marc André Pauzé

    Interesting post. As, for myself, tried to play the hotnews game a few times. Didn’t quite like it as I taught. Then I met an old photojournalist (he was one who did the Marilyn picture over the subway ventilation). He told me: “Marc, find a subject that you love being with, working on. It will do you good and it will help somebody. The rest is seconday.”

    Since then, I tried to work on documentaries that matters to me. Do I sell them? Do I live out of them, is secondary. Of course I am lucky to have another profession where I can take contract and earn part of my living, making me more independent. Things did improve in my life because I am related to passion and caring.

    My last documentary subject “Frank’s Journey” is about an amerindian algonquin who had a life of pain, suffering, violence and drugs. He wanted to share part of his journey and how art made him peaceful and happy.

    A month after the documentary was done, Frank left for a Drug treatment center and is coming back on the reserve next week. When he phoned me, he said, “you helped me because you there with me, not judging me, accepting me. With your presence beside me, I found the strength of going through that treatment, and I am happy you came in to my life.”

    Well, I haven’t done much, but by watching the multimedia piece again, I can see that there is storytelling in it, but there is also CARING.

    Take care Matt.


  5. Matea Michelangeli

    Time…it’s all relative!
    True, social media takes up a lot of time, but at the same time connects me to the world, keeps me connected to my family that live far from me and allows me to network with other photographers. I’ve learn a lot reading blogs and “talking” to other photogs through social media. We just have to use it VERY wisely not to waste time just playing around. I’m sure guilty that!

    “How much of your shooting has an impact beyond your world?” If all your photos stay in your hard drive you are not doing anything. A lot to think about in this post. We shouldn’t have to go through a painful experience to reevaluate what we’re doing with our time, we are here only once, we might as well make the best of it!

  6. Nat Thompson

    Dear Matt,
    I really appreciate this blog you just wrote. I think its good for photographers to be open about the challenges they face. When I was a student I booked the speaker for our final graduation. To many peoples horror he didnt talk about his career ( even though he was a mega award winning photographer) , he spoke about how important it is to have people with you on the ride and to care for your family. It was brave of him to stand up in front of the industry in our city and say what he said, I think.

    This year I thought “what am I doing with my life?” after a rough few years. I came to Thailand to shoot for NGOs. I saved enough for a year. Im paying to stay here to work for NGOs. Only they dont really need my photography skills they need video. Im not a videographer. Im sitting here downloading video right now at a HIV home in Northern Thailand. I suck at it and I have no good gear. But Im making a video because the kids are more important than me . I got teary when I read your post . I adore that CS Lewis book. And I too dont feel at home with time. I feel hunted by my one year VISA and fast declining funds. I feel I need to jump into the more commercial ship before I sink.

    Everyday I feel my “career” slipping away . “My time” being poured out for something that in no way benefits me. I dont get any photo cred by being here. Im not a high profile photographer like all the ones Im looking up to and sometimes envying. Yourself included. Would getting paid make me more legitimate? Who knows?

    I just really appreciate you being real about life as a shooter.

    For me its personal and involved. It isnt detached or always calm. How can it be when it (photography/image making) is so intricately woven into our lives and the lives of others. Peoples stories can never be made less emotive. If I cease to hurt and care and feel, will have a calm mind? I dunno.

    Anyway. I really hope your health improves soon. I appreciate your thoughts. Social media has connected us therefore redeeming itself 🙂

    Nat Thompson

  7. Sean Breslin

    Have you read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron?

    There’s a great exercise in it called Reading Depravation. I think it should be renamed Information Depravation for 2010. The writer challenges you to switch off for a whole week and use your time more creatively. No reading books or magazines, no TV. Nothing. Nowadays I think it’s safe to include Facebook, Twitter, the BBC website… pretty much anything that saps our time in the never ending search for new information.

    By doing so the reader is forced to come up with new things to do, to get more creative. Get out and exercise, do some knitting, rearrange the furniture – whatever.

    I think time is relative, and the more time spend playing around or Twitter or reading yesterday’s news, the more time seems to drag.

  8. Serge Van Cauwenberg


    Your post should urge or inspire people to think about their time more carefully. At least I do the past few years. I don’t watch tv anymore (I cancelled my cable subscription 6 years ago) but I do spend too much time online these days, absorbing the daily bulk of (photography related) information, instead of leaving the house and create photo essays or start other projects. I’m really considering to launch a week without reading any blogs or interacting on social networks. Life is too short and my online presence/interaction won’t make me more happy or a better photographer.

    Take care!



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