Finding color again. It was a phrase I heard Penny De Los Santos utter back in 2010, when she spoke about the darkness that filled her world after a personal loss, and how eventually, a trip to India brought color back into her world. It was a phrase that resonated loudly with me.
For the past 3 years, I’ve been struggling to to re-awaken my motivation for many things that used to bring me great joy: writing, creating recipes, music, and making pictures. I tried many times, failed many times, then eventually stopped trying. Life got too busy, providing me with a convenient (albeit valid) excuse to put everything else on hold while we worked on rebuilding our home. Even when I resolved to try again, everything I did felt forced. There was no flow. Nothing seemed right. I wasn’t looking for anything to come easy; I merely wanted what felt familiar and natural.
If you’ve seen my recent tweets and Instagram photos, you’ll know that we just returned from our first vacation in years, traveling to the opposite side of the globe. It was a trek back home to the Philippines for me, followed by a first for our small family: a tour of Thailand. I packed my camera equipment with a mixture of excitement and detachment. I knew there would be great photo opportunities all over Asia. What I didn’t know was whether or not I would find the desire to capture them.
Thailand was a complete immersion in an astonishing world so different from my life now. Everything was new: the smells, the sounds, the merchandise, the flavors, the landscape, the people. We explored palaces, street markets, sailed (okay, more like motored on a boat) to a spot on the Mekong River where you can see Myanmar to the left, Laos to the right, and Thailand behind you. We drove down highways flanked by rice fields, the lushest hue of green I’d ever seen. We watched school children play soccer with towering ruins from the 13th century as their silent audience, and heard temple bells ringing outside our hotel room, followed by a wave of saffron robes finding their way across courtyards, monks barefoot and holding bowls to receive their food for the day from the people of the city.
I fell in love with Thailand. With the light in that beautiful land. With its people, especially the children. And my camera loved it so much I have scars on my right hand because my skin began reacting to the small amount of latex in the camera grip. I didn’t care; I just kept shooting.
When I first spoke of the battle to re-kindle my desire for photography after having lost my entire collection of photos, it was photographer Stephen Scott Gross who cautioned me not to embark on a mission to rebuild my lost portfolio. He warned me against pre-judging every new shot, comparing it with an old one I had lost, gauging its worthiness as a replacement. I still remember what he told me: that when expectation enters the picture, it changes the dynamic. And it’s true. Expectation comes with limits and demands, often arbitrary and unkind. Expectation opens you up to disappointment because, ultimately, it’s a pass-fail course. But hope—hope always looks forward. When something hoped for doesn’t come to pass, it isn’t a failure; it merely means it didn’t happen at that time. With hope, there is always next time. And another time after that. And hundreds of next times after that. For as long as it takes.
And so it was with Thailand. I left with the hope that I would find something that would make me love photography again the way I used to, but I was ready for the possibility that it wouldn’t happen for me then. I let go of all expectations and merely held on to that hope, and the faith that it would someday come back to me even though I had no clue when that someday would be. It was hope that helped me get past myself. And hope brought me back my love for photography and helped me find my colors again.