I recently discovered the concept of The Window of Tolerance. It’s a psychology phrase that defines the conditions in-between where you’re able to function with full access to your internal resources – ie. you’re managing ok. Life is good when we’re inside the window but when we get outside of it, we either respond with fight/flight or freeze responses. These responses are not pleasant for us and for some people, getting outside of the window is utterly debilitating. In time, it is possible to expand your window of tolerance to make difficult circumstances more bearable, but often not without significant effort and support.
This window of tolerance exists in our photographic world too. I’m sure you’ve all had the feeling of a tight chest, anger or anxiety in certain situations when we’re stretched to our emotional limits as photographers and businesspeople. You might have been asked to do something you’re uncomfortable with or been treated in a way that you haven’t enjoyed. But knowing what you stand for and what your values are can help define what direction to take with your response and how to prevent it from happening again in the future. You create a situation where you don’t need to stretch outside of your window of tolerance and life feels more fulfilling and satisfying.
Our values are pretty simple but they define everything that Kristen and I do. We don’t really care about money – it’s a means to an end and we want just enough to be able to have a life that makes us happy. We value experiences, interactions and relationships. We both abhor inequality and hierarchy and when the powerful do nothing to change unjust or unfair circumstances. Most importantly, we both know we have a responsibility to create a little bit of happiness in the lives of each and every person we meet.
Immediately, you can probably already see that a few of these points are contradictory to the objectives of much of the wedding industry. Success in our field is often defined by how much money you can make each year and being visible as an expert in our industry whom people aspire to be like. And there’s a lot of perpetuation of bride-centric and beauty-centric weddings. The places where non-white, non-heterosexual couples who don’t conform to society’s notion of beauty can be seen is limited and I haven’t seen many of the powerful voices in the industry tell us to challenge this.
Kristen and I rejected these traditional industry values – not because we wanted to be an “alternative” business but because we actually didn’t agree with them as people. What I’ve realised now is that being myself actually turned out to be a great business decision and it IS possible to have a sustainable business even if you don’t follow the industry norm.
From nearly day one, we built the business around working with couples that had a similar way of viewing the world. Things like where we advertised, offering to barter with people, how I wrote the about-me section on my site and the information sheet that I sent to prospective couples not only encouraged people to hire me, but discouraged the people that could potentially drag me out of my window of tolerance. For example, this is from my info sheet: “I believe in equality in love and think that gender roles are silly and outdated. That is, a wedding is about both people, not just the bride – so it’s awesome when both people are invested in their wedding and its planning. I also believe any two people in love should be able to get married, love is love regardless of what gender they are.” I use my honesty as a filtering tool and people know from the moment they read my info what they will get. And I must admit, it never feels like work when I’m photographing people that I enjoy being around.
At the end of it all, this stuff means that I usually sit inside my window – I’m in a circumstance where I’m ok and I’m not experiencing things that make me feel angry, resentful or unhappy about what I do. My career is sustainable and I wake up excited about what my day has in store (except culling photos, I HATE culling photos).
So take a little time to think about what your values are – write them down on a sheet of paper. How do they match or clash with what you do as a photographer? We don’t think everyone should run their businesses like us but we’re confident that once you’ve worked out what YOUR values are, you’ll be much happier if you can work consistent to them and sit within your very own window of tolerance.
Images in this post from myself and Kristen’s trip to Iceland in 2013.
Shally walked out of her bedroom and down the stairs of her family’s home – the home she had lived in for most of her life. I watched her from outside the front door and knew that something was up. All morning, she had been a bundle of joy, relaxed, friendly and so full of conversation. But now, she looked like a totally different woman. She stood, holding her sari in her hand trying to compose herself but I could see she was fighting a losing battle. She had one last act to complete before she would forever leave this household. One last act before her mother and father would no longer be her guardians. One last act before she was to be a married woman. She walked to the door, tears in her eyes and grabbed the rice that was offered to her and threw it over her shoulders onto the sari that her mother was holding up behind her. The tears symbolised sadness to a part of Shally’s life that was now finished, but also happiness about the life that she was just about to start. It was a beautiful moment to share in and all I could think of was that this must be the most exhilarating (and perhaps most terrifying) experience in Shally’s life. I walked over to her as she climbed into the car, smiled at her and said that she was doing wonderfully and that I would see her at her wedding. She smiled, said thank you, shut the door and we drove to see her get married to the love of her life, Rahoul.
In around 2002, I first heard of this Icelandic band called Sigur Ros. I couldn’t pronounce half of the names of their songs and I definitely didn’t know what they were singing about. But it didn’t matter, their music transcended words, they seemed to reach in and grasp at the core of me – every time I listened to them, I felt something. I obsessively collected everything that they released and went to every show they played in Australia. I fell in love with them, their music and through that, Iceland.
When Mike and Cecila asked me to photograph their wedding in Sweden last June, it seemed that Iceland was literally closer than it had ever been. Kristen and I decided that this was finally our chance to go. And ever since then, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get back.
Iceland is actually like no other country on earth. It’s one of the youngest landmasses in the world having only existed for around 20-30 million years and the closest thing I can compare it to is the south island of New Zealand, except more rugged and more volatile. When you’re traveling through Iceland, you’re probably moments away from death if you make a wrong decision and it doesn’t feel like a country where you can take risks and get away with it. The people are intelligent, educated and progressive, and for a country of that size, they’re impressively high-achieving in music and the arts (plus they have the highest per-capita winners of Nobel Prizes of anywhere in the world!) and I would gladly live there.
We knew that we wanted to experience Iceland in all of this glory so we hired an insanely small and very uncomfortable campervan – also known as Billy Idol (you might be able to see why soon). We traveled the entire ring road around the country and included a foray into the West Fjords nearly dying only twice – I’d say that’s a pretty good road-trip in Icelandic terms (by the way, the Icelandic seem completely non-plussed by any of this, we’re cruising along at 40km/h in our 4WD campervan on a dirt/snow covered road and some kid whizzes past at 90km in a 2 door hatchback). We had one tyre explosion, one near slip off the edge of an icy cliff and many wonderful memories that we will keep for a lifetime. I’d say it’s still very much my favourite place on the planet.
We wanted to document what we saw differently to all of the usual travel photos. We wanted a fresh way to see things, a way to give new perspective to us and to others. We decided that we’d only use a tilt shift lens – sometimes changing the equipment you use to see things is all you need. We planned to have an exhibition of these images at some point last year but with things being the way they have been in the last 9 months (ie. a little bit crazy), we just haven’t been able to find the emotional energy to invest in it. Plus, we’re so excited about what we saw, we just want to share it with you so you can hopefully be inspired in the way that we were.
This 800 pixel wide blog just does’t do justice to the images so you’ll have to click on the below two links, they’ll take you to two slideshows. One is 1200 pixels wide and the other 1600 pixels – choose which one based on how good your internet connection is (it’s about 25MB all up at 1600px) and your screen resolution. If you can get onto a computer to look at this post, I can guarantee it’ll look much better. Just as an aside, neither Kristen nor I can remember who took each photo but I’m pretty confident that Kristen took most of them. But I’m not perturbed, the images of Iceland are firmly implanted in my memory and no camera can represent my heart and memory on the day we left this hauntingly beautiful country.