Over the last few weeks I felt drawn to observe more closely some of the events that are shaking our times, and in particular our behaviours and reactions to them. To my surprise, that brought me back to my Fine Arts years and, in particular, to the practice of photography.
In analog photography there’s a very precise step-by-step chemical process to follow in order to develop films and print images on paper, or other materials.
Yes, I’m talking about what people do in those rooms with a red light, that you’ve seen either in person or in uncountable movies, called darkrooms, filled with tools, trays with liquids and more.
In there, step-by-step, you can:
- impress an image on light-sensitive photographic paper
- process it by laying the paper in a tray filled with a specific liquid called developer
- halt its development with a stop bath
- fix it with a photographic fixer.
The print is then washed, dried and… Voilà! Your photo is ready.
There’s a very specific part of this process that fascinates me and that I’d like to bring to your attention, which is the first step: the revealing part.
When you lay the paper in the first tray and liquid, within a few seconds you see an image appearing. The role of that liquid is to create the contrasts that enable the original image to become visible. Without it, the image is impressed on the paper but it can’t come out.
But what does this have to do with impact or sustainability?
When I look at the situations and events that are shaking communities around the world, “contrasts that make things become visible” is all I can think about.
What do we see, when the President of the European Commission, a woman, enters a room to meet with the President of the European Council and the President of Turkey, both men, and she is the only one without a place to sit?
What do we see when documentaries like Seaspiracy come out?
What do we see when people call out masculine toxicity in media and workplaces?
Usually, we see injustice. We think we are looking at the problem and we feel upset, outraged by that very specific something that is “wrong” and that “shouldn’t be the way it is”.
… But there’s another side to it.
As Richard Bach puts it:
“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.”
These events are creating the contrasts able to force us to look at the image coming out on the paper. Something is made visible, but it was there the whole time.
We don’t like it and we get angry with the image and the liquid being the situation that is bringing the dynamic to surface, forgetting that those are the consequences of a specific set of actions and choices that impressed that image on the paper in the first place.
We need those contrasts, because we need to see.
We need those images to come out, symptoms of a much larger system that is calling for our conscious and effective action: transformational, at root level.
So let it out. Let it show.
It’s the only way we can trace back the steps of the process that we don’t stand for anymore, and change them. For new images, new ideas and new possible futures to come out and become our reality.