When we make art, part of that process is to make bad art. Solving the problem of creating art means finding something that does not work and focusing on something that does. It is the same way with every other area in life: when we bump up against a problem we cannot solve, we can either continue beating our head against it or we can turn around and focus on a problem we can solve. A mentor can help us make that choice to turn around. I have had mentors since I was a teenager. They have helped me learn new skills; they have inspired me and given me the support I needed at critical times.
Everyone deserves a mentor.
During my sophomore year in art school, I found myself completely submerged in my work. Every pore, every molecule, visible and invisible, inhaled and exhaled photography and art. There was nothing more important to me than being entrenched in the complete process of making art, and I loved it. However, it also created a unique problem for me. When my projects failed, I felt and knew I had also failed. I was emotionally deflated and nothing could get me out of that dark place. This was my first real feeling of failure and incomplete resolve.
When I first began art school, I was introduced to John Ganis, my photography teacher. He eventually became my mentor, at this dark point in my life. My experience with what I perceived as failure alerted me to the idea that art was not the answer to what I was seeking. I had chosen to pursue photography as a way of articulating the world as I saw it. I was using the full capacity of my heart to do this craft just like Mr. Abel (my high school drama teacher and mentor) would have expected me to, and it was in fact a therapy for dealing with the negative emotions I had from time to time. Making art helped me to share with others who I was through this visual communication, but it was not enough. I wanted something that would not fail, something that I could put my complete faith and energy into, which would always benefit me or others. Hence, I began questioning everything I was doing and why I was doing it. I felt like leaving school and had consulted with my parents and a few friends about doing so. Everyone thought I should stay.
John (Mr. Ganis) noticed my struggle and called me into his office. I explained my feeling of failure to him. Just a few weeks earlier, I had been considering following some sort of religion. I explained to John that I had looked at all the major religions and found that all of them had some sort of discrimination against the others. I could not settle on any one, but knew that there was some underlying truth to what all of them were saying. John said he knew what I was going through and that he had gone through the same thing earlier in his life. He explained the difference between religion and spirituality and suggested meditation as a path to consider. He gave me two books about kundalini yoga meditation (an East Indian meditation path) that was based completely on the act of meditating. This seemed so foreign to me, but at this point I was desperate and I wanted deeply to learn how to manage what was going on inside me. John told me that we could take a trip to an ashram in upstate New York to meet a Guru and receive his blessing for meditation, but not until after I read the books. I left John’s office in deep contemplation, focusing on his thoughts about my situation. I spent the greater part of the next week thinking about this and reading “The Guide to Shaktipat” by Swami Shivom Tirth Maharaj. After about a week I was sold. I needed to go on the trip and meet the Guru. I was extremely skeptical, intrigued, and a little scared, but I needed to go. The trip would take place in February of 1993.
After John introduced meditation to me I felt the aimless quest for the “right choice of work” dissipate. My life had a new direction. And I have realized in the course of my life that a mentor can do just that: help people find a new direction—thereby inspiring them to realize their true dharma, and maybe even their biggest dreams.
Since graduation from art school, with the help and guidance of my mentors I have done nothing but realize my dreams. My photographic work has been seen by millions of people, all over the world. I wanted to work in the fashion industry. I also wanted to shoot personal projects in which I could use images to communicate stories that would help the world. These dreams are now my reality and my offerings to the world: I am a luxury goods, fashion-photography expert who uses his images to tell stories that help people in different ways. Sometimes it’s through a still-life fashion photo that inspires confidence and creativity in the onlooker. Other times it’s through a portrait of someone who has survived a trek across the Himalayas to find their freedom. All my offerings are “stories that create connections.“