Michael Blanchard’s new ground breaking book “Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey” is destined to have people turning its pages over and over again, and then wondering when the next book is coming out. Be prepared his photographs are brilliant and riveting, drawing you into a world that you may just want to visit in real time. All the while this book takes you on a Journey, filled with hope, healing, community and new beginnings. In a wonderful turn of events Michael agreed to answer some questions we have had since picking up this amazing book, which is a nourishing for the mind, heart and the soul.
You used your passion for photography to rise up out of isolation, and find connection and community – and create an amazing book. Can you tell us a bit about that journey?
When I discovered photography I sought to connect with nature and avoid people! I picked times and places to minimize the likelihood I would run into someone. I had been sober for three years but I still preferred alone time, over talking with others.
As I headed out with the camera I ran into people despite my best efforts. During those encounter’s, however, I forced myself to engage rather than avoid and run away. It was only when I let others in did the truly meaningful photographs and stories evolve. If you look closely, most of the stories in “Through a sober lens” are written around the people I chose to let in. I learned that meaning comes from connection with others, not just waves and beaches. I learned that photographs could help heal others and me at the same time.
“Fighting for my life” was published in 2014, and it did brilliantly. You recently decided to create a second edition with new photographs. What was this process like for you? And is there a third book in your future? I’m sure your fans are dying to know what’s next.
“Fighting for my life” was created as a means of making sense of my bottoming process while finding a new passion. The photographs were highly edited to reflect the turmoil inside. I lacked confidence as a photographer and didn’t have a sense I knew what I was doing. When the last of the 2500 copies ran out last year, I was ready to move on to my new book “Through A Sober Lens”. Many of my followers, however, asked for the book because of its simple message of hope. Several parents asked for the book because of its success in helping one of their children. Now faced with the addiction problem of a second child, they hoped the book would again help.
I was conflicted on whether to just republish the same book with the original pictures. My ego disliked the old photos, as I had grown significantly as a photographer. Part of me, however, felt those original photos reflected and innocence in my personal journey of discovery. It was cathartic in rereading the book and remembering the early struggles of sobriety. I decided to keep the story but go with new photos that reflected my continued growth as someone in recovery from addiction.
It is still too early to tell on the next book. I have the urge to take my photojournalism on the road with a possible series of cross country trips. There is so much to see in this country and I have so much to learn and write about. I may include people and their stories in addition to the nature photographs. Stay tuned.
Your addiction seems to have been your greatest challenge, but it also seems that your recovery has led you to find your creative self-resulting in an amazing body of mind-blowing work. Is that true? What has your process been like for you?
In my master’s program in psychology I found the concept of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG). Researchers in Australia compared PTG to PTSD and learned more people experience growth, rather than debilitating disease, after going through traumatic events. I would not recommend it! But going through the process of losing everything was the only way to find this hidden talent. I was taught my entire life to set goals, take action, measure progress and recalibrate as needed. “Always start with the end in mind”.
It is still difficult for me to accept I became the person I was always supposed to be, while having no idea where I was headed. Photography picked me. Writing picked me. I just followed the path placed in front of me. One of my greatest challenges was to say yes to coincidences and synchronicities instead of giving up over the lack of certainty.
Artists and writers often wrestle with a creative block from time to time. What is your unique way of getting past these kinds of blocks?
Ego creates artistic block. If I set out to take pictures or write stories and the reason is self-serving, then the process usually fails. If I head out at 6 AM thinking I need to find a really good photo for my audience to get lots of likes on Facebook, then I am likely to fail. I succeed in writing and photography only when I rephrase the question. “Who can I help with what I write”; “Make the goal a spiritual connection with nature rather than a really good picture”. Once I connect with spirit, the photos and the writing take care of themselves.
If you could go back in time and have a chat with your younger self. Would you go, and what would you say to him?
“You are an amazing and beautiful kid. Don’t spend your childhood and adolescence thinking otherwise. Believe in yourself. Success isn’t a thing or a career. Success is self-love and the willingness to help others. Follow your dreams and don’t accept anyone else’s path. Make your own path. If you do all these things you will not turn into and addict or alcoholic because there will be no shame to hide. I love you”.
“Through A Sober Lens: A Photographer’s Journey” is currently available on Amazon.
Looking Through the Lens with Michael Blanchard
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