Symbols and images are a very powerful means of communication because they can extend beyond the boundaries of particular languages and therefore reach broader audiences. When we create a photograph we speak in symbols and images. Shapes, shadows, flowers, postures, animals all say something. Although different people will interpret what they each see differently, there are always basic archetypes that extend beyond cultures or even time periods. I like expressing myself through such archetypes when telling the visual narratives of my life through the photographs I create. Today I will write about change and it’s symbol, the butterfly, which I portray myself as in one of my self-portraits.
It appears to me that human beings are naturally disposed towards those actions that will allow them to arrive at their goals without much effort. We prefer the smooth roads to the bumpier ones. However, there will always be those goals in life that demand our laborious involvement. In fact, who hasn’t worked hard in order to achieve something they deem valuable in life?
I once read a study that listed freedom at the height of human values, as we all long to be free to design a life of our own choice. Liberty, therefore, appeared as a reasonable prerequisite for experiencing happiness, peace, love, etc. But freedom from what?
I suppose there are many potential sources of oppression in life. There are those that are internally generated, such as destructive and limiting perspectives we create within our own minds. And then there are the many external forces we can all feel restricted by. Oftentimes to free oneself from limitations, change is in order. We change the way we do things in life to achieve different results. If we don’t like a certain aspect of our lives, or selves, we have to make a change somewhere: either externally or internally.
To me, life is about change. With each mastered change we reach a new level of experiencing life. Many people are resistant to change because it is often accompanied by discomfort of some sort or another. We tend to give little value to discomfort, but even designs of nature incorporate struggle and discomfort into making successful changes. The perfect symbol for this is a caterpillar, having transformed into a butterfly, trying to break out of it’s cocoon.
I recall the first time I understood that butterflies need that period of struggling -while breaking out of the cocoon- for their wings to be strong enough to fly. I was sixteen years old and had read it in a book. I marveled at how when scientists helped the butterfly remove the cocoon, their wings remained underdeveloped and useless, leaving them as easy prey to dangerous predators. But when the butterflies were allowed to go through the struggle to achieve their own freedom, they flew high and beautifully afterwords! It seemed to be nature’s way of informing us that uncomfortable,
laborious effort contained a certain value when executing a major change in life. That struggle, oddly enough, leaves us with extra assets we would not had otherwise.
I have had to contemplate such subjects over the last few years as I have been orchestrating major transformations in redesigning my life. I call it my metamorphosis period, as it has somewhat mirrored the way caterpillars turn into butterflies. Perhaps the image feels a bit cliche to many of you, but I have experienced myself going through a series of phases, that, curiously, resemble the same ones necessary for such a change to occur: sensitivity to timing, a period of labor forming the cocoon, then stillness, withdrawal, a hibernation of sorts, growth, a shedding of the old form, then a breaking out involving discomfort, struggle and the building of new strength. Whew!
So here I am, still freeing myself from my cocoon, looking towards spreading my butterfly wings and soaring. My photography has functioned as a recording of my metamorphosis. It also depicts my reemergence into life. I illustrate this in this photograph by giving myself butterfly wings and surrounding myself with lush, fertile grounds. I am not there yet, but this is my vision of where I am headed. It is a powerful symbol I draw from when the fight to emerge from the cocoon leaves me exhausted. It is freedom, and it’s lure is most seductive!