I shot this photo a few years back while attending a quilt auction in rural Daviess County, Indiana, which is home to a sizeable Amish community. The auction is an annual event attracting folks from all over the country who appreciate the fabric artistry and the opportunity to experience some authentic country cuisine. That year, the auction was held in a community center and the parking lot was filled with vehicles from several different states. On two sides of the lot’s outer edges were long rails for hitching the horses of local residents. As I was photographing the rows of buggies, I noticed this young Amish family making their way through the cars as they headed into the building and squeezed off a few frames.
For me, the image conveys what it’s like for many of us to live in the early 21st century. Parts of our surroundings are familiar, but much of our environment is substantially different and we weren’t consulted on the changes. They have been forced upon us and it feels that chunks of our lives are out of control. In Managing At The Speed of Change, Daryl Conner offers that change is made up of three components: quantity, pace, and complexity and each of these three elements are growing over time. There is more change, it’s coming faster, and it’s going to be more complicated. In laymen’s terms, that means if you were barely keeping it together Monday, you probably aren’t looking forward to Wednesday, you’ll be acting like your hair will be on fire Friday and next week will be worse.
Photography is dear to my heart so I’ll use it as an example. I started with a Kodak Instamatic camera, moved up to one of my dad’s small roll film cameras, made a big move up to his Rolleiflex TLR, then on to a 35mm SLR with interchangeable lenses. While the equipment changed, there were a few constants: film was the medium, the basic premise was you need a good camera and a modicum of talent to create good photographs on a consistent basis, and unless you got published, your images would be seen by a relatively small group of people. Film had been around for a long time, changes were largely incremental, and its future seemed assured.
In the mid 1970’s, an engineer at Eastman Kodak, produced the first digital camera. It weighed eight pounds and took 23 seconds to capture an image. Digital photography had lots of growing pains and the first consumer camera wasn’t available until 1990. It took another 10 years for the digital camera to really catch on with consumers, but once it did, the impact was huge and one of the first places it hit hard was where it was invented. In the early 2000’s, one of Kodak’s film cameras was discontinued before it could be awarded “camera of the year” later that year. In less than 25 years from its introduction, digital photography was well on the way to pushing film to the low end of the sales chart.
Today, the three constants I noted earlier have been changed. The medium uses pixels extensively and film sparingly. More people than ever before have access to a camera, which shoots stills and video and most often is a component of their cell phone, which means it’s with them nearly all the time. Talent is still required to make consistently good images and great photos are being made everyday by “photo enthusiasts.” Being a photojournalist is now possible for almost anyone with a camera phone. I belong to a couple of photographic communities, and, with a few keystrokes, can share images and comments with people all over the world. I can carry a battery-powered printer that’s about the size of a paperback book, take a portrait with my cell phone, wirelessly send the image to the printer and present the subject with a small print in about 30 seconds!
Though I used photography as an example, it could have just as easily been cars, appliances, music, or office equipment. So, in a world of sweeping changes how do we get on top and ride the wave versus getting rolled and pounded by it? Given what we know about the consistent shortening shelf life of ideas, products, and services, how can we prepare ourselves for what comes next?
I have more questions than answers, but know that at the heart of the matter I must reinvent myself on a regular basis. I also know that getting comfortable will not serve me well in the long run. I have to learn how to be resilient and be “change-able.” Like the family in the picture, I have to stay true to my values, hang on to my loved ones, and get out to where the changes are happening.
There are two Amish quilt auctions set for September. For more information, go to: