The Work is the Reward

I know it's been a while since I updated my blog, but really I have a good reason. I have been working for several months to document the creation of a sculpture of the Buddha by Bigfork artist Sunti Pichetchaiyakul. I posted the first version of this video some time ago, but that video was always meant to be merely a preliminary video, a taste of things to come.The real video would come when the sculpture was finished.As of 10 May, the sculpture is finally complete, and with it, my video work. Well, almost. This last week I've created another version of the video. It still runs in less than three minutes, only now, instead of documenting only the beginning of the wax sculpting, it covers the whole process. From wax, to the purple mold, to fiberglass resin, to sanding, to painting, to visiting monks and chants in Vietnamese and Tibetan at the dedication ceremony. This is a lot for one short video to cover, and I believe this video does not really cover the subject. That's why I am still referring to this project as almost complete.All total I shot 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 7 seconds worth of video. This can probably best be described as overkill. That truth sunk in for me right about the time I had to begin editing those nearly six hours down in to usable clips. As a rule I like to keep my clips short, between two and six seconds. Once I had done the initial edit I had just over 300 subclips, roughly 30 minutes worth. It took me three days to make all the subclips, and believe it or not, up to this point was the easy part.The hard part is cutting that down. As a photographer it is impossible not to get attached to certain shots. If you succeed in some particular way that you never quite got before, that shot becomes "uncuttable." An interesting angle becomes a "must keep." Intricate details abound and each one becomes "special." And with a project like this the number of "beautiful shots" (as Sunti likes to call them) is as infinite as the photographer's creativity. The whole thing is beautiful. You can't go wrong. But then what stays and what never sees the light of day?The answer is surprisingly simple. It's whatever propels the story forward. All those beautiful shots. If they don't tell the viewer something they need to know, then they fall to the cutting room floor, or into the Final Cut digital dust bin never to be resurrected again. And with a three minute max time limit, there is no room for soft-hearted sentimentality over one's precious shots. This video represents the best of four months worth of work. I began doing the photos and videos for this project in late January. To say that I am attached to it is an understatement. There are two things that allowed me to cut away at this film and get it down to the meet the previously established time constraints — one is that today in Michigan the sculpture will be placed in its new home and dedicated. The representatives of the temple asked if I could have this video done by today. I hate the idea of disappointing them, and nothing helps one get something done like a fast approaching deadline. And two, I keep reminding myself, this isn't the end, it's only almost over.As I recently recounted some of my adventures to a friend of mine, he suggested that the video should be extended into more of a profile piece about the artist. I wanted to write a story about Sunti and the Buddha and maybe pitch that to a magazine, but it had not occurred to me to pitch them the video as well. Hmmm....So just when it looked as though the end were in sight, I now know that I still have weeks of work left to do. But I do not mind the work. It has been an incredible privilege for me thus far.Throughout this process I have been reminded of one of the reasons I love being a photographer. This life allows one unique and often incredible opportunities to look closer, explore a subject more deeply, experience a moment in life that few will ever know. Sunti did most of the work on this sculpture on his own and by himself. His family was there and I know they helped. But outside of them, the only person who had this kind of access, was me. Today in Michigan more than 500 Buddhist, including several invited monks from around the world, gathered to dedicate this sculpture at its new home. They will look at it, love it, and be grateful for the enrichment it brings to their lives and their temple. Because I am not Buddhist these people will probably have an appreciation of the sculpture that I am not capable of. They will love the finished piece. For me, I fell in love with watching it being made.The day of the closing ceremony I learned that Sunti did this sculpture at cost. I was quite shocked to learn he made no money on this because I knew first hand exactly how much work he did. There were days when I was there 8 or 9 hours. And there were even more days when I wasn't there and Sunti was working 13 or 14 hours on his own. The money he got, paid for the materials. That's it. When I asked Erica (Sunti's wife) about this she told me that in Thai culture they believe that the work is the reward. It is an honor to be selected to sculpt the Buddha, both for the artist and for their country. Sunti is from Thailand and the people of Thailand will be distinctively proud of this work.Now that I am finished (at least with the photography portion of this project) I come back to that idea; that doing the work is its own reward. I've made these photos. I've made this video. I have had the chance to see and to then to tell a beautiful story. Sunti told me that it was lucky for me to help with this project, that I would be blessed by it. I find that I am continually blessed just to be a photographer. Through this story I've been given a collection of photographs and memories that I will cherish for life.To see the new and improved video go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRseEAFwpmQ