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The Beauty Seeker

In a daily search for clarity, Dewitt Jones gives himself a photo assignment
This Article Features Photo Zoom

Every day Dewitt Jones posts a photograph to his Facebook page. The exercise has served to both focus and free his creativity.

“What are you willing to die for? Because you are doing that right now.” Those 14 words on Twitter shook me to my core. I read them again. “What are you willing to die for? Because you are doing that right now.” Country, family, love, fame, fortune…photographs? Honestly, I had never really thought about it. Never in my life had I been asked to die for anything. Sure, I had talked about it in the abstract many times in a cocktail-party-conversation kind of way. And, yes, I’ve always inherently known that I would die for my children without question. But on a daily basis? No, it never crossed my mind. That’s why “Because you are doing that right now” hit me so hard.

For the next few days I could think of little else. What was I willing to die for? Finally, sitting beside the ocean in Molokai one evening, I heard a little voice deep inside me whisper, “Beauty.” Beauty? Beauty? My heart cheered; my mind immediately raised serious objections. Yet the more I thought about it, the more it began to make sense. If I’m dying, which indeed I am, along with everybody else, what, as a photographer, could be better for me to die for on a daily basis than beauty?

I had been a beauty seeker all my life and made my living for many years creating images that brought beauty to others—certainly, beauty was at the core of what I believed was important in life. I guess I’ve always known this, but now I’ve begun seeing it with ƒ/64 clarity. If beauty is my passion, if beauty is my cause, am I truly engaged in it every day? No, I’m not. Far too many things in each day distract me from seeing, celebrating, capturing and sharing beauty.

Seeing And Celebrating. Do I recognize beauty all the time, or just when I’m photographing? A tree through my lens can turn into a miracle; can I see that same tree as a miracle without my lens? I blush at the answer: “Sometimes.”

So, I’ve been practicing. Trying every day to let my eye resonate with the beauty of all I see around me whether it’s a “photograph” or not. Just delighting in light and line. No need to make a photograph out of it. Just say “thank you” to the beauty and move on. Result? Honestly, the world has become much more beautiful.

Capturing. Okay, if I’m dying for beauty, then, man, I’m not taking anywhere near enough photos! In truth, as many of you know from reading my columns, with the advent of digital capture, small point-and-shoots and the iPhone, I take more photos yearly than I ever did at the Geographic. But still not enough. I’ve made a pact with myself: I will make images every day. Doesn’t matter how many; any number is acceptable except zero.

Now I do live in beautiful places, but I’m not always up before sunrise or on a mountaintop at sunset, so if I’m going to photograph every day, I will simply have to find the beauty in everyday acts. I will have to photograph the art in my life.

Sharing. If beauty is a cause worth dying for, then it sure as heck is something I should share with others. I realized I’ve been doing that to some extent with my weekly “Celebrate What’s Right with the World” posters (, but it seems time to up the ante. I’ve committed to posting a photo and a thought on my Facebook page—daily ( Good Lord, Dewitt, what are you thinking?! You have trouble making the bimonthly commitment to this column. What makes you think you could come up with an image and something to say every day!

Well, so far, it has been a great journey. The discipline of having to post every day has both focused me and freed me at the same time. Focused me, because it has made me stay on point about the whole idea of seeing, celebrating, capturing and sharing beauty. Freed me, because the more I do it, the easier it becomes. The more I look, the more I see. The more I see, the more I celebrate. The more I celebrate, the more I fill up and overflow. The more I fill up and overflow, the easier it is to share and give it away.

This week, I was out playing golf by myself, wondering what my photo for the day would be. Trying not to force it, but just to open my eyes to all that was around me. Then, simply, effortlessly, there it was. The path stretched out ahead both as beauty and metaphor. I was photographing it and I was on it at the same time.

Putting my iPhone back in my pocket, I thought of the words John Keats once penned. Scholars have long debated their verity. For me, they’re verifiable every day. And well worth dying for:

“‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

—John Keats,
from Ode on a Grecian Urn

Dewitt Jones now posts a daily photographic image on Facebook. You can friend him and enjoy the show. Also check out his new ebook, iPhone Art in My Life, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the Apple iBookstore.

Dewitt Jones is one of America’s top professional photographers. Twenty years with National Geographic photographing stories around the globe has earned him the reputation as a world-class photojournalist. As a motion picture director, he had two documentary films nominated for Academy Awards before he was thirty. Dewitt has published nine books including California! and John Muir’s High Sierra. His most recent book, The Nature of Leadership, was created in collaboration with Stephen R. Covey.