Davis, we’ll call him, was an editor at National Geographic magazine for decades. His advice to me in the early aughts, and no doubt to countless young adults, photographers and otherwise throughout the years, was to broaden my diet. 

Don’t study just photojournalism to learn photojournalism. Read poetry. Listen to Mozart and Metallica. Watch films. Study painting and sculpture. Consume.

It was a beautiful permission I hadn’t grown up with. To look beyond the black&white boundaries most uphold and perpetuate. I hadn’t been taught it by teachers, coaches, platoon sergeants, parents or employers. No one had given me this simple permissive guidance to explore possibilities. Until Davis.

Permission, I’ve since come to recognize, is inherent in all of us. Yet few seem to know it. Few find it. Or even think to look for it. It’s as if, for many of us, we first must encounter a Davis in our lives somewhere along the road. Someone who shines light in the shadows of this otherwise obvious corner. 

Once we do find that person, that revelatory moment … 

Permission, I’ve come to recognize, can be and often is revolutionary for the soul.


The Permission is #One in the weekly memoir series, Among Other Things. What’s it about? Read Introducing ‘Among Other Things,’ A Weekly Memoir Series.

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