Chris Michel & Our Need for Constant Reinvention

Last night, the Long Now folks hosted a talk with my dear friend Chris Michel, a photographer who has immense empathy and appreciation for nature. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that he has been the single most positive influence on my photography. He is my visual sensei. And while I had seen many of his photos over the years, I was moved by his visual diaries from the edge of the planet — whether it was the poles, north, and south, or the edge of our atmosphere. 

Chris is a chronicler of what is astonishing, but also what is intimate. And as I watched his presentation, I was reminded again, why I admire him so much — he is a master of reinvention. A self-confessed perpetual outsider with preternatural capabilities of observation, he served in the US Navy only to reinvent himself as an entrepreneur. And when he was done with the battle in the startup trenches, he picked up the camera, only to become a National Geographic caliber photographer.  In other words, he reinvented and didn’t let anyone apply any labels on him, his life and his ambitions, which in itself is no easy feat in Silicon Valley. 

For all is big talk about embracing change and disrupting the status quo, Silicon Valley and most of its residents are quite dogmatic about how they view people and ideas. Instead of imagining how a person can evolve, the labels of their past define the path forward. If you did marketing, forget about making a go of it in a product. An engineer founder is much easier to embrace than someone with a less technological background. A husband and wife team is not a good investment, except it is, when Julia and Kevin Hartz take Eventbrite public.

I would be lying if I haven’t been dogmatic at times, tainted by a job title or pedigree of education based on a resume, only to learn that just because someone worked at a certain large tech company or went to a certain college doesn’t make them generally excellent. We assume such things because it is a network bias. The same bias which is amplified when seeded inside of social networks with billions of people. 

Anyway, back to Chris. His knack at reinvention is what makes him such an interesting guy and person to admire. His lack of dogma is what keeps him young and makes it easy for him to see around the corners. Someday when I grow up, I want to learn to be so free of biases of the past and instead be like Daniel Day-Lewis, able to leave my present to become something else.

PS: I did a podcast with Chris Michel a while ago — you should give it a listen! 

November 29, 2018, San Francisco

A letter from Om

Sign up & get it delivered to your inbox