Just by chance I happened across a speech delivered by Arno Rafael Minkkinen in 2004 to graduates of the New England School of Photography (Boston), titled “The Helsinki Bus Station Theory: Finding Your Own Vision in Photography”. Although the speech is about a career in photography, it spoke to me (quite deeply) about our GSL journey.
As part of his opening, he starts a story ...
There is a bus station in Helsinki I want to introduce you to, a bus station just next to Eliel Saarinen’s famous train station.
Minkkinen uses the bus routes in his story as a way of illustrating we all start out from the same point. As new entrants, we are compared to others in our field, and one venture may seem to have the same path as another until it really gets going. He talks about those who exit their journey after only a few stops. Many do this after they find they are sharing a common path with others, but his encouraging words about whether to exit or continue are:
It’s simple. Stay on the bus. Stay on the f*cking bus.
Why, because if you do, in time you will begin to see a difference.
This is so true! When we first started GSL, we knew what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. We traveled the same route as others for a time while we worked out the market, industry compliance and human services regulations. We knew our direction on the inside, but on the outside I fear we may have looked the same as other providers. This year is different. I feel like we're splitting off. We're finally heading to our unique destination.
The buses that move out of Helsinki stay on the same line but only for a while, maybe a kilometer or two. Then they begin to separate, each number heading off to its own unique destination. Bus 33 suddenly goes north, bus 19 southwest.
For a time maybe 21 and 71 dovetail one another but soon they split off as well, Irving Penn [aka GSL] is headed elsewhere.
Minkkinen ends his story with ...
At the end of the line—where the bus comes to rest and the driver can get out for a smoke or better yet a cup of coffee—that’s when the work is done. It could be the end of your career as an artist or the end of your life for that matter, but your total output is now all there before you, the early (so-called) imitations, the breakthroughs, the peaks and valleys, the closing masterpieces, all with the stamp of your unique vision.
Why, because you stayed on the bus.
For any of you who follow this blog, you may remember back to one of my first posts, The importance of time, when I wrote:
So here we are. GSL is 8 years old and we are only 20% rolled out. I have never worked so hard or learned so much since starting GSL, but now it's time to get serious. I can see retirement off in the distance - way, way, way off. None the less, I am incredibly conscious that my time is finite and it makes me sad. I truly believe this is my legacy and I want to see our baby in her full glory before it's the end of our time together.
So much of what Minkkinen says, I am feeling. I know I wont ride GSL's full bus route. Although I won't be the driver at the end of the line, I'm here for a leg of the journey. When I get off I'm going to enjoy my coffee (I don't smoke) and know I traveled a unique route.
Minkkinen closes his speech by taking his audience to Switzerland
Stand back, stand back, far enough so you can see your own mountain top, then head straight for it knowing it will disappear from sight for most of your life as you meander the hidden forest trails that lift you ever higher even as many sections force you to drop down into the mountainside pockets of disappointment or even despair, but you will be climbing soon enough and always headed towards your goal.
If he hadn't spoken about the bus routes first, I don't think these words would have meant so much. Nostalgia hit. I couldn't help but think about the concept paper I wrote for GSL all those years ago while I dreamed of something different. This paper wasn't revisited until we had a team workshop earlier this year, some 8 years later. The mountain top did disappear from sight. At the workshop we caught glimpse of it again.
Although it was so comforting and reassuring to see it again, and know we haven't strayed even though we've been knocked off track quite a few times. Quite honestly, I don't think I need to see it all the time. I feel confident. I feel even more confident now we're splitting off and heading to our unique destination. I don't need to see it all the time because I know it's there and it's the destination we're heading to. I don't know if I'll get there, personally. It doesn't matter. I know our kids are going to have a good start to life. They're going to have safe, nurturing homes, places they can learn safely, and feel a part of their chosen communities - and we're going to help make this happen.