As you read these words today, I’ll be putting the finishing touches on my book manuscript—an 84,000-word tale of a young couple that pulled off an amazing heist many moons ago, then went roaming about the world. Tough to believe I’ve reached this point in the process; I started working on this project nearly three years ago, and there have been many moments when I’ve been tempted to chuck it all. Still a long way to go, but I can at least glimpse the shape of the finished product now.
One reason I’ve kept chugging along is a compulsion eloquently encapsulated by Chinese photographer Song Chao, so well-known for his portraits of coal miners. A former miner himself, Song was recently asked why he had turned his lens on subjects who most people rarely give a second thought to. His answer says a lot about the challenges and the allure of bringing characters to life in any artistic medium:
In people’s minds miners are ‘black’ people, leading a dull, mysterious and hard life. But this has nothing to do with reality, we often go out have drinks, grab something to eat, speak about our security, about women, and so forth. After six years of work in the mines, I spent more time with my colleagues than my family. In my mind, all their faces changed into unique characters. When I close my eyes I can perfectly imagine them in detail, I can even describe their personality, their opinion, the way they work. For me, these portraits embrace all the above-mentioned ideas.
We all know on some innate level that every human being is unique. But we often need to hear their stories to be reminded of that fact.