I was exploring Huffington Post’s website for the first time ever, and stumbled across (you could guess) the photography section. It was awesome! Lots of new and different kinds of work is being shared there, and some of it is integrated with activism and awareness, as well as documenting different sides of different cultures all around the world! One photo essay that stood out to me, though, was titled, “The Strange and Magical Ways People Make Themselves Happy” (see article here). It was excellent work.
The photographs were bizarrely wonderful. The essay included a photo of an elderly woman surrounded by toy frogs, a man floating in a lily pad pond with a life-sized plastic alligator, an individual with a incredible mustache surrounded by different keyboard pianos, and a handicapped man in a wheelchair with a basketball. The photographer, Eva Szombat, says she photographs people “doing what makes them happy” – but not what you would typically expect. Szombat says that making yourself happy actually requires a ton of hard work and unorthodox methods. She says that happiness doesn’t just appear, but it is learned (this is one of my own philosophies of life as well, which is why this photo essay appealed to me!)
Her subjects include both friends and strangers, who expressed how they make their ‘lives worth living’, and days better. Szombat describes the stories of some subjects, for example, the elderly lady started collecting frogs once she was diagnosed with cancer, and started depending on the toy frogs to give her strength to survive. Some of her photos also include individuals with gender confirmation surgery. Another lady twists balloon sculptures as a method of dealing with the death of her 5-year-old son.
Even though the subjects are quirky and different, the meaning of her work is clear and very important. The meaning and message that Szombat sends out is that there is no one path to happiness, there is no one way to deal with grief, and there is no one way to live your life. Szombat says that “no path to the happy place is too conventional or too taboo”, and she also preaches that the happiest people are those who have had to fight and work for their happiness. This is an interesting theory, and it can make sense. People who have been at rock bottom have chances to figure out what happy means to them, and build the foundations of strength, security and contentment from scratch. Szombat also discusses the idea of “If this, then I will be happy”. She argues that if you constantly tell yourself that you will be happy if you have something, or if you are somewhere, or you are with someone, you will never be happy because you are constantly wanting more of something.
All in all, I admired this work because it tells you to be who you are. It tells you to be fearless and quirky and weird and being all those things doesn’t matter if it fulfills you. This is important, and these photographs are wonderful!