The Unsplash Community is awesome, there’s something about being part of a culture of generosity and sharing that I find infectious. It’s not just about sharing images, it’s about people helping each other, sharing their experiences and knowledge.
Everyone’s experience with Unsplash is personal. From why they contribute their images, to what the platform means to them. When Mitch reached out to ask if we would be interested in hearing the story of how he became an Unsplash contributor, little did we know what a powerful story it would be.
Mitch has kindly given permission for his experience to be shared, and so in his own words, here is his story.
I am not a photographer. I have never been particularly into photography. I would call myself a shutterbug. Let me explain:
Back in 2006 I moved from Texas to Northern Ireland to pursue a doctorate in cognition and culture , basically the study of how and why the human brain produces recurrent cultural artefacts such as religion, politics, and art, at The Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University Belfast. When I moved here, I was struck by the beauty of my new surroundings that one of my first purchases over here was a mid-priced digital camera with a whopping 4MP! I got one small enough that I could carry it around every where I went. I started taking pictures of everything that caught my eye, whether because of its interest, beauty, or both.
At first, I was regularly sharing my photos with friends and family back home via email and an old, now defunct site called “Ball of Dirt” which was a travel photo journaling site. Eventually, as my studies became more intense, I stopped doing that as often.
Before I graduated, I met a girl. After I graduated, we got married and settled here in Belfast. But I continued taking pictures: over 17,000 over the past 13 years.
Even though I would occasionally share a photo or two on Facebook over the years, the pictures mostly just sat on my hard drive. I rarely even really looked at them after I uploaded them. I always intended to go through them, and even organize them, but I never really had the time. I was consumed by the publish or perish lifestyle of an academic.
All that changed a year ago last June. Last March I began have pain in my back below my right rib cage that was akin to pleurisy. I went to the doctor and got an x-ray which came back clear. I assumed it was just my back, with which I often had troubles. Nevertheless, over the next couple of months, the pain grew more severe. In the meantime, I developed a slight (and I DO mean slight) cough. I mentioned to my wife a couple of times that I thought that I might have walking pneumonia, but given that the x-ray had come back clear, I thought that unlikely.
Father’s day weekend last year, my wife and I headed from Belfast to Londonderry to visit her parents. While going over the Glen Shane Pass, a small mountain pass between Belfast and Derry, I began to feel ill. So much so, in fact, I told everyone the moment I arrived that I needed to go lie down, which I did. A couple of hours later, my mother-in-law came down to get me for dinner, and I was under two thick duvets and I was still shivering. I was running a high fever. I took some Tylenol and went to sleep. That is really the last thing that I remember about that weekend until I was being awoken by paramedics on Monday morning. My wife had been taking care of me all weekend and making sure I took my medications and such. That morning, however, she could not rouse me. That is when she called them.
When I awoke and realized what was happening, I really did not see what all the fuss was about. I though I just had the flu and I would be fine in a day or two. But the paramedics and my wife were insisting that I go to the hospital. Off I went.
Once there, I was informed not only did I have pneumonia, but double pneumonia. On top of that, I had developed an empyema which is a chest infection of the chest cavity itself. It was putting so much pressure on my right lung that it was causing it to collapse. But that was not even the worst part. I was suffering from severe sepsis and my organs were failing. That night they inserted the first chest tube (which would grow to four!), and the next day I was put on a ventilator. Unbeknownst to me, the doctors had told my wife that I was, at the time, the most ill person in the hospital, and I likely was not going to survive. In fact, so serious was my condition that they were going to have to put me into a deep medically induced coma from which they really did not expect me to awaken — ever.
I was in a category 3 coma for two weeks. I was as close to being dead as one can be without being dead.
Shortly after emerging from the coma, I was sent back to Belfast, this time by ambulance, to have emergency surgery to scrape the empyema from my chest cavity. I was touch and go for the next 24 hours, and required four blood transfusions. By the time it was all said and done, I spent three weeks in ICU and another two and a half weeks in the hospital.
The recovery from this ordeal has been brutally slow. After a year, I am only now getting back my physical stamina. Additionally, I have suffered from some cognitive deficits that have affected my ability to accomplish complex tasks, as well as left me with some memory problems. The doctors believe that I will continue to recover over the next six months to a year, but whether it will be a full recovery remains to be seen.
As you can imagine, I have been going a bit stir crazy. I had neither the physical strength to do much, and my mental faculties have not returned enough for me to return to my research. Earlier this year, my wife suggested that maybe now would be a good time to do something with all those pictures I have been taking over the past 13 years. So, beginning in late January or early February that is what I began doing. I really had not idea what to do with them, and still don’t. I started with the basic Windows photo app and slowly moved up to different programs to where I now know just enough Photoshop to screw up any good photo I touch. But, everyday for the past several months, I have sat here going through and working on my photos.
It turns out that it has been great therapy. Looking at the pictures is helping with my memory, and learning how to manipulate and polish the photos with the different applications is helping me deal with complex tasks. Since I have been doing this each day, I have seen great improvements on both the physical and mental fronts, a maybe a slight improvement in my photo editing skills.
I realized at some point along the way that I wanted to share my photos. But, I did not want to put them somewhere where their quality would be degraded. Neither Facebook or Instagram fit the bill there. After doing a bit of research, I learned about Unsplash and the massive audience which it reached. I wasn’t sure whether any of my photos were good enough in comparison to the other photos I saw on the site, but I uploaded a few anyway. I was quite startled to see how many views and downloads my first uploads got in their first 24 hours on Unsplash! Now, since the end of February, I am wholly surprised that my photos have received over a million and a half views!
I also really appreciate the review process at Unsplash. It has helped me to understand what constitutes a good photo and what does not. I study my photos that are rejected, approved and made searchable to try to discern the reviewers’ thinking behind their decision. I have yet to get a promoted photo, but with enough practice, who knows? I have also learned a lot from observing which photos of mine the public likes. I am often surprised which ones turn out to be the more popular.
— K. Mitch Hodge, MA, Ph.D.