Photography fills a creative void for me. I have explored the creative arts over the years – classical piano, flute, rhythm tap dancing when I was young, watercolor and oil painting, note card making – these things have gone with me through life and all hold a special place for me. But still, they don’t quite touch that part of me that wants to ‘draw’ the real world as I see it around me.
I am a systems philosopher and an educator at heart, and these things fit wonderfully well with photography. I don’t just go out looking for pretty pictures – I search for patterns that repeat, for flowing movement, for undercurrents that subtly define a subject. I look for shadows and reflections, and contrasts, and interesting juxtapositions. Even in faces I look for the defining angle, the personality revealed, that glimmer of life looking back at me through my viewfinder.
Photography for me is just another way of being in the world. [Also, my piano is way too big for my Domke.]
Photography is also a marvelous mid-life accessory. Like a kid on a field trip, I slip a camera into my backpack and off I go, looking under rocks and crossing creeks to find another window into the world. Nothing much separates the ten year old in me from my sixty-some self at those times; except that as a ten year old I watched a butterfly with glee and captured tadpoles just to watch them grow in little glass jars on my back stoop, all with nothing so much as a few marbles in my hand. As a sixty-some self I also watch the butterfly with glee and I capture tadpoles just to be able to witness the miracle of life emerge, but I do these things with a camera in my hands now.
More than most things, photography keeps me reaching.
I have had the fortune to travel the world from Paris to Provence, from Switzerland and the UK to Singapore, from one corner of the Australian continent to the other, through most all of South Africa and Namibia, Suriname, Mexico, Canada – as well as the United States. Yet it always comes down to this simple fact: that the world at large is a magical place, and it is constantly underfoot. We don’t really have to go far afield to find magical things to photograph.
They are everywhere if only we take the time to look.
A frog in the Australian outback is no more interesting than the frog I used to stick in my pocket from the creek and carry home to grace my back stoop for a while, long enough to teach me that frogs are really amazing things. It is just as fun for me to sit in my garden all day photographing spring flowers under a diffusion tent as it is for me to hang half-way out of a helicopter photographing the marvels of Australia’s Bungle Bungles.
It’s just when I travel I also get to meet new friends.
I told people, for example, that I was headed to Provence “to do photography” but, really, if the truth be known, I went there to meet Jean Percet the painter and Mark Dumas the Provencal poet, and his interesting friends Denis and Solange Brihat; and my neighbor in the tiny village of St. Saturnin d’Apt whose dog greeted me every morning in search of a sausage treat.
I also went there to meet Ursula and Hans-Peter from Switzerland who were lying in that luxurious poppy field just waiting for a photograph to happen.
If I get any good photographs of that wonderful Luberon region of Provence then it will be because of the feelings that stirred in me as I interacted with the people who made that place come alive for me.
Remember that the next time you click the shutter button. If it were just about the graceful Irises that line my back fence I wouldn’t ever have to go anywhere again. I would be content to just sit here in my garden.
Flowers aren’t the thing, though, are they?
I am reminded of my eldest brother, Philip, who had more friends in life than most people have flowers in their garden. The only real difference between us is that my garden hugs the planet and I might have a few more interesting memories in my pockets.
Some years ago I traded a computer for Philip’s dusty 16mm f2.8 manual Nikkor lens. Little did I know what interesting things were ahead for me to ponder with that magical lens. Every time I reach for it now I feel just a little closer to my ever-watchful brother who died in his sleep as my plane was racing across the Atlantic.
Click….Click. Count them – life doesn’t give us enough of them.