So now that I've committed to writing regular blog posts, I've been distracted all week thinking about what to write about (and why anyone should care about what I write about.) I started off with a case of cold feet, which turned into panic, which quickly turned into self deprecation, which culminated in me suddenly shouting out loud in my kitchen this morning, “Who cares? Get over yourself already!' Which, if nothing else, startled my children.
As I drove my son to preschool on this beautiful day, I realized, that once again, distracted by my own busy brain, I had missed it. You see, every spring, I try to isolate the moment that the trees go from tiny buds to full leafy splendor. Every day during the beginning of May, I make an effort to notice the state of these burgeoning buds in order to pin down the leafy explosion to a specific day. And EVERY year, I miss it. It's as if the leaves wait for my attention to wain in order to preserve the element of surprise.
Of course I could set up a camera on a tripod and get all time-lapsy about it. Then I could easily look back through the frames and narrow down the event to the exact second, but somehow, that wouldn't be satisfying to me. I think that the thing I am actually looking for is the presence of mind required to experience it for myself, and it is a little bit humbling that every year, no matter how committed I am to the cause, the moment somehow eludes me.
This brings me to a memory that has been bouncing around in my brain for the last few weeks. When I was about 7 years old, I was sitting in my parents’ car with my siblings, waiting to go somewhere. It must have been late afternoon, because the light was coming in through the window of our minivan at a sharp angle, casting distinct shadows on the interior of the car and all its contents. I looked down at my hands that were folded on my lap and was struck by the beauty of the dark and light, by the way the peach-fuzz on my arms and legs was illuminated in this hyper-delicate way. I felt compelled to capture it somehow, to freeze the moment in time. I remember trying to paint what I had seen, but realizing with my limited skills in photo-realism, the resulting image was so boring, it could never mean anything to anyone.
I think that memory may be my first photographic experience, and in some strange way, it was powerful enough to inform the work I do to this day.
So why does any of this matter? I guess in thinking about why I am compelled to take photographs, I am realizing that it has less to do with the image itself, and more to do with the desire to take the image. It is the seeing something and needing to embrace it, but not fully understanding why. It is being present enough to see the unseeable, feel its inherent value, and hope, trust even, that it will reveal itself later in my photograph.
We live in a time and place that is so shaped by the images we see of our world, that we almost can't decipher what is real and what is a frozen phantom of a moment trapped on film or a digital file. With our advancing technology, the divide between photographs and reality has never been larger and at the same time still somehow feels infinitely small.
I think this is why I am so often drawn to the small moments, the seemingly banal, little moments that somehow feel authentic to me. The literal stillness of a photograph can be a call for contemplation, and I guess for me, the taking of the photograph requires the same kind of state of mind, a stillness, a presence of mind, a pause, a slowing down, a listening, a looking, a sensing. In my personal and commercial work, this is the state of mind from which my best work is made. It requires a tuning out and a tuning in. I think that is why photography is such an important piece of the puzzle for me. It allows me to access a place of stillness, both literally and figuratively, that is so hard to find these days. And just maybe one day, if I keep practicing, I won’t miss those buds coming into bloom.