December 5, 2019
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
— Marcel Proust
What little fog remained was quickly dissipating in the flat morning light. On the other side of the embankment you could hear the roaring of the Potomac over the falls. An occasional plane shot overhead as well but the loudest sound was the crunching of orange dried leaves under my feet as I walked along the bank of a side stream hunting for an interesting tree.
I had only the day before come up with the idea for this new project. It is still hazy and unformed in my mind – just the moment after conception nothing is fully formed. But since I was determined to make the project a reality, I jumped into the process and laid out all my equipment the night before.
The next morning, boots and gear on, I slid out of the truck and onto the path.
The first couple of frames are always awkward. No matter that I’ve been doing this for over two decades, my mind still goes blank and a tense panic rises in my heart, tightening my chest. “What if I can’t make a photograph…what if I don’t find anything good…what if I really am a fraud…” Forcing myself to take the warm-up photos, I began to loosen up — realizing they don’t look half bad.
Soon I lost myself in the camera and the world that it presented to me. Rocking back and forth in front of a grove of twiggy trees, experimenting again with intentional movement and the magical multiple exposure setting on my camera. At times, switching back to straight photography mode, I would lay almost flat out on the damp ground, focused on a tangle of roots.
I wish I could identify the trees. I realize how ignorant I am and it breaks my heart a little bit.
Continuing up the stream, I saw a great blue heron standing perfectly still, eyes focused with deadly precision on the water – or rather, below the water. His neck, arched so beautifully, mirrors the branch of a willow that he is standing just underneath. I can visualize the photo.
And I regretted, with deep-heart rending regret, that I did not have my telephoto lens with me. He stabbed at the water and ripples chased away my pity party. He was busy fishing for breakfast and I had interrupted.
I was the interlopper in his world and I had two choices. I could move closer to him and use my 60mm lens but risk him flying off and causing him to lose his chance breakfast or I could just sit back on the bank and observe him from a short distance.
I choose the later and it was beautiful. He gracefully waded further into the stream, eyes gazing downward the whole time. At a moment he would stop and stand with complete stillness but yet every muscle tensed — the tension visible and tactile. Quickly and expertly he stabbed at the water but pulled out empty-beaked. The fish had gotten away. I must have sat there for ten or fifteen minutes watching him hunt for his breakfast.
Why am I sharing this long story? Because without the camera, without the project, I would never have found myself in Great Falls park on a foggy morning watching the beautiful heron fish. I was able to experience the beauty and wonder of it all because photography has given me a new set of eyes with which to experience the world. This is my “why photograph?”.
Whether my art ever changes anyone or impacts anyone else’s life – it has changed mine and made me better. The journey has taught me to be more open to the life around me – to grace, to beauty, to gratitude, to wonder, to relationships. All of those graces begin to rub off the pride that blinds us. And once freed from our blindness, that same grace tends and nourishes the tiny seed of humility from which all true joy grows.
Several weeks ago, I came across a series of quotes by Steven J. Meyer from his 1987 book “On Seeing Nature.” The beautiful quotes were far richer than the book in which I found them. Tossing that book on the half-read pile, I immediately ordered the Meyer book. It came last night. I had to force myself to put it down after the first chapter — I want to take it in slowly. I can tell that this will be a book that is going to end up highlighted, marked and re-read for many years to come; proving once again, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
“Seeing nature is a process, partly, of replacing our arrogance with humility. When we respect the reality which fills the abyss of our ignorance, we begin to see.”
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