One of the lessons that came up time and again on last month’s Lumen Dei tour was the importance of presence. As in really being there.
We photographers often suffer from some kind of attention-deficit malfunction. We look, we shoot, we don’t always really see. So this year we encouraged people to stop running around looking for the next thing and instead to be really present, to sit somewhere and watch, interact, get closer to the scene, the subject, the moment – by knowing it better. As teachers we got the worst of it because we had to subject ourselves to our own advice, perhaps more than usual, and it was…well, it was tough at times. I thought I was good at really soaking in a scene until I met Ami Vitale, that woman has the ability to out-wait a glacier, I swear she does. That’s one of the great benefits of teaching – you learn so much, even when it’s lessons you already thought you’d learned. And as I sat and waited, immersed in the places I was photographing, I saw more than I normally might have. Experienced more. Learned more. And if it’s true that you can’t photograph something until you’ve experienced it, then I shot better images than ever before. Simply because I was there. Present in body and attention.
I keep thinking back to my time shooting the harvest images I showed you last week. I sat there for a long time. I spoke longer to the families. I watched the light longer than I normally would. I watched the dust motes dance in the light, explored the space from more angles than I might normally, and got past the spot I’d normally get bored and go off searching for something else – and beyond that boredom was my best work.
I know, everyone wants the easy path to compelling photographs; something available – for any price – at B&H or Adorama. But the skills that make a better photographer aren’t for sale. Kindness, curiosity, and the patience to wait through the boredom and get to the other side where merely looking becomes actually seeing – these things make better images than the latest digital camera or your newest lens will ever do on their own.