The other day a friend and I threw our cameras into the Jeep and drove deep into British Columbia’s Squamish River and Elaho River valleys. Temperatures were unusually low for around here and there was an invigorating chill in the air. So busy from the launch of the new Craft & Vision website, I’d forgotten to come up for air, forgotten to get beyond the city and be in the wild places I know my spirit needs to breathe its deepest. I hadn’t really taken the Jeep anywhere since I put an axe into my leg in the Yukon 3 months ago.
We drove along the Squamish River, choked with dead, now frozen, salmon, their life-cycle complete and their flesh being reclaimed to nature by hundreds of bald eagles, and eventually into a valley so thick with hoar frost you could almost have measured the crystals in inches. We wandered the riverside for hours over the two days we spent there, my friend Daniel and I. Feeling a little beat-up from the last few weeks, my creative process felt strange and unfamiliar, like listening to a song you once knew on the radio while you drive, and trying to keep the beat on the steering wheel with your fingers and realizing the rhythms are just all off. So I gave up. And I walked. Pointed my camera at a few things less because I wanted to and more because I felt I should. Sat down on the cold ground and realized I was looking so hard I wasn’t seeing. Not remotely receptive, nor perceptive.
There’s a power to giving up. To stopping. At least there is for me. It puts me in the place where I stop listening to all the voices, stop squinting my eyes in an effort to see something, anything, to point my cameras at. It opens me just hear and see – which should come from listening and looking, but so often doesn’t, because I tend to look in the wrong direction, listen to the wrong voices. These are lessons I teach so often and have to relearn myself so many times it’s becoming embarrassing. Learning to use a camera is easy compared to learning just to be human.
Sitting on the river bank looking at ice crystals, suddenly not giving a damn that I forgot my macro lens at home, I finally started to smell the earth around me, see the ice gathered on the underside of a fern, notice the crystals formed on moss, feel the bite of the cold on my fingers. I don’t go out to these places to make beauty, but to find it, even to be found by it. If on some occasions I create some poor reflection of that beauty in my own work, then there’s a chance I can extend that moment to others. Sometimes it happens with a camera in-hand, and other times the camera just gets us to the place we need to be. But the gift of photography is that we learn to see. We notice. Moments slow down. We make space for wonder.
Thanks for this, David. I’m not sure which I enjoy more — your photography or your writing and thinking about photography. It seems like every piece like this you post says exactly what I’m feeling and trying to work through myself. So articulate and true.
I’ve been working on a series of blog posts about a recent trip to Costa Rica, trying to address some of these ideas. (My problem is that I always seem to remember these things after-the-fact.) Sometimes rather than writing my own sputtering blog posts I want to just post a link to your blog instead. 🙂
your words address the thoughts that have been swirling in my head recently. acknowledging the power to stop is so valid, and from the silence beautiful things will emerge.
It’s so good to hear these sentiments from other creatives. A lot of us, I for one, are not powerhouses churning out content constantly, nor do I want to be. The other day I rose to a brisk morning at Smith Rock and took a walk with my camera to try and play with the always spectacular sunrise of central Oregon. It’s a quick transition from dawn to day in this area and I found myself anxious wanting to move around a lot to find “the shot”, but instead I moved once and posted up. I still wasn’t finding what I was hoping to find and that urge to search it out swelled again, but I stayed. It was at this point, like you said so well David, where the “beauty found me” and my vision and subject changed dramatically from my original intentions and I created an image that makes me smile and feel that morning. Thank you for helping to cultivate this attitude? feeling? style?.. within ourselves. Cheers
I realized in some pondering this last week I am at a temporary creative dead end. I allowed the allure of technical pursuits to trump the need to have a message in my photographs. I put the camera down today and spent my time at a food bank handing out boxed donations to families in need. The human contact sans text, tweets, and email reset my bearings. I even took my watch off and left my cell phone on the dresser. The service did me as much good as any family to whom I passed a frozen ham and canned goods. I am not yet ready to pick the camera back up (or my other electronic devices). I need some breathing room, a fast if you will, to help me remember and revive the reason I first picked up a camera – as a means to communicate on behalf of others.
Enjoy your breathing room, Cory. Write a poem or something. Do some finger painting. Leave the camera until it’s time. You’ll know. 🙂 Merry Christmas.
I have been reading your blog for a couple of years now and felt today was the day to thank you for your insight and your beautiful images. A perfectly timed reminder to go out just to breathe and open my eyes. The image of the flow lines around the rocks is very calming, thank you.
Your writing is as beautiful as your photography. I could literally see through your words the cold and the ice and the underside of that fern.
Woo. Maybe the trick is to forget that macro more often. Those pictures if the stones are frikin amazing. Good job bro.
So much to wonder, so many wonders
Awesome shots, David. I know what it feels like to be away from the creative process too long too. It makes the return so amazing though!
Thanks, Anna. 4 of 5 of the images above we’re made with my iPhone, the other with my Fuji XE-1. A favourite? No, but I’m especially fond of the way the lines in the ice play against the rocks…
I especially like the intimacy of these images. The second is my favorite for its unconventional vision, simplicity, and it seems the essence of winter to me. I wondered if you have a favorite from this group and would love to hear your thoughts on why you prefer it.
So, you didn’t have your macro lens….what did you use?
Also, thanks for the About the Image podcasts. I’ve enjoyed them!
“Human being” vs “human doing”…
Even though you go out carrying your angst on your back, you come back with such beautiful images.
The muse has blessed you……
Going out with a camera
Not to “make” but
To be found
And to (hopefully) return
Beautifully said, and with more elegance. Thank you, Marke.
My favourite line… beautifully written… and perfect timing for soooo many of us caught up in the Christmas (festive) rush
I was looking so hard I wasn’t seeing
David, your thoughts always stir the spirit. The words of the artist and photographer Frederick Sommer seem apt in these circumstances: “It is the time you spend setting up and considering the scene that is the art of photographing; it’s really of very small consequence whether you press the button or not”. I think that sometimes just being in these wondrous environments is enough – we don’t always need to take away anything more than our memories and experience.
Being able to stop and give up as you did is a talent in itself and one we should all practice and perfect! I know I should! The camera gets in the way sometimes, eh! Good form David!
Giving up, stopping, surrendering. All the things we are conditioned to avoid – and yet, as you rightly say, it takes us to the place of wonder. Of healing.
Thank you – for extending that moment.
Such beautiful images, paired with prose as poignant as it is poetic. These lines, especially, stopped me: “Sometimes it happens with a camera in-hand, and other times the camera just gets us to the place we need to be. But the gift of photography is that we learn to see. We notice. Moments slow down. We make space for wonder.”
Beautiful shots for a wonderful new Winter start.
You’re as much a poet as you a great photographer David. Really powerfully written and I consider myself impacted. Thank you.
Love the sentiments! It’s exactly what I remind myself when I get up for a sunset and it’s grey and overcast instead of the colour I wanted – there’s still so much beauty in the location in that scenario and amazing to be up at that time of morning with no one else around in nature regardless of what comes home on my memory cards.
We live in a beautiful place don’t we David. So close to many different kinds of nature. Thank you for this. It will get me out and about again tomorrow.