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.