Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The World Through the Eyes And Lens of a Photographer

This is a piece I have been thinking about for a very long time. The initial premise is really quite simple: Once you become a serious photographer, your perspective about almost everything in the world around you is altered. I would go so far as to suggest the world would be a better place if more people actually took meaningful pictures regularly. And yes, I am aware that, with the advent of the smart phone camera, there are more pictures being taken than ever before in human history. That said, selfies are the antithesis of the kind of photography about which I am speaking. 

The type of photography for which I am advocating requires that the person who is taking the picture is looking to capture something specifically in their environment.  It can be as simple as trying to capture beauty in nature. It can be as complex as trying to isolate and capture an emotion. It can be the attempt to chronicle history for those who understand that time moves inexorably forward and that memories can be sharpened with photographs. Loved ones will not always be with us and to capture them in the present might just provide comfort in the distant future.

Photographers are historians. What is captured is at first new and then becomes increasingly older. Everything that reflected light onto the sensor or film in the camera reveals the norms of the day. Clothing, furniture, hairstyles, vehicles and anything else seen with the human eye are pretty much guaranteed to change, but the  captured images will remain  accurate depictions of  moments in time. Photographs become a metric with which change is measured.

It goes even deeper than point and shoot. A good photographer looks into his or her camera and unlike the human eye there is the ability to frame what will go onto the photograph. I cannot begin to tell you just how many of the photographs that I have taken over the years are what I call an extraction.  By that I mean, if you were to open the field of vision too much in any direction there will be something that completely ruins the intention of the photographer.  It might be a pile of junk, a wrecked car, a mountain of manure or a herd of curious yet uncomely cows.  You see, it is framing in such a way as to extract a particular view.  Much of the time it is for pure aesthetics.  You want to find only the beauty.  Sometimes you want the wrecked car with a baby goat proudly dancing on the hood.  You  are in charge of the message.

It is not uncommon for people who otherwise are shy and unable to verbally express themselves are extremely good at photography.  Words are one way to send a message, but you will notice that those who practice the nearsighted walk through an art museum generally leave filled to the psychological brim with an enriched understanding of the world.  The painter, sculptor and photographer are nowhere to be found, but every visitor leaves with the artists’ creative messages bouncing around in their brains...even if it is pure disgust.

For me, it is a simple message.  Of all the things that I encounter, this is what I saw.  These are the things that jumped out at me.  These are the animals that I wouldn't see if I sped by at sixty-five miles per hour. These are the buildings that have stood for so very long and make me want to know who built and used them.  There are as many questions as there are statements.  But all of them are saturated with my desire to learn and share, to shoot and capture.  

We would all be better off if we approached life like a photographer approaches his craft.  There is something worthwhile in every landscape but sometimes it’s necessary to overlook the flaws for the beauty.  There is no perfect sunset, no perfect mountain lake.  The photographer must extract that beauty.  In these times of polarization wouldn’t we all be better off to frame each picture of life for the value it presents rather than focusing on the flaws?

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Older I Get, the More I Realize I will never be Andres Segovia.

I am not generally a person who gets too wound up with the notion of my own mortality.  We are all faced with the realization that we will not live forever. 

And, I recently celebrated another birthday. It was my sixty-seventh revolution around the sun. I was sitting down watching a video of a young man playing the guitar. He was gifted. His music was flawlessly played. His technique was unique and it made his performance all the more engaging. I found myself dealing with a nagging and increasingly anxious feeling. In essence, as silly as it sounds, I realized at that moment, I was never going to be as good at any craft as that young man was at his. In short, I caught a glimpse of the inevitable fact that I am growing older. For a brief fifteen minutes or so, I found myself wondering exactly why this little video clip had struck such a worrisome chord with me.  

There was a little German woman, who along with her husband ran a boot store on Colfax Avenue down by East High School in Denver when I was young. I was an avid hiker, climber and mountaineer in my youth and that boot shop had the best boots in town. The woman's mantra, (which she would oft repeat as she helped customers find their perfect fitting pairs of boots) was, “Life is what you make it...okay?!” It stuck with me. If you want a good life, one where you feel you have given as much as you have taken, it has to be an ongoing process of forging your own desired path. 

I was raised in a somewhat dysfunctional setting where excesses were a way of life. Everyone in my family dealt with anxiety in one form or another and hard living and alcohol were considered viable coping strategies.  However, at a certain point along the path I decided that life did not have to be that way. I decided the little German woman was correct.  You could make your own life and forge your own path. I gave up the notion of being a contractor (the family business) and with the help of my dear sister, chose teaching over construction. 

Teaching was never going to make me an economic powerhouse. But teaching is learning. I decided very early on in my teaching career that the best thing you can give a student is not some chunk of wisdom that they can set on a shelf like a shiny trophy.   No, the best thing that you can show a student is how to love learning.  Life and education is not about winning on a television game show like Jeopardy. The one who amasses the most trivia in life is not always the happiest person.  Life is about following your passions.  Life is most fulfilling when you master the ability to learn what you need to know to get the job you enjoy, master the skill that brings you joy, or demonstrate to those whom you love how to become the best they can be.

Where am I going with this? After taking a few minutes to reflect about the young, gifted guitarist who brought me some unexpected anxiety, I came upon the realization that even at sixty-seven, life is still what I  make of it.  You cannot make yourself live one day longer than what your genetics will allow. If you are honest with yourself you will probably realize that you cannot become a virtuoso at the guitar overnight, especially if your earlier experiences took you in a direction away from music. You can learn and enjoy how to play the guitar if you so desire. You might even want to try your hand at something else.  But remember that you are the one who determines what is worthwhile in this life.

If you want to take pictures of mountain goats like I do, you are probably going to need to stay healthy and exercise daily. If you want to create a painting for your grandchild, you are going to have to buy brushes and choose a color medium and start practicing or taking lessons.  Likewise, if you want to be happy and appreciated, then it is incumbent upon you to be pleasant, engage and spread a sense of wanting to be useful.  It will pay off, I guarantee it... because life is what you make it. Okay? Okay.

"Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly - and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing."

Omar Khayyam