Photography is not merely the process of capturing an image. It’s not just looking at the world, looking at the things that are beautiful. It’s not finding cruelty or kindness, nor is it just looking for excitement, nor is it documenting the commonplace and the mundane. Photography is looking at the world and finding in it something that stirs your soul. It is not always bright and cheerful. It is not always gloomy and dark. It is, if you are honest with yourself, a reflection of who you are at the moment.
And because who you are constantly changes, the images captured is never the same. One can hope, however, that as in life, we can always find hope, even joy in all that we see. In the depths of despair there is always the promise of a better tomorrow. In the heights of happiness there is always a realization that moments like this are treasured, but not what we ultimately strive for.
Finding meaning in life, where you know yourself and understand that imperfection is not a curse but a blessing, when you see a world that is not closed but open to possibilities. When you look back not to long for what is past, but to learn that failure is not permanent but is always necessary. To know that success is not a singular achievement but a communal experience. To know that at the center of it all, is not the selfish tyranny of pride and conceit, but that in spite of one’s frailties, generosity and love prevails. That in every moment, great and small, the inner light illuminates the soul and that in all that we are, in all that we do, joy gives meaning to our existence.
And so it was yesterday afternoon, on a surprisingly cool day in July, I walked the grounds of Meadowlark Gardens. Paths walked so many times before. And yet, each step is always different, and so are the pictures.
Many people obsess about keeping the subject of their photograph in focus. How every part of the image has to be sharp. How great the bokeh is. And all that stuff. Sometimes, you just have to take a picture that you have in your mind. And if that means the subject is not in focus, then so be it. Is everything sharp? Is that what’s really important? Photography is about light. And a photograph is something that makes you feel something. The sharpest lens on the best camera in the world? No, but I like what I saw through the lens of my camera. Pictures of the setting sun, even when though the sun is not in focus. It makes me appreciate the beauty of the world around us.
Why is the familiar different now
The river by the bend
The trees, the rocks, the birds, the sky
A thousand steps walked alone
In solitude, nature was my friend
And yet today, even as the bird sang its welcoming song
As the winds of winter give way to the blossoms of spring
As the water lapped gently on the rock strewn shore
I heard my heart speak
In winter’s depth a flower bloomed
Joy came forth, the soul consumed
A life, thought dead, was vital still
And so it was this winter day
That the steps familiar had a different strain
There is beauty everywhere
And time enough for us to share
Moab, Utah. How can one town in the Utah desert be so close to two of the most spectacular national parks in the United States – Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. And in between these two great parks, before entering Canyonlands, Island in the Sky, there is a small state park known as Dead Horse Point. You can be forgiven for not noticing this state park as you drive down the road in the early morning, hoping to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch – a scene that is truly beautiful, truly iconic, widely photographed, widely admired. Microsoft made Mesa Arch a household name, or at least a household scene, when it included a picture of sunrise at Mesa Arch in its collection of background images in Windows 7. And I have to say, thank you, Microsoft, for bringing so much of the world’s beauty into our desktops – with the myriad of screensavers, background images, themes that you have available in your various operating systems.
And if you happen to make it down the road to Dead Horse Point State Park, especially before the sun rises (I should have done this) or as the sun sets, you will be treated to a truly spectacular view of the spectacular Utah landscape. The sun was setting and the river bend scene was not lit well enough to do it justice. A few yards to the left, however, turning eastward, where the sun’s dying light infuses the red Utah Rocks with a crimson hue, the rocks, the mountains, the desert and the sky conspire to remind all who see it that this is a planet of transcendent beauty and fragility. We have touched the sky and now we must do our best to be responsible stewards for all below it. And one look at Dead Horse Point shows us why. This is not a view to be savored by one person once in a lifetime. It is a place that makes repeated viewings a special occasion in itself, a place, like so many other places in our planet, that must endure for the generations to come.
And it was wonderful! With my son (young then) looking at the pristine blue waters of Crater Lake, the beauty of the Cascades was in full view. If Bend was beautiful, the view from the snow covered edge of the caldera that forms the lake is nothing but spectacular. The blue waters. The strong springtime winds. The setting sun. And getting used to snowshoes.
My older son is in college now. His younger sibling will soon follow. Each second seems long enough, but the years spent with the children seems all too short. The transient nature of every moment. Each slice of time unique. Some joyful. Some challenging. All part of lives lived and still being lived. A lot has been told. A lot has yet to unfold.
Life is indeed beautiful. From the places that we visit and look on in awe. To the short moments that we share with each other. Each day unique. Each day a chance to appreciate the world that we live in. And hopefully, in our own way, moments lived making a world that is a better place for all who live in it.
It was a cloudy day in the D.C. suburbs. We are getting some badly needed rain. And, I had to make a short trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia. So I drive westward on Interstate 66. The clouds were hanging low as I approached the highlands of Shenandoah National Park. A little past the exit to the park, the sun peeked through the clouds. The low lying clouds, the fall colors highlighted by diffused sunlight – it was beautiful. So what kind of photography can you come up with while taking pictures from the side of a highway?
There’s only one way to find out. Slowing down from seventy miles per hour, I stopped by the roadside and glanced across the lanes of the interstate. Nestled in what looked like a small nook by the mountain was a house surrounded by saturated trees sporting saturated autumn colors. Out came the camera. One click. Another click. Another click.
It was time to go back to the highway and head westward towards Interstate 81. The traffic remained relatively light as I reached the junction to I81. Heading south towards Harrisonburg, the sun was beginning to set towards a horizon barely clear of clouds. In some spots. I saw a silo, the sun was setting behind some clouds, and I slowed down again to take more pictures from the highway.
After ten minutes in Harrisonburg, it was time to go back towards the D.C. suburbs. It was getting dark rather rapidly, but in the rear view mirror I spied upon a bright red sunset. The sun was nearly gone as I headed towards an exit at I81 and stopped by a gas station. Through some barren trees, towards Interstate 81, I saw the last vestiges of light.
Who knew that a gas station would be a good place to be to watch the sun set? Photography is incredibly rewarding. Images are waiting to be taken at almost every moment. Just keep your eyes open and your mind free. The pictures will be there for the taking.